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Leadership

3 Things To Consider Before Hiring Someone Smarter Than You

It's tempting to hire the smartest person in the room, but there's more to your team's success than its members' IQs.

[Photo: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

You want smart people working for you—that much is a given. But as a manager or business leader, team dynamics also take shape (or don't) on your watch. Sometimes hiring the smartest person in the room isn't always the best idea—not because you need to protect your ego, but because it takes more than one person's outsize intelligence to succeed.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you're considering bringing someone on that you consider more intelligent than you.

1. Figure Out What Role They'll Play Beyond The Job Description

When you're looking to fill a role, you need to envision how a new hire with fit into your team, not just the technical knowledge they'll add. Based on what you know about your existing employees, is the new addition poised to act as someone's mentor? Or will they simply work with you directly?

Consider your own needs, too. If you’re venturing out and building your own business, bringing in a business partner who can act as a mentor of sorts can be a great resource to have. In that case, you'll probably want somebody who's both intellectually capable and experienced. If you're the manager of a team, you'll likewise want someone who isn't just smart but also brings out the best in you and the rest of your staff. Not all candidates are cut out for mentorship, no matter how smart.

"In today’s business environment, culture is crucial to the success of your business," says Ema Ostarcevic, CEO of SEARCH Group Partners, a premier recruiting firm. "It is important to employ independent thinking and success-driven individuals who do not compromise company culture. There is value in employees who can work hard and be considerate partners in the workplace."

It's far from true that all highly intelligent people are egotistical, but intelligence can arguably make personality a more important factor in your decision than it might otherwise be. Figure out the type of role your prospective hire will have to play, and if a high degree of mentorship will be involved, make sure you've found a personality match, not just a smart worker.

2. Have Some Basic Idea Of What They Do

There are only so many hats you can wear before you need to bring on additional help. If you need a talented developer to build your website, then absolutely hire someone who’s an expert in that. But as a manager or hiring director, as Lisa Froelings counsels on the Huffington Post, it’s important to have some firsthand grasp of what goes into (in this case) developing a website. If you don’t understand a developer’s job and just hire the smartest developer you can find, you're more likely to give instructions that reveal your technical ignorance. Over time, your smart new developer may lose respect for you and doubt your abilities as a manager.

So before you hire, take the time to understand—at a technical level—what goes into each role you’re trying to fill. That doesn't mean mastering a new field altogether, of course, just being sensitive to its basic workflow and processes: What are reasonable deadlines for developers building a website from scratch? What will a marketing department need in order to get the job done?

This will help you stay clear about your own expectations and communicate your objectives effectively. The last thing you want is someone taking advantage of you because you simply don’t get what goes into their work. Sure, you want someone who's brilliant in their field, but they'll need to know you understand what they do—or at least try to—otherwise you risk undermining your own authority and the cohesiveness of your team.

3. Watch For An Ego Problem

Smart employees can help you take your business far, but intelligence becomes a problem when smart people believe they don’t need to work as hard as their peers. Just because someone has a high IQ doesn’t mean they’ll be successful. Nor does it excuse them from putting in the same amount of work as their peers.

This is especially true in the startup world, where businesses can grow fast and your employees can make or break your culture. "When we conduct interviews," Pini Yakuel, CEO of Optimove, tells me, "we look not only for intelligence, but also for someone who has a strong work ethic and is a team player. Of course, brains and talent are a crucial part of getting the job done, but the ability to be open-minded and work well with others is often just as important as high IQ."

This isn't just a theoretical caveat. Some research suggests that unusually smart people aren't any better than the general population at seeing their own flaws or accepting criticism. This can pose a real problem on teams. Hiring someone who rightly believes themselves brilliant may lead to a case of slackerism. But by the same token, your smart new hire may also struggle to constantly live up to your expectations if you push them too hard on the basis of their capabilities.

It's important to strike a balance. You certainly don't want to hire people below your intelligence because you feel threatened by employees who are smarter than you. On the other hand, don’t just hire smart people for the sake of hiring smart people. The best rule of thumb is simply to recognize that your job as a manager is to harmonize all types of employees in order to create a productive team. That may well mean hiring people who are smarter than you—as long as they match your culture and overall business needs, not just your technical ones.

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