Marcy Porus, 37, VP of operations for Backroads, a Berkeley, California-based company that leads biking, hiking, and other excursions to more than 100 destinations.
What's Your Problem?
"Our customers have high expectations. So we need to hire elite people to lead our trips. But it's not easy to evaluate a candidate's leadership skills and service ethic during a standard interview. How do we make sure that our candidates will behave 'as advertised' once they're with guests in Nova Scotia or South Africa?"
Tell Me About It
"Our trip leaders have to be great team leaders. Which means that they must excel at building camaraderie, at keeping people motivated when energy flags, and at solving logistical problems quickly. We field candidates with diverse backgrounds — from high-school language teachers to outdoors specialists — and we run a rigorous interviewing process. But no paper test or interview question can tell us how good candidates are at thinking on their feet."
What's Your Solution?
"We call it the Leader Hiring Event. To get a sense of candidates' true leadership abilities, we take our interviews out of the office and into the field. Every April, we invite more than 100 final candidates to gather at a campground for two days of informal role-playing and problem-solving exercises.
"During those two days, my colleagues and I watch for specific qualities, and we rate people on those criteria. After our president kicks off the event with a talk about our service ethic, the candidates introduce themselves. Then we break them into groups for role-playing activities. We ask questions like 'How do you encourage a guest who wants to deviate from the itinerary to ride alone?'
"We usually end up hiring between 35% and 50% of the final candidates — with near-absolute confidence. Even the candidates who don't make the cut tell us how much fun they had at the off-site."
Cathy Olofson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor based in Belmont, Massachusetts. Contact Marcy Porus by email (email@example.com), or visit Backroads on the Web (www.backroads.com).
A version of this article appeared in the April 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.