When Jay Leno hosted NBC's "The Tonight Show," the comedian led a staff of around 200 people, including writers and producers who worked closely with the host.
To ensure that he hired the best employees, Leno only cared about one thing: their material. "A lot of times people write me jokes, and I'd go, 'I like these jokes — hire that person,'" he tells CNBC Make It.
Leno was never interested in hiring people because of their connections. Instead, he let their talent and abilities speak for themselves. "An agent never submitted jokes to me for his client," the host of CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage" says. "People just come up and give me the jokes, and I read them and I decide whether to hire them or not."
The strategy helped prevent Leno from turning down good writers due to an unconscious bias, he says. "Maybe I might have been influenced by things, like That guy seems kind of old. But I hired them based on material," he explains.
"One guy was so handicapped he couldn't leave his house, but he wrote good jokes. It didn't matter to me," says Leno.
That said, Leno also believes that a personal touch can make a candidate stand out. "If there's somebody you admire, be it in show business or finance or whatever, write those people a letter," he previously told CNBC Make It.
That can have more impact than an email or unsolicited resume. "I'm always amazed at the number of people that say, 'Well, I sent an email. I didn't get any response,' Leno says. He thinks a handwritten letter is more memorable and even recommends delivering it yourself.
Not only does Leno worry about hiring qualified candidates, he thinks it's important to keep them happy and fulfilled at work. On "The Tonight Show," that meant contracting writers for a full year, rather than a 13-week run. "When people felt they were confident and secure in their job, then they tend to work a little bit harder," Leno says.
"I know that goes against the grain," he explains. "People think, 'Oh, you keep them lean and hungry and fighting with one another,' but that doesn't work ultimately."
Giving employees a sense of ownership over their work goes a long way, Leno found: "When people feel they're part of the process, and their livelihood depends on your livelihood, they're more likely to do a good job."
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