Recruiting · Teams

How do you hire people who are smarter than you?

Max Avroutski Building EV Charging & Electric Energy Access company

June 13th, 2013

How do you hire people who are smarter than you?

I keep hearing this all the time from Guy Kawasaki : Hire people who are smarter than you.

Is that just nice idea that can't be implemented? Or does he having problem of communicating what he is trying to say?


I can't figure out how I or anyone one else for that matter can do that because if I was looking for a job I certainly wouldn't work for stupid bosses. Employees have to respect their bosses and be inspired by them. How can stupid boss inspire smart employees?

What I can think of right now is:
Hire smartest people that you can get for the areas in which don't have expertise in.


Hire smartest people that you can get that only want to specialize in their niche area of expertise and work for a boss and don't have any entrepreneurial aspirations.

Daniel Ice

June 13th, 2013

I think that the phrase, "hire someone smarter than yourself" means you are looking for someone with a higher degree of skill in an area you are trying to staff.  Your personal talent/skill/intelligence in that area shouldn't matter because you are hiring someone to do that job.  If you are managing the position then you need to have enough knowledge to not impede your technician/skilled worker.

The other thing to consider is that there are many kinds of intelligence.  Entrepreneurs tend to have a higher level of emotional intelligence, where as a programmer might have a higher level of logical intelligence.  Focus on the kind of intelligence needed for the position you are staffing then find the person with the highest skill for that area.

If you don't have any understanding of a topic, then pick up a book that will give you a high level understanding of the skill set you are hiring for, or get another friend/advisor with the skill set that you are hiring for to do an interview for you.

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

June 13th, 2013

I think you have the right idea. Hire people who have expertise that you don't have in equal magnitude.

Then listen to them in their areas of expertise; that's the other part that CEOs sometimes trip up on.

Balki Kodarapu Experienced Software Engineering Leader

June 13th, 2013

What Guy meant is probably closer to your option #1.  It's always better to hire people who have complementary skills to your own.  That is true at least when you are bringing your co-founders on board.
That said if you grow large enough you will obviously have to hire more people with the same skill as yourself, say marketing or sales or engineering.  So what then?  I say you should still aim for someone smarter than yourself because by then as the leader of the whole organization you have grown horizontally and you need people specialized in verticals to scale.  So those specialists better be smarter than you in the areas of expertise.
It doesn't mean you can't inspire them. Your main objective at that stage is to show the vision not to prove you are smarter than them IMHO.

Johnson Ma Business Development & Strategy

June 13th, 2013

I think your concern is an interesting one, but I also think you're taking a lot of nuance out of the phrase and just taking it literally to mean "if I hire people smarter than me, that makes me stupid"  

When you took classes, was only the top student "the smart one" and the rest "stupid?"  I don't think so!

Others have covered it well -- hire with complementing skillsets, etc, etc.

Rob G

June 23rd, 2013

my take on his message is to hire the smartest people you can afford in each position at each stage of growth and i would add this caveat - THAT ARE COMPATIBLE with your company culture. Plain old smart is good, but not when it comes at the cost of alienating co-workers or causing conflict.  There are a variety of ways to measure raw intelligence, but drive, ambition and the ability to get sh%t done in a dynamic and agile work environment need to weigh heavily in your hiring criteria and are hard to measure - check references.  One effective approach is to simply ask people you know "who's the smartest person you know with xyz skill set"?  And then ask those people. With each conversation you should notice the conversational bar being raised and you'll recognize the exceptional individuals. You will want to be sure most of your early hires have the management gene too. You hope to be growing rapidly and to do that a significant percentage of your early hires should be capable of managing their group - not everyone is management material and that's OK too, but each manager needs to have a clear succession plan so they can backfill their spot when you need to tap them to take on more responsibility. Hopefully it goes without saying, but avoid the guy who is brilliant and wants to be sure everyone knows it.  Good luck. 

Marcus Siegel Product Design

June 13th, 2013

"Hire people that you would work for"
This doesn't mean they're smarter than you, but that you respect them enough that you would work for them if the tables were turned.

Jordan Finger E-commerce, Digital Marketing, Ad-Tech, Customer Acquisition, Mobile Commerce

June 14th, 2013

HI Max, You pose very valid interesting points on hiring key smart talent. First, I highly recommend that you read TopGrading This is an absolute must on hiring A Players for your team. This provides a very methodical approach to the difficult hiring process. Also, Good to Great by Jim Collins I have been a business owner for over 13 years with a staff in excess of 30. From my experience, I identify what job does the company need fulfilled to be more effective and efficient? Then I seek out the smartest at that position. For example, the world of digital marketing is constantly changing and involving. There was once a time in the not distant past that Google and keyword buying did not exist. Therefore, when I started my company I did not need to be a search marketing expert. But as the times changed and my business evolved this was mission critical. I needed to hire a smart individual that throughly understand how to buy search media. As the CEO of a company this was not going to be the best use of my time to learn and master this skill. As for the person I hired, he did not look at me as not as smart as him but as someone giving him the opportunity to focus, thrive and succeed at something he loved to do. He did not want to be the CEO and have to deal with all of the day to day nuisances of running a business. He wanted to get his Starbucks coffee, turn on itunes and plug away at building keyword lists, ads, track his performance real time and revel in his accomplishments. I often equate running a business to sports. The team with the best, healthiest players usually rise to the top of the standings and win the big games. As CEO you are the head coach and your job is to get the smartest, best players for your team for each role and position that you must fill. As CEO it is your role to set the mission, vision and goals for your company. You must communicate where your team is going and get the right players on board. Just because an employee is "smarter" then you doesn't mean they have the leadership skills to motivate the team to push forward and go after your lofty ambitious aspirations. Many smart people want to be lead. They want to fell fulfilled and rewarded with their work and as CEO you are providing them with a platform to achieve their personal mission. Hiring the smartest talent you can find is a must. However, what I feel is equally if not as important is finding talent with the biggest drive. You can't teach smart and you definitely can not teach drive. Who wants a smart person that just cant keep up with the pass of a fast moving and constantly changing entrepreneurial company? Being smart doesn't mean you can handle pressure, deadlines and last minute strategy changes. The person with the drive for success will adapt to their environment and find a way to rise to the occasion and make magic happen. When you can hire smart and driven bring them on board at any cost even if you do not have a specific job description or role available at your company. Top talent can learn any business quickly and effectively. They will pay back the company ten fold in their contribution and output to help you build your company. I hope this sheds some light on your hiring question. Contact me directly if you want to discuss in more detail. Jordan

Daniel Lo

June 15th, 2013

my 2c.

1. Have a trusted colleague who is an expert in the field interview the person to verify credentials.
2. Manage goals/expectations to make sure that the business needs are met.

Managing #2 properly will satifiy the "working for stupid bosses part".   As for "inspiration": focus on leadership, which is the ability or skill to influence others and also includes "inspiration".

IMHO, one facet of being smart is knowing when to hire someone smarter (or more experienced) than you.   Now, I still have to do my taxes (which I will hire out to someone smarter than I am) and I have to clean up the yard (I'm still plowing... and failing on this one).

Hire smartest people that you can get that only want to specialize in their niche area of expertise and work for a boss and don't have any entrepreneurial aspirations.

Also realize you don't need the smartest person you can find to be the receptionist. :)

Come to think about it, you hire smart people all the time.  You hired your doctor help you manage your health.  You hired the person to do your taxes.  In both cases, you knew what the necessary outcome was (the "business" needs) of yourself.


Daniel Lo

June 15th, 2013

Ops:  This paragraph from my response was a cut-n-paste error; this thread has become a nice read.

"Hire smartest people that you can get that only want to specialize in their niche area of expertise and work for a boss and don't have any entrepreneurial aspirations."

Dan Hopwood

June 16th, 2013

Agree it's slightly confusing advice but I interpret it slightly differently. I think what he means is, hire people who are smarter than you *in certain areas that you're not an expert*. More often than not, when you first found a company you have to wear lots of hats at once, mainly because you can't afford to hire in anyone at such an early stage. When you *can* afford to hire though, it's important you hire a better developer than you to take over, or a better DB guy, or marketing manager than you. This doesn't mean you're not smart yourself; indeed you have the most important role in the company: steering. My 2 cents, anyway Dan