The O’Hare Test: My Main Hiring Method Over the Last 20 Years

Apr 26 2011

Everyone is looking for talented employees.  In simple terms, employees that have the skills necessary to do the tasks that help your company make more money.  On paper a person can appear to have all the skills necessary to do the job but over the years I give out one test that an employee must pass to be on my team. The O’Hare test.

The O’Hare test goes like this. Would I be able to stand being stranded at O’Hare airport with this person for 3 hours?  Would I enjoy my time with this person if had to sit on a plane with them for a long flight?  How about the ride over.  Would being trapped in a car with them for 2 and half hours on the ride to the airport be tolerable?  They have to pass all of these tests if they want to be on any of the staff besides coding and engineering (no the nursery doesn’t have any coders and engineers full time, we hire frelance). Coders and engineers almost have a zero percent chance of passing any of these test so I don’t even bother.  Their job is to be antisocial and code away so they don’t count.  The rest of the staff has to be able to communicate to the highest degree.  The have to be able to work long hours and have a professional, friendly relationship with their fellow staff members.  There will many times that employees will spend more time with their fellow employees than they will with their families.  I find that one bad member of the group can completely drag down the other members.  I owe it to my staff to hire a person that is both talented AND personable aka decent to work with.

When it comes to customer service and sales staff, I step up the O’hare test.  The person not only has to be tolerable, they have to be likable.  In addition to the ability to learn, my customer service and sales staff has to be those people that always seem to smile but not in a fake way. The kind of people that you want to dislike because they are so happy but you just can’t because they are just too nice.  The kind of person that comes up to you and asks if you need any help and you feel like they actually want to help you. You buy from them because they are knowledgeable but buy more because they are nice. So how can I tell all this from a simple interview?

One way is to ask questions that are legal but perhaps off the norm.   Legally you can’t ask any of the following questions

  • Do you have any children? If so, how many and what are their ages?
  • Are you single, married, divorced, or engaged?
  • What kind of childcare arrangements do you have in place?
  • Are you currently taking any form of birth control or fertility treatment?
  • What are your plans if you get pregnant?
  • Does your spouse work? If so, what does your spouse do for a living?

These are not the answers I’m looking for but I do want to know what kind of commitment a person is going to put towards a job.   Wide open questions usually get interviewees to ramble.  You can tell a lot about a person when they are rambling, nervous, or talking with no endpoint. Another part of the O’hare test are smells and hygiene.  Whether they brush their teeth certainly will not come across on a resume but it’s something you would certainly notice in the car ride up to O’Hare.  An applicant that can’t maintain a healthy mouth most likely will struggle in other facets of sales.  My wife is in human resources and told me about an applicant that had Cheetos stained hands.  Not a deal breaker but tough to give full attention to a guy with hands covered in orange dust.

In non technical jobs, passion and drive are starting to trump college degrees.  Experience is becoming more important than education.  People with portfolios and a great personality are winning in today’s society.  They are passing the O’Hare test and flying home to a successful careers.  Sorry couldn’t help it.

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Outsmarting the Dumb, Outworking the Smart

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  1. Louise

    That reminds me after college I traveled for an interview, and stopped for lunch before the meeting: spaghetti with sauce loaded with garlic. I just didn’t know any better, but the guys chuckling at me down the hall shrinking to the other side said alot.

  2. Lisa

    “Coders and engineers almost have a zero percent chance of passing any of these test so I don’t even bother. Their job is to be antisocial and code away so they don’t count.”

    This sounds quite deprecating if you ask me. The world is already overpopulated with people with “soft skills” that appear personable and charming and nice. Those are the people that are there to greet you at Wal-mart with a smile on their face. Those are the waitresses at Applebees making $4 an hr and hoping that when they help put your food in take-out boxes, they will get an extra dollar tip.

    Engineers create the foundation for IT and are found in lower numbers making their work more valuable, while the talking heads are in over-supply so their economic value goes down.

  3. em

    @ Lisa

    There is nothing wrong in waitering or working at Wal-Mart. I get this feeling that somehow you think those jobs are not worthy ones. Waitering is a skill that everyone could learn from, whether you are paid 2 cents or $2000 a day. What you call watered-down, i may call intelligent. To be a fine waiter is a craft and you have to understand people’s needs very well. i think Shane’s point is that highly specialized professionals are quite often lacking interpersonal and multi-disciplinary skills which are becoming more highly valued in the workplace. Having been a boss, I can tell you that I never hired the most “qualified” person but i hired the person who was the best overall fit. If you’ve ever been a boss, you’d know that the “oHare” test is more realistic than you think.

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