Job candidates can screw up their chances in a crucial way when they think no one's watching



Flickr/Edson Chilundo

Your behavior is always being observed.

You may think no one's paying attention, but how you treat receptionists and waitstaff can make the difference between whether or not you get hired for a job.


Several top execs and hiring professionals agree that acting nasty or dismissive when you speak to people in these positions is a big turnoff.

A 2006 USA Today article mentions several business leaders who abide by the "waiter rule," which is commonly attributed to both Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson and Dave Barry.

For example, according to USA Today, Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich says he was once interviewing a candidate for general counsel. Though she was nice to him, Shaich said she was "amazingly rude" to someone cleaning the tables, and he didn't give her the job.

Other execs say they find out how job candidates treated the company receptionist before making a final hiring decision.


The Wall Street Journal reported that first impressions formed while a job applicant is waiting in the lobby factor into the hiring decision between 5% and 10% of the time, typically when the employer is unsure about whether the candidate would be a good culture fit.

Jana Eggers, former CEO of Spreadsheet, said she always solicited feedback from her receptionist: "I'll want to know if someone comes in and if they weren't polite, if they didn't say, 'Hello,' or ask them how they were. It's really important to me," she told Adam Bryant at The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, wrote that he always checks in with the employee at the front desk to see how the candidate behaved when they arrived. "Were they polite and friendly or did they treat the receptionist poorly?" he said. "If it's the latter, I know they only relate well to those in their perceived social group. Not very empathic or human-centered."

Bottom line? Never assume that your interactions with certain people "don't matter" for shaping your reputation. It might sound creepy, but at least when it comes to business, your behavior is always being observed.

Besides, acting in a kind and respectful manner to everyone you meet is the decent thing to do.


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