hiring for front stage

Front Stage vs Backstage Jobs: How to Hire for Each

by Jul 6, 2021Business, Culture, Diversity, Growth, Leadership, Talent

To make the perfect hire, you need to understand the role.

In almost any kind of company you can name, you can divide the work that gets done as either a “front stage” or a “backstage” job. This distinction comes from the theater world, where some people, like actors, appear on the front stage, while others, like the director, the prop master, and the ticket collector, have backstage jobs.

I’ve personally worked both onstage as a performer engaging with the audience as well as backstage as someone in production and lighting and enjoyed both, but they are very different kinds of work.

Disney has famously characterized all its jobs in this way. Anyone playing a character walking around Disney World or a ride operator, for example, would have a front-stage job, while those working in accounting or maintenance fill a backstage role.

Another example comes from the restaurant world, where you have waiters in the front of the house and chefs in the back of the house. Both sets of roles are vitally important to the success of the business. The difference is that you should be looking for certain kinds of personalities and skill sets to fill those different roles.

That’s why, when you’re hiring, you need to think about the front stage and backstage when defining a role, as it might be the most important trait to hire for.

Different Skills for Different Roles

When you hire someone into your business, you should be thinking about whether the role is a front-stage or backstage role and whether the candidate has the skills and personality to match that role. If you’re hiring someone who will be exposed to your clients daily, like a telemarketing rep or maybe a receptionist, you want to hire someone who enjoys engaging with other humans. This is critical because these front-stage folks will represent your brand to your customers, and they need to fulfill that role well.

On the flip side, when you’re hiring for a backstage role, you need to prioritize other skills and personality traits, like their technical proficiency or willingness to work in a team environment.

Let’s use the example of Southwest Airlines. They have a brand reputation for being fun and somewhat whimsical. They don’t take themselves too seriously. That means when they look to hire flight and gate attendants, they’re looking for people who are fun and friendly and enjoy engaging with the customers.

But when Southwest needs to hire an airplane mechanic (backstage job) they don’t need to prioritize someone who is fun and outgoing. Rather, they need someone who is efficient, precise, and reliable–someone you trust to keep the plane flying safely. You want someone who is a stickler for details, not quick with a joke. As a frequent flier, I deeply appreciate the skills that both types of people bring to the airline.

Welcoming Up Front, Business in the Back

I remember working with a client in the wealth management business who took this whole notion of frontstage and backstage roles to heart. When they hired people for the front stage roles, the people who engaged with their clients, insisted that they all wear blue suits, white shirts, and, for the men, red ties. They even put this in the job descriptions. They saw this as a kind of uniform that sent a message to their clients about what they represented as a predictable, professional, and discrete firm.

For the people who worked in backstage jobs where they didn’t interact with customers, no dress code was required. They were looking for people who cared about details and watching the market–not how they made the customers feel warm and comforted. You want these folks to be all business, all the time.

Finding the Right Fit

So, when you start looking to hire someone to fill an open position, think about the kind of job you’re hiring for: Is it front stage or back of the house? This will tell you a lot about the kinds of skills and personalities you should be looking for in candidates. Finding the right people will not only greatly increase the odds that they’ll be a great fit for the role, but those new hires will also enjoy their jobs that much more.