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Serious Hiring Keeps Zappos in a Fun Mood

A crucial ingredient to the Zappos cultural mix is finding the kind of person who will fit into an eclectic organization where serious business sometimes wears a party hat.

September 25, 2009
A crucial ingredient to the Zappos cultural mix is finding the kind of person who will fit into an eclectic organization where serious business sometimes wears a party hat.

The online retailer, which is being acquired by larger rival Amazon, is legendary for letting employees do whatever seems right to serve customers. But its hiring process is anything but anything goes.

Yes, there are some quirky elements. The job application, for example, includes a crossword puzzle with clues like “the cost of Zappos standard shipping” (the answer is “free”). And candidates are asked what superhero they’d like to be and why.

    But even that question is part of the company’s quest to find people who fit its “work hard, play hard together” culture. Not naming any superhero whatsoever raises a red flag about a candidate’s fun quotient, says recruiting manager Christa Foley.

“I don’t care if you hate the Justice League,” Foley says, referring to the fictional alliance of Superman, Wonder Woman and others. The point is to show a sense of humor. Says Foley: “Can you roll with it?”

Another potential deal-breaker is saying you don’t socialize with co-workers outside the office. That could undermine one of Zappos’ 10 core values: “Build a positive team and family spirit.”

The final value is “Be humble.” When candidates fly into Las Vegas for interviews, Zappos might check on how the prospect treated the driver of their shuttle service. “I want to know about that interaction,” says company recruiter Andrew Kovacs.

Even if candidates make it through both cultural and technical interviews and get an offer, Zappos puts all new hires through a four-week training program with strict attendance rules. It includes two weeks on the customer service phones. And in a final test of people’s commitment, newbies are offered $2,000 to quit the firm during training. Just three accepted the cash last year.

Foley tells the story of a technical manager hired to fill a post that had been open for about a year. He came five minutes late to the second day of call center training, and received a talking-to about punctuality. He came late again.

“We pulled him aside,” Foley recalls. “And he was like, ‘Do you know what I was hired for?’ and ‘Do you understand what my background is?’ ”

Zappos had no interest in spoiling its culture with even a dash of bad attitude.

“We fired him that day,” Foley says.

Workforce Management, September 14, 2009, p. 20 -- Subscribe Now!