How to Hire Very Smart People: Recruitment Strategies

“The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people.”

— Bill Gates, Microsoft

Why Smart People Have Trouble Getting Hired by Maurice Ewing reveals a provocative bias-that higher cognitives (as he terms them) i.e. very smart people, have crowded CV’s and resumes. This stems from the fact that they can do much more in a shorter period of time. These are people who, for example, are reading The Iliad in Greek on the weekend.

In other words, their 10 years of professional experience, will look like the average person’s 20 years of experience. As such, keywords are often missing, and their CV’s or LinkedIn profiles, do not turn up in searches.

As an HR Professional, what can you do to leverage this to your benefit?

If you are looking for a Project Manager, Communications Expert, Team Manager, Production Manager, Project Coordinator-in short, a candidate who can take the initiative, is organized, can work independently, and is a creative problem solver-consider spending more time in your search to find a higher cognitive. It stands to reason that if you are hiring a person who is in charge of 5 or more employees, this will be well worth your effort and your time. Here a few suggestions:

Ask for recommendations from trusted colleagues and friends, and then look up their LinkedIn profile. Remember these are people who will not turn up in your keyword searches. Ewing used the example that CFO is easily searchable, but Financial Wizard is not. The very smart person will use the latter not the former. Again, Ewing cites this as a blind spot that you can use to your advantage.

Alumni magazines can be a rich source of candidates especially in large cities. In New York, for example, there are higher cognitives, who’ve graduated from Columbia, NYU, Fordham, Baruch, New School. Or better yet, contact your alumni office and ask for recommendations. Then look up their LinkedIn profiles. People with advanced degrees in the Humanities and Social Sciences; History, Sociology, Psychology, have done complex field work and research. It is a given that they are articulate, organized, efficient, proactive, self-motivated.

Leverage your own research from past searches. Go back and dust off the files of candidates who didn’t quite make the grade. Look at their CV’s and cover letters. Where did they graduate? What was their G.P.A.? Is it possible, that while they didn’t quite fit the cookie cutter key word search, they still have potential? Pull a group of them, and invite them for a recruitment event. Kerry Pivovar writes that “group meetings can be the relaxed and more personal alternative to starchy interviews. In the context of team interactions, interviewers can better assess a candidate’s interpersonal skills.”

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