Managing director Trent Innes said it was a simple tactic to ensure the potential employee fits the Xero’s culture of ownership and showed the most valuable asset of all - a good attitude.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on May 31, 2019

Anyone looking for a job, or looking to move jobs, should consider the “coffee cup test”.

Trent Innes, managing director of A$8.5 billion ASX-listed accounting software firm, Xero Accounting, says he has a strict marker for anyone who is invited for an interview.

It is his very own “coffee cup” test.

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Speaking to The Venture Podcast with Lambros Photios, the local head of the A$8.5 billion ASX-listed accounting software firm said he refuses to hire anyone who doesn’t offer to take their coffee cup back to the kitchen after a job interview with him.

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Mr Innes said it was a simple tactic to ensure the potential employee fits the Kiwi company’s culture of ownership and showed the most valuable asset of all — a good attitude.

“I’m probably giving away all my dark secrets here now,” Mr Innes said.

“But if you do come in and have an interview, as soon as you come in and you do meet me, 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 — whether it be a glass of water, a coffee, or a cup of tea, or even a soft drink.

“And then we take that 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?”

Cup of coffee

If you enjoy a cup of coffee at an interview, remember to take the cup back to the kitchen.

Mr Innes told why he devised the test.

“What I was trying to find 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 once one day inside Xero, you’ll definitely see the kitchens are almost always clean and sparkling — it’s very much of that concept of wash your coffee cup, and that sort of led into the interview space.

“You really want to make sure that you’ve got people who’ve 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.

“It’s really just making sure that they’re going to fit into the culture inside Xero, and really take on everything that they should be doing. It’s really served us really well as the business has scaled and grown. We’ve managed to maintain the value and purpose and culture that makes us special.

“Hiring for attitude is probably the most important thing I believe when you’re hiring people, especially in a fast growth company or a start-up environment or scale up environment — you need people with a really strong growth mindset and that comes back to their attitude.”