Charles Schwab CEO tests character of potential recruits by taking them to breakfast and ensuring that the restaurant gets their order wrong

As a senior executive of a major multi-asset retail electronic trading firm, one of the greatest challenges, and indeed risks, is hiring the right management and ensuring that those recruited to positions within the upper echelons of the company will have the right attributes, depth of knowledge, experience, and even persona to be able to […]


As a senior executive of a major multi-asset retail electronic trading firm, one of the greatest challenges, and indeed risks, is hiring the right management and ensuring that those recruited to positions within the upper echelons of the company will have the right attributes, depth of knowledge, experience, and even persona to be able to drive the company forward long term.

Today, a rather unorthodox method of assessing new recruits was revealed, in which Walt Bettinger, CEO of North American retail equities, stock and CFD brokerage Charles Schwab puts their character to the test in a circumstance in which the unsuspecting candidate is faced with a pre-orchestrated everyday, yet often irritating series of events.

Mr. Bettinger clearly understands that the true character of any person comes to light during periods of pressure or distress, or under circumstances that are either embarrassing or beyond the control of the parties involved. This aspect of human nature is critical to whether a person may be successful in their career or not.

In order to put this to the test in an everyday environment, Mr. Bettinger often invites potential candidates to meet him over breakfast, which is usually the path to a mildly informal business-related discussion, that is until something very trivial goes wrong.

Trivialities often upset the sensibilities of even the most intelligent, and therein lies the subtlety of Mr. Bettinger’s test of mettle – he intentionally ensures that the restaurant delivers a completely incorrect order to the potential candidate, and then quietly observes the reaction of the interviewee.

Mr. Bettinger admitted to the New York Times that until now, this had been a secret test of a potential candidate’s strength of character, and that this test is intended to gauge how prospective employees deal with adversity.

He explained “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 look inside their heart rather than their head.”

In a fast moving industry such as FX, or equities, or indeed any other sector within the electronic trading business, ability to manage and even lead change is critical, and situations which must be handled calmly and efficiently occur regularly. Essentially these days, the entire industry leads development in fintech, as well as is responsible for the investments of millions of retail customers globally.

Rather more conventionally than trying to stall candidates if they become upset when the inevitable wrong meal is brought to them at breakfast, Mr. Bettinger also asks potential recruits to tell him about their greatest successes in life.

“What I’m looking for is whether their view of the world really revolves around others, or whether it revolves around them,” he said. “And I’ll ask then about their greatest failures in their life and see whether they own them or whether they were somebody else’s fault” he said.

In the same interview, Mr. Bettinger shared one of his biggest failures. He said that it was one of his last college exams, which ruined his pristine 4.0 average, that taught him how important it was to recognize individuals “who do the real work.”

A professor at the university at which Mr. Bettinger studied has also had a profound effect on the way that he views aptitude. According to Mr. Bettinger, during his years as a student he had studied and memorized formulae for calculations, but when he attended the final exam, he was confronted with nothing but a blank sheet of paper.

Mr. Bettinger recalled that the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?” Mr. Bettinger did not know the answer, so failed the exam and got a B in the class.

“That had a powerful impact,” he told the New York Times. “Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name.”

Mr. Bettinger explained in the interview that “since then I have tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with and this was a great reminder of what really matters in life.”

Photograph; Downtown Manhattan, copyright FinanceFeeds

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