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Why the CEO of a $100 million company still interviews every job candidate himself

Boxed CEO Chieh Huang leads a start-up that has secured $165 million in funding and brings in more than $100 million in revenue each year.

But he hasn't forgotten what it was like to grow up in poverty. Before he co-founded Boxed, which lets customers order items in bulk by mail, he was a child of two Taiwanese immigrants who struggled to make ends meet.

"Growing up poor taught me a lot," Huang told CNBC Make It at CNBC's iConic conference in New York. "It instilled in me the ethics of hard work."

Developing that determination to better himself was crucial to his success, he says. And that's why, despite employing more than 250 people, he still interviews every single job candidate personally.

Chieh Huang
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Chieh Huang

More than resume and pedigree, "we look for hunger," Huang says.

"It's difficult to show hunger through a simple resume, and that's why I still interview every last person in the company before they receive their full-time offer," he says.

Huang, who remembers what it was like to not be able to wear new clothes as a kid when going back to school, says he saw that hunger to succeed as "food." He looks for the same in his employees.

"I try to elicit how hungry this person is and how much endurance they have," he says, "because building a company is not easy."

At Boxed, there are rewards for working hard. Huang has helped foot the bill for employees' weddings and covered tuition for their children's college education. He also touts internal promotions. Employees who started as entry-level workers at the company's fulfillment centers have gone on to manage major corporate accounts.

"Without that hunger, intelligence alone gets you nowhere." -Chieh Huang, Boxed CEO and co-founder

"Folks who are in that position in life didn't choose to be there. And in fact, they're not any less smart than some of the folks in the top positions within the company," he says.

To try to gauge whether someone has that level of determination, Huang asks interviewees to tell him their life story, with one big catch: They're not allowed to talk about what's on their resume.

"Through that life story, you learn a lot about someone," he says. "You learn a lot about their upbringing, what they value, what they like, what they don't like."

After just 30 minutes, the CEO says he has a good read on the applicant's level of grit, which he sees as the key to success.

"Without that hunger," Huang says, "intelligence alone gets you nowhere."

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