Figuring Out If the Shoe Fits


If you want a job at Zappos, you’d be well served to love Zappos.

As The Wall Street Journal reported this week, the online shoe retailer has stopped posting jobs. Candidates interested in working there must now “join a social network, called Zappos Insiders, where they will network with current employees and demonstrate their passion for the company—in some cases publicly—in hopes that recruiters will tap them when jobs come open.”

Of course, this requires considerable patience on the part of a prospective employee. But Zappos executives hope to do away with sorting through thousands of definite rejects—last year, the company hired just 1.5% of 31,000 applicants—and deal instead with a smaller, less changing pool of likely hires.

In theory at least, this should allow both employer and prospective employee to get to know one another better over time and ensure that a person gets matched to a position more wisely. “In some ways, Zappos can seem less like a shoe retailer than an experiment in how a company can be run,” the Journal noted. Meanwhile, at least some readers have expressed skepticism. “I suspect they will learn passionate and competence are not always paired together,” one commenter asserted.

As Peter Drucker often pointed out, picking people is hard, and he felt that most executives have a poor record of success—maybe one out of three hires pans out.

When it comes to sorting mechanisms for, say, recent college graduates, companies seem especially at a loss. “It is doubtful that the complex selection procedures for knowledge people really ‘select’ anyone,” Drucker wrote of U.S. hiring practices. “And neither the elaborate, ritualistic game of the English house party nor the grueling but purely formalistic entrance tests of the large Japanese companies make more sense. Their only refinement over the American practice is greater mental cruelty.”

Whether the Zappos system works will, in the end, hinge in large part on details of its implementation, including whether the company sufficiently vets candidates with previous employers and makes sure the appointee fully understands the job. (We’ve summarized some of Drucker’s hiring rules here.)

If the new system rewards what Drucker called “‘high visibility’ rather than . . . proven competence,” then it will not succeed. But if it channels candidates toward their strengths and helps alleviate the problem of not knowing “how to test or predict whether a person’s temperament will suit a new environment,” then Zappos can boast of creating a social innovation that may change many organizations for the better.

Even if their business isn’t shoes.

What do you think of Zappos’s new approach to hiring?