Hire curious people


I was at Folio:Show earlier this month and had the opportunity to hear what a number of smart successful publishing executives look for in a new hire.  The number one attribute?  Curiosity.

Without exception, this was the most sought-after quality: Curiosity and interest in the business, curiosity and enthusiasm for the job, curiosity and drive to improve one’s self and one’s work. My favorite was from one top executive who answered: “Curiosity. Period.  …Oh, and never hire anyone who’s mean to the waiter.”

Keeping this in mind, let’s take a holistic look at how to hire good people into your organization.

The job posting is marketing

While some organizations confuse the job posting with the job description, they are not at all interchangeable. The job posting is a marketing blurb.  Ideally it captures the essence of the job and is written with the intent to attract qualified and enthusiastic applicants. Tips for a good job posting: Fresh, exciting copy that conveys a bit about the job and a bit about the qualities that will support success. Remember, your posting can be your company’s first impression on a job seeker. If it’s boring, you’ll attract people who are attracted to boring. If it’s sloppy, you’ll attract people who are not bothered by sloppy.

The job description is more than a list of duties

Typically an organization will start the hiring process with some sort of job description.  Unfortunately, organizations often think that’s all there is to the hiring process: Post job, review stack of resumes, pick least annoying resumes, interview applicants, hire least annoying candidate, hope for best.  To find and hire the right people for the job, the job description is just the beginning.  In and of itself, it does not help you hire good people.  Tips for a good job description can be found here.  

The job model describes the ideal person for the job

The job model is the lesser known sibling in this family but extremely powerful for finding the right people for the job. The job model acts as a benchmark for your candidates to measure up to.  Whereas a job description describes the job for the people, the job model describes the people for the job.  

To create a simple job model, consider the job description, corporate culture, colleagues, clients and general environment (stress level, physical location, etc). Then brainstorm the SKILLS (things a person needs to do), KNOWLEDGE (things a person needs to know) and ATTRIBUTES (things a person needs to be) necessary to doing excellent work in that job. You can then use the model to screen resumes, construct interview questions and compare potential candidates. Here’s an example of a job model for an account executive role: 


  • Familiarity with the hi-tech industry
  • Understanding of the online advertising industry
  • 1-3 years of proven online ad sales experience


  • Clear and professional communication skills (written and verbal)
  • Active listening skills
  • Effective interpersonal skills
  • Telemarketing/cold-calling ability
  • Presentation skills


  • Interest in and aptitude for selling
  • Initiative
  • Persistance
  • Creativity
  • High energy, enthusiasm
  • Curiosity

The interview lets you see beyond the resume

By using a job model, we can hope to make some progress beyond just asking if they can do the tasks listed in the job description.  But how do we know whether a candidate possesses our desired skills or attributes if they are not listed on the resume?  Here are two ways: 

1. Job Model Interview Questions

For each entry in your job model, ask yourself (and others on the interviewing team) “How would we know?” or “What does that look like?” For instance, under Attitude, what does “Curiosity” look like? Think about what you’d ideally like to hear from a candidate and, conversely, what you wouldn’t want to hear. Here’s an example:

Curiosity is: 

  • Asking questions of relevant stakeholders
  • Interest in more than just what is at hand
  • Respect for the contribution of other’s views and perspective
  • Inquiries into whether or how something could be done a new or different way
  • Having the courage to try

Curiosity is not: 

  • Rote
  • Self-serving
  • Manipulative
  • Aggressive
  • Disrespectful

Asking a candidate to define a few of the more elusive qualities listed in your job model using their own words can give you a window in to future performance. Additionally, spending time with a candidate over coffee or lunch can give you an opportunity to see whether he or she naturally displays the attributes you’re looking for.  

2. Behavioral Interviewing

Behavioral interviewing assumes that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  By asking the candidate to recount specific situations they have faced in the past, the interviewer gets a great deal of insight about decision-making, judgment, prioritization, interpersonal skill and more.  See examples of behavioral interview questions here. 

Just Curious

The flux in our industry requires all hands on deck to conceive of, articulate and execute on products, services and businesses we’ve never even heard of before, never mind been involved in.  This requires people who have the stomach for wholesale change but a healthy respect for the baby in the bathwater. How can one person have both?  By being curious.  Curiosity about what’s working and what’s not, about what is and what could be, about what the business is good at, what colleagues can contribute, how processes help or hinder.  Hire it, foster it, reward it.  

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