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Why I Hired the Job Candidate Who Picked Up Trash

OK, so you landed the interview for your dream job. This is the moment you have been preparing for since you started your career. You have researched the company. You know the names of the people you are interviewing with. You are dressed to impress. You arrived ten minutes early and you’re in the parking lot. As you approach the door, take a few deep breaths, and as your hand reaches for the handle, put your game face on, because first impressions start IMMEDIATELY. 

Why I Hired the Candidate Who Picked Up Trash

Hiring managers often know within two minutes of meeting you whether or not you are a fit for their team. During the interview, your communication style and technical skills will be assessed, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your interview stops there. It is a common practice for decision-makers to ask all of the people you interacted with during the entire screening process what they experienced when meeting with you. This includes security personnel, receptionists, HR personnel, team members, and other decision-makers you cross paths with. From the time you pull into the parking lot until you get in your car and leave – you are being interviewed. 

How you treat people says a lot about you to prospective employers. How you treat the facility and surroundings will also speak on your behalf. I was hiring a Coordinator one time for a fast-paced team environment. I was looking for someone who was thoughtful, organized and had great attention to detail. I placed a piece of trash on the floor near the chairs in our lobby and asked the receptionist to tell me which candidates stopped to pick up the piece of trash. I hired the only candidate that picked it up. That one small effort she made without even thinking about it told me that she was the team player I needed. I knew she was someone who would pitch in and help wherever she was needed. I knew she would take initiative instead of the “that’s not my job” approach to her work. 

Something she said in her interview stuck with me. When asked about why she stopped to pick up trash, she smiled and said, “because it was on the floor.” She went on to explain, “I try to be a servant leader, but I can’t call myself a servant leader if I do not serve people.” She turned out to be exactly what our organization needed. Who she was when she thought nobody was looking showed her true work ethic and integrity. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have disqualified candidates who had the technical skills needed, and all of the experience that was required, but they were rude to the HR Team and difficult to work with while scheduling interviews. I knew that they would not have the flexibility or comradery to be successful in our production environment. 

My greatest advice to you as a job seeker and as an employee is to be mindful of your surroundings. Be kind to everyone. Notice the people you pass by – engage them. Ask how they are doing and sincerely want the answer. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up. If you see a book off the shelf, put it back. Sometimes what sets you apart as a great candidate is the same thing that sets you apart as a great person. 

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