Why You Should Hire People Who Are Smarter Than You

May 10, 2014

10:00 am

I’m a big believer in hiring employees who are smarter than you, but I didn’t always feel this way. Early in my career, I was hesitant to hire people I thought were smarter than me. Believe it or not, I had a bit of an ego. I didn’t want to accept that I might not be the smartest person in the room. I feared losing respect; I thought that, as the leader, I should have all the answers.

It took me a long time to discover that my fears were just my insecurities talking. Hopefully, other entrepreneurs can learn from my mistakes and build a team of the smartest possible employees from the beginning.

Smarter Employees = Smarter Business

First, let’s talk about some of the benefits of hiring people who are smarter than you. These employees bring their unique areas of expertise to the table, and they can look at your processes and strategies with fresh eyes. You’ll know you’ve made a good decision when an employee makes you say, “I never would have thought of this in a million years!”

Consider the time you will save. Smarter employees learn more quickly and don’t have to be managed as closely. They’re more motivated and on top of their assigned tasks. This frees up more of your time to focus on running the company, being a leader, and growing your business — hopefully by hiring more smart people.

As David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, once said, “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”

Getting Over the ‘But I’m the Boss!’ Mentality

Getting over your own ego and embracing the notion of hiring people who are smarter than you requires some serious self-reflection. I think we’re all born with some amount of competitiveness. We want to be better than those around us. But when you’re running a company, there’s no room for the fear of others outshining you. When you reach this point, you’ll know it. It’s a very humbling — albeit necessary — moment in every entrepreneur’s life.

My moment of self-realization came when I concluded that I couldn’t do it all and that there were people out there who could do certain tasks much better than I ever could. I realized it was my job to do what I do best and to find others who could fill in the gaps.

Write down your strengths and weaknesses on even the little things. Instead of trying to improve all of your weaknesses, focus on what you’re good at. Then, use those skills to better manage your company. Once you do this, you can place your focus on hiring people to cover the areas you determined to be your weakest.

Tips for Hiring for Intelligence

Employees shouldn’t just be smarter than you — they should also be hardworking, honest, and capable of delivering on what they say they can do.

As you might’ve guessed, the interview process is crucial. You have to ask the right questions and be specific to assess intelligence and cultural fit. At our company, we ask candidates to answer questions like these:

  • What’s one mistake you made in a previous position, and what did you learn from it?
  • What has been your greatest professional accomplishment?
  • What do you think makes a good supervisor?

Hypothetical, scenario-based questions are also essential because the smartest candidates tend to really shine with excellent answers. For instance, if the job is for an operational position, we bring up potential issues that can arise and ask what solution they would offer. The questions must be specific and may require some research, but they will give you a better sense of how the candidate will contribute to your company.

To find the best candidates, we’ve used Craigslist and Monster. We’ve also partnered with the placement departments of local universities, such as San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego, to receive the résumés of students who will graduate soon. Tapping into your professional network is always a good idea as well.

The key is to be thorough during interviews. For instance, when hiring through Craigslist, we used a multi-tiered process of sorting through résumés and conducting phone interviews and face-to-face interviews.

It took some time, but we found some of the best employees we’ve ever hired. Keep in mind that the amount of effort you put into the hiring process will directly reflect the quality of employees you have.

Be Smart by Hiring Smart

Recently hired employees at our company are asked to read “StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Tom Rath to help them determine their top five strengths and to help us assess their roles in the company. Your employees are going to have weaknesses, too, so identifying what they’re best at will help you create balance in the workplace and ensure that there aren’t any holes on your team.

Businessman R.H. Grant once said, “When you hire people that are smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are.”

That’s what being a good leader is all about. You don’t need to know everything about everything. You just have to know how to leverage the strengths of others for the greater good of your company.

Originally from Turkey, Guest author Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with nothing but two suitcases, a love for each other, and a desire for entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. As the global leader in the field of lab and instant testing for drugs of abuse and health, Confirm BioSciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug testing technologies.

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