The Hidden Genius Of This CEO’s Secret Breakfast Test

upset diner

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat the service industry. If anyone knows this, it’s Walt Bettinger, CEO of Charles Schwab, who actually takes that idea with him into the screening of potential candidates.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bettinger explained his hiring strategy, which goes beyond the standard questions of qualifications, strengths, and weaknesses, and gets at a candidate’s true personality:

One thing I’ll do sometimes is to meet someone for breakfast for the interview. 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.”

I do that because I want to see how the person responds. That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.

We’re all going to make mistakes. The question is how are we going to recover when we make them, and are we going to be respectful to others when they make them?

Bettinger also told the story of his only B in college, which he earned after failing a final exam he’d spent hours studying for.

The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, “Go ahead and turn it over.” Both sides were blank.

And the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.

It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work.

Bettinger’s lessons are great to take to heart whether you’re looking for a job or whether you’ve been in the same position for 10 years. Treat everyone with respect. Don’t step on the little guy. And don’t let a messed-up breakfast order ruin your day, or your job prospects, for that matter.