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Hiring for Fit and Ability

July 1, 2000
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
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The Men's Wearhouse has somewhat more staff per square foot than the typical men's clothing retailer, as a way of executing its customer service strategy. In a typical store of about 4,500 square feet, there are two tailors, two managers (a manager and an assistant manager), three wardrobe consultants, and two or three sales associates.

To encourage employee retention and good service, virtually all the positions are full-time. Overall, including tailors, only 12 percent of the positions in the company are part-time.

Except for sales associates, who are the people who ring up sales and encourage customers to purchase additional accessories, hiring is centralized at the regional manager level.

The company encourages regional and district managers to develop a reserve of people who are interested in joining the company, so that when an opening occurs, it can be filled quickly.

The company trains people how to interview. Charlie Bresler described what the company is looking for: "We're looking for people who are potentially consultants, not clerks. We're looking for people who have energy, have a sense of excitement, seem like they care about people, and we don't care about how much clothing background they have."

Although the company emphasizes hiring for fit, basic ability, and personality rather than for experience, this policy is not always followed. Under pressure to fill positions quickly, and deluged with applications from other retailers, there is a tendency to hire experienced salespeople. Working to improve the quality of the people in the company is an ongoing challenge and focus of attention.

The Men's Wearhouse uses relatively few outside consultants and contracts out comparatively little, preferring to use its own people, even for specialized tasks such as information systems development. George Zimmer noted that "if it's important enough that you would consider hiring some consultant, then it's probably important enough to do it internally." He believes that one of the reasons companies use outside consultants is from a fear of making a mistake:

"If every time when you were a kid that you made a mistake, either your parents or the teacher said something that made an emotional impact on you, then you can grow up with a fear of making a mistake, which will bring you to the world of consultants quicker than anything else.

"It's a way to theoretically avoid making a mistake. I take the position that the best way to grow a business is to encourage people to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. In fact, our corporate mission statement says we're a company that wants people to admit to their mistakes."

This article was reprinted with permission of Harvard Business School Press. Excerpt of Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People by Charles A. O'Reilly III and Jeffrey Pfeffer. Copyright 2000 President and fellows of Harvard College; All Rights Reserved.

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