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        Boss reveals ‘coffee cup’ test they use in interviews

        Jan 16, 2024

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        Job interviews can be nerve-racking as many interviewees stress over how to best answer questions the employer throws at you.

        But, not every company asks tough questions. One boss revealed the “coffee cup” test he uses in job interviews to determine whether an applicant is right for the role.

        Former managing director for Xero Australia Trent Innes explained how he refuses to hire anyone if they fail to return an empty cup to the kitchen at the end of an interview.

        “I will always take you for a walk down to one of our kitchens and somehow you always end up walking away with a drink,” Mr Innes said in a resurfaced 2019 interview with the podcast The Ventures.

        “Then we take the drink back, have our interview, and one of the things I’m always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?

        “You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of ‘wash your own coffee cup’.”

        Mr Innes said the secret trick allows him to have a good impression of who you are as an employee.

        “So what I was trying to find was what was the lowest level task I could find that regardless of what you did inside the organisation was still super important that would actually really drive a culture of ownership,” he said.

        “If you come into the office one day inside Xero, you’ll see the kitchens are almost always clean and sparkling and it’s very much off that concept of wash your coffee cup, but that sort of led into the interview space.”

        Mr Innes said by offering to return your empty cup at the end of the interview, your eagerness is the determining part in landing the job.

        “You really want to make sure that you’ve got people who have got a real sense of ownership, and that’s really what I was looking for.

        “Attitude and ownership scale, especially in a really fast-growing environment like we’ve been going through and still at this stage as well. We want to make sure we’ve got people who have a real, strong ownership and a growth mindset.

        “It’s really just making sure they’re actually going to fit into the culture inside Xero, and really take on everything that they should be doing.”

        Mr Innes said just five to 10 per cent of interviewees fail the “coffee cup” test as they don’t take their empty cups back to the kitchen.

        “The really pleasing thing is a vast majority of people do [offer],” he said.

        “I don’t always make them take it back, it’s just an offer and usually I’d take it back for them of course – it’s just the sense of offering.”

        Mr Innes is not the only employer who has a sneaky trick.

        During her podcast She’s On The Money, author and money columnist Victoria Devine recently shared a tactic she uses to help her shortlist applicants for interviews.

        “In my job descriptions, if I’m advertising on LinkedIn, halfway through it will explain in the ‘About You’ section it’ll be like ‘you need to have a high attention to detail’,” she explained.

        “Then it will say, ‘You understand that to apply for this job you have to use the email that’s at the bottom of this advertisement and address it to Victoria, and send an email directly including a cover letter’ … and whatever I’m asking for.”

        “If you apply directly on LinkedIn, I don’t even look at it because you did not follow the directions.

        “I guess that’s a very entitled way to recruit, but when we recruit, because we’re in media and because we are so visible, we do get a high volume of applicants.

        “To me, that’s really an easy way to go. I’ve already cut it in half.”

        Another hidden tactic bosses might use is the receptionist test.

        Back in 2020, an employee took to Reddit and wrote: “Today, a candidate blew his interview in the first 5 minutes after he entered the building.

        “He was dismissive to the receptionist. She greeted him and he barely made eye contact. She tried to engage him in conversation. Again, no eye contact, no interest in speaking with her.

        “What the candidate did not realize was that the ‘receptionist’ was actually the hiring manager.

        “She called him back to the conference room and explained how every single person on our team is valuable and worthy of respect.

        “Due to his interaction with the ‘receptionist’, the hiring manager did not feel he was a good fit. Thank you for your time but the interview is over.

        “Be nice to everyone in the building.”

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