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In the nascent days of the Boston Beer Company, its cofounder Jim Koch would personally recruit vendors for his Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
He’d return to these bars to train staff members on a Sam Adams sales pitch for drinkers who stuck to established brands like Budweiser. (Bars were willing to let him do this because his beer had higher profit margins.)
On one of these trips in 1986, at a Washington, D.C. bar called Rumors, Koch approached an employee named Colleen Keegan Williams because he was impressed by her level of engagement during the training, Koch wrote in his book “Quench Your Own Thirst.”
He learned that she had graduated from George Washington University with a finance degree and was working at the bar as she looked for a place to start her career. Koch then asked her if she ever considered selling beer, an idea she had never even thought of, but as a dedicated beer fan, found ideal. She joined the Boston Beer Company and became a successful salesperson.
It’s one of the key moments, Koch wrote, that inspired him to incorporate “ride-alongs” as part of the job interview process at Boston Beer Co., in which he or one of his managers could observe a candidate’s behavior in the field, such as a bar or liquor store.
“This process weeds out about 30% of the prospective hires who passed all the traditional interview tests,” Koch wrote. “People think that selling beer sounds cool, but then they encounter the blood and guts of the business. They see the greasy back-ends of the bars, not the shiny front.”
When Boston Beer Co. hires a salesperson, they want someone who not only understands the grittier side of the beer industry, but also embraces it, like Williams did back in ’86.
In addition to test-runs, Boston Beer Co. has been using profile tests since the 1990s as part of the interview process. They measure traits like a candidate’s “need to be proactive and take initiative, their need for order and structure, their need for social interaction, and their tendency to perform tasks patiently,” Koch wrote.
“The profile test helps us determine what activities people enjoy doing, and hence whether they’re likely to love working in their job with us.”
For example, he once interviewed an accountant candidate named Hank whose profile test suggested someone who was an independent and creative thinker, a decidedly atypical personality for an accountant. Koch had a conversation with Hank and got him to admit he didn’t actually enjoy accounting, but would love being a salesperson. Koch hired him for that position and Hank became an exceptional employee.
Both techniques stem from Koch’s philosophy that all hires should “raise the average” of the team they will be joining, and that as much time and care as necessary should be used to find these candidates. And ultimately, Koch said, after using the interview process to form a judgment of candidates, you will know instinctively if they are worth hiring.
“It’s easy to visualize in your mind the average person in your sales force or on your brewery floor or even in senior management and it’s easy for your intuition to evaluate whether a candidate is better than the average person,” Koch wrote. “Your gut will tell you.”