Watch Out of Office on our YouTube Channel

This Fortune 500 CEO Has a Crazy (But Effective) Interview Technique

Recently I visited one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in Toronto. I looked forward to it all week, mentally ordered my favourite tacos and visualized my Margarita in hand in the days leading up to my dinner date.

It’s safe to say I’d set the bar fairly high.

But the moment I set foot through the door, I knew these lofty expectations were about to come crashing down spectacularly.


For a start our reservation had been screwed up. And after a long wait in the doorway we were eventually seated in a very chilly part of the dining room and handed menus.

Luckily I already knew what I wanted. Unfortunately the waitress – who refused to write down our orders – did not. Twenty-five painfully hungry minutes later she brought us a thoroughly incorrect order and left swiftly before I had a chance to complain.

“Oh well. It’s kind of similar to what we ordered” said my friend, whose blood vessel was not throbbing dangerously above her temple, as was mine. “Let’s just eat it.”

Once the dust had settled, the tacos were replaced and my blood pressure had returned to normal levels, I was reminded of a story I read earlier this year.

In an interview with the New York Times, Walt Bettinger, the CEO of Charles Schwab Corporation, admitted to an unusual practice he conducts when recruiting new staff.

When asked about his hiring process, he told interviewer Adam Bryant that occasionally he’ll meet a prospective employee and intentionally ask their server to go rogue on their order – just to see how they handle the situation.

“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” said Bettinger.

As if your average interview wasn’t already cause for profuse sweating and intense anxiety, imagine the poor schmuck who lands one at Charles Schwab and unbeknownst to them has been plotted against in plain view.

Should you send your cold soup back to the kitchen and make a stink in front of your prospective employer? Or meekly nibble at the food you definitely didn’t order as your future boss wonders when you’re going to grow a backbone?

So why does Bettinger do it?

“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.”

In a world where we can google our way to the correct interview answers and dream up scenarios so we can tell our prospective employers about “a time when you had to had to deal with a difficult customer or client” that expertly illustrates our skill set – it’s refreshing to see someone going on gut instinct and practicality alone.

We’re increasingly being told that company culture and fit matter more than a carbon copy answer to a generic question asked in a controlled environment. So it makes sense that we should be tested to see if we’re the kind of person who screams bloody murder at a colleague when they put cilantro in our food don’t meet their deadlines.

And while there’s really no right or wrong way to react in the doctored restaurant scenario, it does go some way to testing a candidates mettle before you bring them on board.

“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?” concludes Bettinger.

So if you’re going for an interview at Charles Schwab, as long as you don’t flip the table and make sure you leave 20 per cent, you should be fine.


Notable Life

Canada’s leading online publication for driven young professionals & culture generators.