How I Hire: 5 Tips for Landing a Job at IDEO

September 30, 2013 — 10 Comments


When we’re doing job interviews, the phrase “good cultural fit” gets bandied about a lot—and for good reason. IDEO’s stock in trade is creativity, collaboration, and human-centered innovation.

We don’t have discrete departments, rigid job titles, or corner offices. In fact, most corporate trappings simply don’t work for the kind of work we do, and honestly, neither do the types of people who crave them. The success of our company depends upon hiring people who are not only smart and talented, but who also have great emotional intelligence. We look for insatiable curiosity, irrepressible optimism, deep empathy, and those who play well with others. (Lone geniuses need not apply!)

Here at the Top 5 qualities I look for:

1. They say “we” more than “I” when recounting accomplishments. If they’re generous with giving others credit, I know they’re team players and will accept feedback.

2. They talk about failures, not just wins. If you’re trying to bring new ideas into the world, you’re going to fail…a lot. How you recover and learn from pratfalls is the true test. Or as we say: “Fail often to succeed sooner.”

3. They’ve spent time teaching as well as learning. Having an advanced degree shows diligence and mastery. Teaching shows you’re committed to making others successful, too.

4. They’re nice to the receptionist. When the interview is over, I check with whoever’s manning the front desk to see how the candidate acted upon arrival. Were they polite and friendly or did they treat the receptionist poorly? If it’s the latter, I know they only relate well to those in their perceived social group. Not very empathic or human-centered.

5. One final note about how we hire. We believe in asking for forgiveness, not permission.This goes for the job application process, too. Turning in a standard-issue résumé and cover letter won’t turn heads. Candidates who have wowed us have taken creative license and gone the extra mile to demonstrate their capabilities and passion. They’ve made video portraits, designed custom apps or, in one case, brought turntables connected to a dancing robot for an impromptu DJ set.

Hiring’s not an exact science—finding truly outsize talent never is—but these five qualities help us hone in on that most elusive quality: someone who feels like an IDEOer.

What other qualities suggest high emotional intelligence?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog) 

Tim Brown


10 responses to How I Hire: 5 Tips for Landing a Job at IDEO

  1. I think is lovely, that I found in such a good company, that you are talking about emotional intelligent, beside math, and creativity, empathy is very good! Have empathy means many things.
    Means that I aspect people that are able to understand your fear before your skills. When I did some interview, sometimes I found the human resourse (in one company) that actually was scaring me. I understood that she was making it, to understand is I was telling the true or not, But at the end I was terrified, with conseguence that I was talking (a balbetto) (ba, ba ba etc…) my Brain was off. and immediately I tried to think everything is ok. What the sense of this kind of interview? I was wondering? they didn’t ask about what problem I had in my life, and how I try to figure out to resolve it. prvate and professional goals. Nothing at all. And the jobs was pretty the creative skills, What if you don’t make a creative enviroment with me. I wanna make solutions with you, I would like think general, and work for dettails, when I will have a job from you, and this HUmanResource was actually scaring me, make me rediculus to each project I did in my past, say this web site ( mine) it s out, … Why? and after I read that Ideo is talking about Emotional intelligents!!! WAU!!! I am very very happy! to read such sentence! Please Keep going, and make this difference, people like me, that have creative skills, and emotional skills, … what I would like to say, that this work you did, you write, soon or later ( wish soon) will have an impact into my life.

    Best Regards.

  2. TIm,

    Thanks for a thought provoking read – hint too!!(;-).
    Good that you understood the meeting point of people and systems.
    When you talked about sharing…….I got reminded of this.

    http:// concurrentmusingsofahumanbeing.blogspot . com/2012/08/sharing-sharing.html

    Whats your tought about the new products, patents, IP rights etc..,

    http:// concurrentmusingsofahumanbeing.blogspot . com/2012/08/automation-or-jugaad-or-innovation-or.html

    http:// concurrentmusingsofahumanbeing.blogspot . com/2012/06/1-how-some-people-succeed-well-in.html

  3. I like this very much, however, the “their nice to the receptionist” doesn’t work in all situations. I just came from a position where I was the most polite, kind and honest employee and helped everyone in my job for almost two years. I had the receptionist swearing and attacking me via email and writing bad things about me on Facebook just because I asked her to pay me for the design work I did for her. After that, I was still polite, but I never felt good about working with that person. It was like I saw a side of her that no one else had seen, and I always walked on eggshells around her. Sometimes, people keep a receptionist because the accept the low pay they give them and still do the work. They may not be the nicest person or really treat everyone well. It’s very hard to be nice to people that have attacked or abused you. When I complained to the management, the problem was never taken care of, and it repeated itself on two more occassions. Even when I submitted the emails to the Board at my company, it didn’t help my case. How would you have dealt with a receptionist that treated you badly from the start? I am happy I am no longer there because it was an impossible position I had been put in that set up high angry when they fired my supervisor. Very long story, but my point is that the receptionist is not always nice to everyone or perfect. Of course we all need to treat people we meet with respect no matter who they are, but once they have treated us badly, it is harder to forgive and forget.

  4. Sorry “They’re nice to the receptionist”…. I didn’t proof this very well.

  5. I find this information very helpful. It’s a different perspective for sure. I have been seeking employment for a number of months now and interviewing every other day it seems. I like the idea of talking about what didn’t work as well as what did because I feel as though we make things/situations better when we find what failed in them.

  6. thanks tim.

  7. Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this website.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s tough to get that “perfect balance” between usability
    and visual appeal. I must say that you’ve done
    a amazing job with this. Also, the blog loads very fast for me on Chrome.
    Excellent Blog!

  8. Hello admin, i found this post on 24 spot in google’s search results.

    You should decrease your bounce rate in order to rank in google.

    This is major ranking factor nowadays. There is very
    handy wordpress plugin which can help you. Just search
    in google for:
    Lilas’s Bounce Plugin

  9. Tim,

    Thanks for the great tips! Just finished a blog post about work experience. Please take a look when you get a chance. I’d love to get some feedback.

  10. Interesting that the ‘we vs I’ advice directly contradicts what Gayle Lakmann McDowell says in Cracking the Coding Interview – a sort of ‘Bible’ for engineers trying to land jobs in top companies. She says that by saying ‘we’ too much you make it hard for the interviewer to be able to determine what *you* bring to the table. Maybe it’s about striking a balance.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>