7 Hiring Rules That Richard Branson Lives By

August 29, 2016

Virgin Group’s legendary founder Sir Richard Branson runs an empire made up of 200 companies in everything from healthcare to hotels to space travel. And, he credits much of his success to one thing: hiring the right people and, as a result, building unstoppable teams.

In fact, Branson believes that having the right team is the most important thing you can do for a business, calling his people the greatest asset and the lifeblood of the brand.”

Below are the seven hiring rules he has followed to hire people who will drive Virgin to ultimate success:

1. Personality always wins over book smarts.

The first thing Branson looks for in a great hire is personality. He says it’s the most important quality for a successful business, as you can always teach job-specific skills and company knowledge later.

“We look for people who are friendly and considerate, and who like working with others,” he writes. “From our airlines to our call centres, and our office buildings to our gym floors, you will always see smiling people working together to get the job done. These personalities make our staff successful, and, in turn, our businesses successful. They also keep our company culture vibrant.”

There is one caveat to hiring for personality: it doesn’t always come out during the interview. So Branson advises being strategic to pull people’s personalities “out of them,” especially if you have an introverted candidate.Hence why Virgin is especially thoughtful during the interview process, with interviewees reporting that the company "spends extra time and effort getting to know candidates" compared to other companies and that process is fun and interactive.

In order to find out if they are the right fit, Virgin asks candidates questions like “Name a time you were irritated by a customer/employee/manager, what did you do about it?” and “ Why should we choose you over other candidates?"  

2. New hires don’t have to ‘fit’ in right away.

Companies are often worried about everyone “fitting in,” since morale and culture are important components of business success. But don’t forget that culture should be continuously evolving as new people join and make their own additions. In conclusion, don’t be afraid to hire someone who doesn’t fit in perfectly at first:

“Some of the best people we’ve ever hired didn’t seem to fit in at first, but proved to be indispensable over time,” says Branson, crediting those differences as leading to opportunities to see problems that others couldn’t and inspiring new creativity energy.

3. Look for experience and transferrable skills rather than qualifications.

People with transferable skills can adapt quickly, pitch in and help in unplanned circumstances, says Branson. And they’re not always the ones with top grades or the most credentials.

“Time and time again I’ve seen people with a background of broad-ranging employment and skills hired for a job where they didn’t necessarily tick the specialist criteria boxes, but become incredibly successful by offering a new level of understanding to the role,” Branson writes.

Within just three months, hires with the right personality and transferable skills can do a lot for your company, so don’t hesitate to throw them “in the deep end.”

4. Define your company’s purpose to attract the right people.

“Purpose is no longer a buzzword,” says Branson, “it’s a must-have.” If you take a look around, you’ll catch on quickly that it’s rare for people to work nine-to-five jobs. Instead,our interconnected, always-on world has us working longer hours and juggling multiple commitments.

If you’re a growing business on a small budget, how can you afford to pay top talent to work around the clock? Branson’s advice is simple: "Look for people who share your passion." It’s the people driven by purpose who can handle around-the-clock work without burning out.

But to do this, you first have to define your purpose. Branson advises asking yourself: “What is your product or service trying to achieve? Why are you doing what you are doing? How can your product or service help to create a better world?”

"If you can express your purpose in an understandable, engaging way, people will be more likely to react to it and identify with it," he says. 

5. Hire for the skills you lack.

One of the smartest things leaders can do, according to Branson, is hire for their weaknesses. He says this is especially true in the beginning, when you need “a healthy level of delegation” for business growth.

So, when searching for great hires, look for people who can fill your skills gap. Think about areas where the company can improve, and recruit talent with the capability to make improvements on those potential problem areas.

When asked how he manages to lead so many diverse businesses to success, Branson says: “I surround myself with people who have knowledge and talents in areas where I might not be so well versed.”

6. Promote from within when you can.

You risk a lot when you bring in a top-level hire from the outside, says Branson, because “they can destroy it in no time at all.”

Not to say that it never works and even itself Virgin is known to bring in CEOs from other companies. However, Branson advises to promote from within when possible, “as the employee who is promoted will be inspired by the new role, already know the business inside out, and have the trust and respect of their team.” Additionally, it’ll show the rest of your team that hard work pays off. 

7. Don’t hire in bulk if you can help it.

When companies are in fast-growth mode, they often hire in bulk. Branson warns that this can kill company culture as new hires are desperately rushed through the door.

“...It is worth being patient to find the right person, rather than hurrying and unbalancing your team,” advises Branson. “I heard a great line by Funding Circle CEO Samir Desai at the IoD Conference in London (quoting Apple's Dan Jacobs) about making sure you hire (and fire) the right people: ‘It’s better to have a hole in your team than an asshole in your team!’”

No matter how big and successful Virgin has grown, Branson still believes talent is the number one driver of success. He’s said time and time again, nothing is more important in business than hiring the right team. The best person for the job might not always be in front of you, so you have to be strategic on how to find them.

If you want to hear Richard Branson speak live about this, join the Talent Connect Livestream on October 6th.