How to hire the best employees: work ethic vs. smarts


How to hire the best employees
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Figuring out how to hire the best employees is a bit like trying to figure out whether to eat a small cheeseburger or a huge salad, or whether it’s better to be eight feet tall or four. There’s always the pressing dilemma of whether to choose the brilliant team or the hard working team, and the issue of how much overlap is permissible, and to what degree. And that’s a tough decision for which there’s really no clear answer. So we’re going to come up with one right now. And that’s actually easier than it seems.

The dilemma of how to hire the best employees, then, comes down to an analysis of what happens at both ends of the intelligence/ethics continuum. On the one hand, a brilliant person with poor work ethic will never amount to anything. We’ve all heard stories time and again of the brilliant kid who did nothing with his life. On the other hand, a person of average intelligence with a compulsion to be successful and exemplary work ethic is about as stoppable as a fully laden cargo ship.

Interestingly, genuinely brilliant people tend often to be the most lazy: because most things come so naturally to them, they tend not to work as hard, and too often have less patience and discipline for the few things that elude them. In contrast, people of more quotidian mental acuity, while perhaps below the level of “brilliant,” are still sufficiently smart enough to be ravaged by insatiable frustration when they are unable to solve a problem. And because the human brain is largely motivated by a dopamine-powered reward system, this compulsion to keep working until the solution is discovered is a remarkably powerful drive indeed.

Ultimately, then, the question of how to hire the best employees is less a question of whom to hire, and rather a question of what type of person to hire. Unsurprisingly, this depends largely on the type of company for which you are hiring, and of course the position for which you are hiring. If you are looking for a founder or someone in a similar position of team leadership, it is indisputable, per our reasoning above, that you’re best to find someone with the work ethic of Commander Spock. If you are looking for someone to sit down and do a lot of grunt work, then arguably, you may want someone with superlative brilliance who can sit down and just carry on with brute force.

Either way though, fact remains: a brilliant employee with zero work ethic will get zero done, while someone with average intelligence and unwavering sense of duty and dedication to work will never let you down.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

N.B. There’s a great discussion on this over at Quora.


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About Marc Hoag

CEO & Co-Founder of Venturocket. California-licensed attorney. Science & engineering geek. UCLA Bruin. Apple. Quora. HackerNews. The Economist. TopGear. Must be placed in direct sunlight. Find Marc on Google+ and Twitter.

4 comments
Marie Jose Renaud
Marie Jose Renaud

so true! a brilliant engineer says, with zero work ethic lets himself be corrupted. once caught imagine the impact on your company's reputation! another engineer, with maybe less smarts, stays honest. see the difference in work done and international reputation?

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