What One of the World’s Most Powerful (and Richest) Businesswomen Looks for When Hiring

September 2, 2015

Angela Ahrendts is, according to Forbes, the 29th most powerful woman in business and the highest paid person at the most profitable company in the world, Apple.

Formerly, she was the CEO of Burberry and has been appointed to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which is basically the female version of being knighted.

So what’s the key to her success?

“Building a brilliant team is your job,” Ahrendts wrote in a recent blog post on LinkedIn. “Nothing you do is more important or adds more value.”

Interesting advice, eerily similar to Steve Jobs’ own credo. But while many agree hiring is critical, how exactly does she ensure she’s getting great people?

Well, in that same blog post on LinkedIn, she laid out her interview process. Generally, it takes about an hour, where she hopes to discover four things about a candidate.

They are:

She looks for people who are about more than themselves

First, Ahrendts tries to determine if the candidate is a “me” person or a “we” person. She accomplishes this by asking questions about their family, friends, interests, spirituality and community while really trying to figure out these three questions:

  • How big is their ego and what role does it play in their everyday life?
  • Do they focus their energy on being an individual contributor, or on connecting and enabling a wider group?
  • Do they care more about their own success or about the greater good of the whole?

She looks for people who can work with others

Then, she seeks to determine if a person has a strong EQ, to go with their IQ. As Ahrendts puts it, if they make it to her office, they are almost assuredly “incredibly smart in their field.”

Therefore, the key is figuring out if they are culturally compatible; which means they are empathetic and compassionate.

To uncover that, she asks them questions about how they handle challenging situations and what their friends and peers would say about them. Through that, she seeks to “sense if they truly care about the impact they make on people.”

She determines if they are a right-brained person or left-brained person

Next, it is time to find out if they are a right-brained person or a left-brained person. Ahrendts doesn’t prefer one type to another, but knows right-brained people will excel in some jobs, while left-brained people will excel in others.

“A company’s success is predicated on you putting the right people in the right place at the right time,” she wrote. “You know what you need, and you need to find out who they truly are so both can thrive over the long term.”

To discover this, she looks to see if their conversations tend toward details and analysis (a sign of a left-brained person), or if they prefer to keep it more conceptual (a sign of a right-brained person). Additionally, she asks them what they do in their free time, which further sheds insight into what side of the brain they favor.

She asks how the person sees the world, and where they want to take the company

Lastly, Ahrendts wants to know both the candidate’s frame of reference and where they’d like to take the company. That’s ascertained by asking them two questions:

  • How much do they look to the past for trends, and how aware are they of the underlying influences impacting their business today?
  • Do they have an opinion on the future and how their organization and strategies will need to evolve to keep pace? Are they adverse to or do they thrive on change?

How she wraps it up

After an hour, Ahrendts is blunt with the candidate – if she likes what she hears, she’ll tell them and make efforts to continue the conversation. If she doesn’t, she’ll also tell them, “so they don’t get their hopes up.”

If she does reject them, she “makes sure they leave feeling positive even though they are not right for the current position,” in an effort to “treat them as I want to be treated.” Along with it being the right thing to do, Ahrendts knows she represents the company as well.

“It is important we both sleep at night and that they leave with respect for themselves and the company,” she wrote.

Fundamentally, Ahrendts is obviously looking for people who have the skills to do the job. But just as importantly, she wants someone who truly cares about other people and the work they do, which is critical to building a lasting company.

* image by ‏@AngelaAhrendts

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