What Matters: Tell Me What You Really Think

Before I started HighTower, I was a lawyer. The courtroom taught me a lot about how to get honest answers out of people — a useful skill when deciding whom to hire. Most people do not lie outwardly during job interviews, but they tend not to give completely genuine answers. I don’t blame them. Those questions are pretty dumb.

When I talk to people who want to work at HighTower, I believe in giving them a chance to tell me what they really think.

What matters:

  • Curiosity: Curiosity is a mark of intelligence. It’s an inherent trait that if encouraged, makes people who are naturally curious that much more appealing as job candidates. I want to work with people who care enough to be curious.
  • Emotional intelligence: I know it is a buzzword these days, but we’re stuck with it. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and those of others. If you are smart, curious, and have the ability to understand how your emotions and those of people around you impact just about everything we all do, then you’re likely to contribute to a healthy and vibrant culture.
  • Passion: People who have passion for what they’re doing tend to be better at it than people who don’t. The passionate people try harder, stick around longer, and care more about their work. I’m genuinely passionate about the work that HighTower and our advisors do for our clients. I’m also pretty good at recognizing when somebody else shares that passion. Those are the people we hire.
  • Preparation: Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” I can tell whether someone is prepared for an interview more by the questions they ask me than by their answers to the questions I ask them. Passion’s important, but preparation is critical.
  • What doesn’t matter:

  • Where you went to school: We all know which schools are the “good ones.” If you went to one, good for you. Good grades don’t predict success . Less than a third of the top 100 Fortune 500 CEOs went to an Ivy League school . I would much rather work with a curious, passionate person who went to a second- or third-tier university than someone who lacks those qualities but has a prestigious institution on his or her diploma.
  • Nitty gritty details about your technical skills: You need to have the skills necessary to do the job — that’s table stakes, and not a differentiator. Unless you have a very particular set of skills , there are probably dozens of other candidates out there with the same ones. The candidates who stand out to me are the ones who are sincere, curious and passionate.

  • I’ll leave you with a true story: five years ago I interviewed a candidate for the position of chief information officer. He mentioned he was Jesuit trained, and that sparked my interest. I asked him to tell me about his training, what books he reads, and the mission of St. Ignatius and the Jesuits. The resulting two-hour conversation about literature and philosophy taught me nothing about his technical skills, but I learned all I needed to know about the candidate’s character, personality and intellect. Today, he is a key member of our leadership team.