Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


Who doesn't love a little job interview theater?

Surely you know of the famous advertising creative director who would interview candidates wearing a Sooty glove puppet. (Sooty is a little bear in a British children's TV show.)

The creative director would pore over the candidate's portfolio.

Finally, he said: "Well, I love your work. But Sooty thinks it's s***."

Charles Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger has a different shtick.

As he told the New York Times recently, he likes to invite some candidates to breakfast at a restaurant.

"Oh," they must be thinking. "That's pleasantly informal. Charles Schwab must be a cooler place than I thought it was."

But subterfuge awaits.

"I'll get there early, pull the manager of the restaurant aside, and say, 'I want you to mess up the order of the person who's going to be joining me. It'll be O.K., and I'll give a good tip, but mess up their order,'" he explained.

I believe this is known as an offer you can't refuse. Especially if you're a restaurant manager and you hate being up early in the morning.

You can see Bettinger's logic here.

You create a situation ripe for frustration and friction and see how the candidate reacts.

It's a variation on the theme of a first date, where the invited party checks to see how their date treats service staff.

"It's just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head," Bettinger told the Times.

It's a lovely story. But as with all lovely stories, I do have a question or two.

This ruse does require the server to be a very good actor.

It can't be easy for a good, professional server to deliberately mess up someone's order and not at least reveal a tinge of a titter.

Moreover, how severe should the mistakes be?

Is there a gradation of aggravation? The more important the job for which the candidate is interviewing, the worse the server's mistakes?

Oh, you want to be COO, do you? Let me pour this coffee all down your beautifully-pressed trousers.

The only circumstance in which a server might perform such an act with truly natural panache is surely when they're already decided they dislike the customer. 

That way, the server is emotionally primed to carry off the deception. Would a server perform perfectly (badly) just to get a bigger tip? Oh, perhaps.

The thing is, though, that Bettinger has now revealed his trick.

Won't future interviewees come primed? What if one tips the restaurant manager twice Bettinger's gratuity in order to get perfect service?

Would that disqualify them as being too clever? Or would it show a marvelous ability to anticipate problems?

Of course one or two people might see Bettinger's ruse as merely a person in power showing a lesser mortal how clever they actually are.

Being a CEO is, though, a fairly lonely pursuit.

Perhaps you have to create theater in order to see someone behave naturally.

After all, you're not so used to having a normal human conversation about normal human topics yourself, are you?