Charlie Kim: Hire For Humility

07/03/2015
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With approximately 200 employees, Next Jump is an e-commerce company headquartered in New York City, with offices in Boston, San Francisco and London. Half the company’s workforce is made up of foreign nationals. A third of the engineers and nearly half of the company’s management are women. Anyone looking in would believe this is the result of years of good employee hiring, retention and promotion, with a strong emphasis on diversity. However, Next Jump doesn’t do business that way. We talk to CEO Charlie Kim about the company’s unique hiring practices.

How does Next Jump’s diversity policy work?

Let me be very clear. We do not hire for diversity. In fact, we don’t even have a diversity policy. We hire talented people who also have humility. When we do this, we end up with a diverse workplace.
Although the company was founded in 1994, we did not begin investing in college recruitment until 2006. When hiring, most companies build their entire company through employee referrals, executive searches through recruiters and the rest through normal lateral hiring practices. At Next Jump, the majority of hires have come straight out college, either from undergraduate or graduate programs. One of our proudest metrics is that 70% of our leadership team was ‘homegrown’ straight out of college, trained and developed over four to six years.

Were there any downsides to this approach?

When we began our college recruiting, we followed a common practice used by the biggest tech companies in the world: to hire brilliant and driven people. But, after two years of heavily investing in this hiring process, concentrating our efforts at the top engineering schools on the East Coast, we found ourselves with a small army of brilliant jerks. The culture was toxic. Racial tension, blaming others, total disregard for other people’s opinions and total protection of one’s own ideas and work products. We did a rapid evaluation of all the people we would want to work with vs those we didn’t, and, in one day, we fired half our engineers.

What did you do next?

As the dust settled, we looked for the common ground among those left, and one attribute kept cropping up: humility. Most people mistake humility for meekness. However, humility became an important trait to screen for in our hiring process. We now interview for 45 minutes on humility. No matter how brilliant and driven a candidate is, if they get a humbs down on humility, we do not hire them. No exceptions.

So this is what’s contributed to such an open and diverse workplace?

It took another four years to see the real benefits of this hiring process. By early 2012, our company culture had hit a positive inflection. New hire applicants exceeded 5000 a year for a little under two dozen hires; turnover shot down to low single digits; 70% of the leadership rose from within; and e-commerce sales bucked a five year 30% CAGR to increase to 120% CAGR over the last two years and into 2015. And to top it off, we had tremendous diversity in every way.

Charlie Kim is the founder & CEO of Next Jump.

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