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Steve Jobs’ application for employment, 1973

Would you have hired a young Steve Jobs?

In 1973, while enrolled at Reed College as an English Lit major, Steve Jobs fill-out the job application posted above. He indicated that he didn’t have a phone, had no job experience, and his access to transportation was “possible, but not probable”. Not a very impressive candidate.

It gets a little more interesting on the bottom half of the application, where he indicates that he has computer skills and calculator skills (wow!). He somewhat cryptically draws an arrow between the two and writes “design, tech”. He also notes that his special abilities include “design engineer”.

I dont know whether he got the job or not.

Reviewing applications and hiring good people is hard. My career as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur was certainly defined by this. When I hired well, good things happened. When I hired poorly, things usually went to shit.

In fact I’ve come to the conclusion that, if you want to run companies, the primary factor that drives success or failure is the ability to recruit great teams.

A few months after Steve Jobs submitted this employment application he dropped out of college, travelled to India for a while, came home, met Steve Wozniak and founded Apple. Today we think of Apple as being synonymous with great design engineering, and yet Steve wasn’t a trained engineer; he was an English Lit dropout. But it turned out his superpower was hiring and motivating brilliant engineers.

His best hire, arguably, was a 37-year-old materials engineer he hired away from Compaq Computer. Tim Cook later said “No more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple”. Steve’s random hire of a materials engineer turned out well. Tim Cook eventually became CEO and has now led Apple through the nine most profitable years in the history of the company. That’s a pretty good hire.

Would I have hired the young Steve Jobs who filled out this application? I don’t know; probably not. But I do think that the most important things to know about an applicant aren’t on their resume. What matters is understanding what really drives a person. And when this 18-year-old wrote that his real passion was “design engineering” he was being 100% self-aware, true to himself, and predictive of his career.

It was right there on his application.

Written by

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.

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