5 CX Hiring Strategies to Recruit Employees Who Think for Themselves

You’ve built a growing company in a fast-paced industry. You’ve got a good management team, a great company culture, and a strong sense of mission. So why are you still failing to give customers an excellent experience? Many companies fail at customer service and customer experience because low-level employees tend to be rule-followers, not thinkers. If you want to excel in a competitive business-to-business marketplace, it’s not enough to have a strong management team. You also have to learn the art of how to recruit employees who can think for themselves at all levels of your company.

Unfortunately, most businesses aren’t very good at recruiting. According to the Harvard Business Review, 43% give priority to years of experience, even when they’re hiring for the C-suite, while only 11% prefer candidates who are willing and able to learn new things. They end up with executives who can’t think for themselves  henchmen, not sidekicks. And, like the Joker going up against Batman and Robin, they quickly discover that the hero with helpers who can think for themselves always beats the villain who’s surrounded himself with mindless yes-men.

From “Time in Seat” to Thinking Caps

If you want to recruit employees who can think for themselves and make good decisions in rapidly developing situations, you need to remake your recruiting process from the ground up.

1. Job Postings

Change your job postings to give less weight to years of experience and more weight to the learning mindset, the right temperament to fit your culture, and job-specific skills. Include phrases like “critical thinker,” “adaptable,” and “willing to learn new skills.” This will force candidates to think about how their work history showcases original thought and will help to weed out candidates who don’t want to think for themselves at work.

2. Resumes

If you’re dedicated to recruiting employees who think for themselves, you need to change your focus from years of experience to accomplishments that demonstrate original thought, even for low-level posts. Look for people who’ve acted as leaders, including in their volunteer work or personal life. If you’re recruiting recent graduates, ask to see examples of term papers or a thesis so you can judge their ability to think without parroting. Encourage prospective employees to submit a portfolio of past projects and work samples, even for relatively low-level positions. Generally speaking the resumes of entry-level people talk about tasks, the resumes of mid-level people talk about accomplishments, and the resumes of senior people talk about results.  If you find a junior person who’s already talking about results on his or her resume, get that person in for an interview.  Conversely, if you find a senior person who’s still talking about tasks then you should keep searching.

3. Social Media Research

When you check out a prospective hire’s social media accounts, don’t just look for disqualifying details like scantily-clad selfies of drunk driving arrests or pictures from the KKK picnic. Look for positive signs of clever and original thought. If one job applicant shares only posts that proclaim “Like if you love puppies,” and the other has an interesting take on current events, you’ll have a clear sign which candidate will make the better hire, even if you’re running an animal shelter. You don’t want people who will show up and just serve their time. You want people who can think on their feet and who will be a good fit for your company culture.

4. Interview Questions

Move beyond the questions that focus on job duties and past responsibilities. Ask questions that help you gauge willingness to learn and ability to solve problems. For instance, “When was the last time you had to teach yourself a new skill?” Since this is a customer experience blog, we would be remiss if we didn’t encourage you to ask questions that assess a candidate’s customer-facing personality. “What would you do if a customer called up and started cursing?” or “If a customer asked you to do something and you completely disagreed with his technical approach, how would you address that?”

5. Interview Procedures

Freshen up your interviews with some actual skills tests. Have your candidates work through some of the same problems they might encounter on the job. Give them a few logic puzzles and see how they attack them. Software firms often ask job candidates to write code as part of the interview process. Add this sort of skills-based evaluation to the interview procedure and see who can handle a situation when there isn’t a clear policy written out.

After the Interview

“Congratulations! We’ve decided to offer you a dead-end job with no hope of advancement that promises long days of drudgery!” If the career paths open to your lower level employees seem dismal, you won’t be able to recruit independent thinkers, no matter how you tweak the rest of your hiring process. If you want employees who are sidekicks, not henchmen, there needs to be a clear path to a more interesting independent role.

For instance, Batman offers Robin the chance to solve some crimes on his own, and there’s a clear promise that someday Dick Grayson can take over Bruce Wayne’s franchise. Meanwhile, Joker’s men? If they’re lucky, they may get to work on two or three capers before they end up in Arkham Asylum.

You don’t have to offer entry-level employees a shot at the C-suite, but you do need to explain how their first job can be a stepping stone to a better position within the company. Take a lesson from technology firm Red Hat, who looks for thought leaders at all levels and in all departments. They reward employees who show initiative and who think independently on new projects. Their emphasis on meritocracy attracts employees who are eager to think about their jobs and advance within the firm.

When you screen candidates for the ability to think and create positions that offer room for advancement and interesting projects, you increase your odds to recruit employees who can think for themselves. In the process, you also improve the customer experience for your clients who come in contact with these employees. After all, everyone hates dealing with a robot, even when the robot happens to be made of flesh and blood.


Interested in keeping in touch? Sign up for our newsletter.