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These are the qualities Tim Cook looks for in job candidates

Someone who carves out his or her own contribution is a huge asset to any company. Here are questions to ask yourself to decide whether you have this trait.

These are the qualities Tim Cook looks for in job candidates
[Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images]
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If you want a job at Apple or any other competitive organization, it makes sense to pay attention to what Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, looks for in job candidates.

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Even though you’re not likely to be interviewed by Cook himself (or you may not even apply for a job at Apple), Cook’s insights about what Apple wants in new hires is a tip off to those who seek to work in a similar company.

While Cook looks for many qualities in prospective employees—including grit and curiosity—he also even more interestingly seeks people who “won’t accept the status quo, people who aren’t satisfied with the way things are.” In short, he looks for people who “Think Different,” as Apple’s famous mantra advises.

Someone who carves out his or her own contribution is a huge asset to any company. Here are questions you can ask yourself in order to decide whether you have these traits:

Are you intent on shaping your world?

First, consider whether you are complacent with the way things are or whether you have a restless mind that wants to shape the world around you.

You know you have this quality if you see things that can be improved and you have the courage to take action. If a system can be improved, a process changed, or a career opportunity comes your way, don’t settle or shut down.

Cook is an example of this dynamic mindset. When he accepted the position at Apple he said it was because “I looked at the problems Apple had” and decided “I can make a contribution here.” His task was to overhaul Apple’s manufacturing and distribution, and he delivered on these fronts.

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Are you willing to take risks?

A second characteristic of refusing to accept the status quo is a willingness to take risks.

You have to be willing to give up the safety net of what is, for the sake of creating what can be. You have to be willing to go against the grain of popular beliefs and ways of doing things. And you have to be willing to chart the course of your career in a way that may seem risky.

Cook’s determination to fix Apple’s problems involved a huge career risk for him. When Steve Jobs offered him a position in 1998 as senior vice president of Apple’s worldwide operations, Apple was on the skids. Only a year earlier, Microsoft had invested $150,000 million to keep Apple afloat.

After receiving this offer, Cook was told by others that he should stay at Compaq, where he was a young executive with a promising career. Compaq was the world’s largest PC seller and as Cook explains: “Any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits lined up in Compaq’s favor, and the people who knew me best advised me to stay at Compaq.” In fact, “One CEO I consulted felt so strongly about it, he told me I would be a fool to leave Compaq for Apple.”

How many of us have been told to stay with our jobs, rather than taking the risk that comes with moving on to a new opportunity? “Don’t do it,” others advise, thinking they have our own best interests in mind.

The same thing happened to me when I was thinking of founding a company that coached executives in speaking skills. There were many naysayers who told me not to do it. I ignored their advice and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. My company, The Humphrey Group, is now 32 years old and still going strong.

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Do you have faith in the future?

A third thing you’ll need if you’re going to reject the status quo is to have faith in an uncharted future.

When Cook was asked by a sixth grader in a Q+A how he became CEO of Apple, he explained that he had no idea what his future would hold. “I never dreamed of being CEO of Apple. I never thought it possible. I got the call of a lifetime in early 1998 from Steve. But I always believed in what President Lincoln once said: ‘I will prepare and someday my chance will come.'” He explained: “If you study hard. Do great work. And have faith that those things add up and will lead you on a journey, that will be the most incredible journey.”

Do you listen to your gut?

Finally, not accepting the status quo take courage. Cook said he listened to his gut when he decided to accept Steve’s offer.

If you feel you’ve got a lot more to offer in another role, another company, or another career, go for it. If you feel you can change things in the company you’re with, do so. Be gutsy, speak up, and turn problems into solutions. Don’t bury your ideas because others aren’t ready for them, or because you are afraid to stand out.

Cook said: “We [at Apple] look for people who really want to change the world and put all of themselves into doing it.” Look around and you’ll see many things that can benefit from alteration. Take steps to make these changes. And when you’re interviewed for a job and you’re asked: “Tell me about a problem you solved,” you’ll have a great answer.