Southwest manages to succeed where most companies, and airlines in particular, fail, selling a mediocre product, at a price that is rarely the lowest, racking up an industry-leading record of profitability, all the while maintaining a firm hold on the hearts and minds of its customers. Very few companies make so many people so happy so consistently.
At the core of the airline’s success is a corporate culture that seems to radiate fun and good will. In an industry that consumers love to hate, Southwest is the outlier: It’s the company travelers love to love.
That sky-high lovability quotient is no accident; it stems directly from Southwest’s hiring practices. Human resources (dubbed the People Department at Southwest) chooses the right people. Those cheerful, engaged employees endear the airline to customers. And those customers generate solid returns for Southwest shareholders. Seems simple, right?
In its Cheat Sheet series, Bloomberg aspires to “demystify the hiring process at some of the most competitive jobs,” by detailing the steps profiled companies follow in interviewing and selecting job candidates. In Southwest’s case, what’s telling is the overriding emphasis on attitude.
While the qualifications for Southwest’s business analyst position—facility with Microsoft Office, positive attitude, MBA preferred—aren’t much different from those required by most companies for a similar job, the winnowing process very much reflects Southwest’s values.
In the first round, the company reviews 40 resumes, looking for relevant experience, but also for a history of company loyalty. “If you’ve had 10 jobs in 10 years, and you’re not a consultant, that’s a red flag.”
In the second round, 10 candidates are interviewed by phone. A key consideration is motivation. “When the candidate interviews us, it’s a sign they’re serious about the position.”
In the final round, five prospects undergo 90-minute interviews at Southwest’s Dallas headquarters. Again, the focus is less on skills than on personality: “We can teach you about the aviation industry, but a good attitude is something we can’t train.”
Finally, from an initial pool of 40, a winner will be chosen. “The recruiter and hiring leader make the ultimate decision together. More often than not, they will choose hires based on outstanding attitude over relevant job experience.”
The job in question, incidentally, pays $60,000 to $90,000 a year. A solid salary, at an industry-leading company. The successful candidate will no doubt be elated to get the nod. But then, he or she was probably pretty happy to begin with.
Reader Reality Check
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
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