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The Enlightened Interview

This post will show you how to apply customer experience concepts perfected by Danny Meyer and AirBNB to your interview preparation.

I’m listening to Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table, about how he built his portfolio of restaurants. As New Yorkers, you’ve probably eaten at many of them: From Union Square Cafe to Gramercy Tavern to One Eleven Madison to Blue Smoke to Shake Shack. Meyer has this concept in the book called “enlightened hospitality” and he distinguishes it from customer service. Good customer service is making sure your guests don’t wait for a table they reserved, that their food comes out hot and delicious, that their waiter is attentive. But hospitality is more than that: It’s the way all the elements of dining in one of Meyer’s restaurants make you feel. It’s the customer experience — a concept that’s familiar to us in advertising. So when you walk in the door, you’re greeted by name. They remember the table or waiter that you prefer, what kind of wine you drink, your favorite dessert. All these things lead to an experience that make you feel pampered, and extends far beyond good customer service.


Joe Gebbia of AirBNB has his own form of enlightened hospitality. (BTW, if you haven’t listened or read anything about Gebbia, you absolutely need to. The guy is a riot. The kind of joyful prankster/super nerd fraternity brother that is teetering between becoming valedictorian or getting suspended. Such a great storyteller!)


Anyway, in doing research for AirBNB, Gebbia [and his co-founder, Brian Chesky] conducted this sort of blue sky exercise where he asked:

“OK, if I could get a 5-star rating as an AirBNB host, what would that look like?”

I’d arrive, the rooms would be ready, the keys would be waiting, maybe they’d be some helpful tips about exploring the neighborhood.

“If I could get a 6-star rating, what would that look like?”

All of the above, PLUS the fridge is stocked.

A 7-star rating would be all of the above, PLUS the AirBNB host picks me up.

This goes on until he has defined an incredible 10-star experience where the host flies him in on a private jet and they go to a concert on the moon… You get the picture.


How is this exercise useful? It allows Gebbia to see the possibilities to overdeliver on the experience. To set himself apart from the norm.

To listen to the entire clip, jump to 16:00 of the podcast.


OK, why are we at Nadexa Group talking about Danny Meyer restaurants & AirBNB? Well, I like to travel & I like to eat… but that’s not it. I think we can able the concept of enlightened hospitality to your job search, specifically to the interview process. Whether you’re the job seeker or the employer, there are elements of Meyer’s & Gebbia’s that we can and should steal.


It’s starts with imagining your ultimate interview experience. How can you help create that?


First, you can be prepared. Danny Meyer talks about reviewing the reservations list each day so he can prepare for his guests. He may put aside a usual sell-out dish for a regular customer, or seat two people in the same industry at tables close to each other. You can do the same when you prepare for interviews by reading everything you can find about your interviewers and looking for ways to connect — whether that’s a person you have in common, shared interest, or where you grew up. This will naturally lead to questions and help you envision a dialogue unfolding.


Just as you design a user experience, you think about what might be helpful about each step along the journey and that becomes part of your preparation. For example, if you’re going to talk about a particular campaign, then can you bring it along to show them? All the while, you’re channeling Gebbia about how you can overdeliver. How you can do something noteworthy and memorable to stand out. In my blog piece last year about Heartbeat’s culture, they have all candidates spin a roulette wheel when they come in to interview and answer an unexpected question about themselves.


What could you do, as a job seeker or a hiring decision-maker, to overdeliver? Could it be you draft a quick email to your interviewer before your first meeting to express a shared interest or something you’d like to discuss?


“Hey, I noticed you ran a marathon in wine country. I’m a runner too, remind me to ask you about that!”

Or, “I liked what you had to say about building a team culture in your recent blog post. I have some ideas around that.”


What? Too bold? I’m not saying be weird or ask them to do work before you even sit down. Meyer has this great personal mantra that begins with “Who ever wrote the rule that…” Ask yourself why it’s necessary to follow the status quo?


I’ll leave you with this, from Adam Grant’s book, Originals. He quotes a study that found that people who install their own web browser rather than accept the default stay 15% longer in their jobs. Wait, what?! Why would that be? My hypothesis is that people that don’t accept the status quo — that see that something can be improved and act on it — are going to be more successful. More engaged. Have more sense of ownership and, because they’ve designed their own experience, be more satisfied in their jobs.


In summary, look for ways to break away from the pack by overdelivering. This won’t feel contrived if you think deeply about the experience you want to create.

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