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The Final Ingredient of a Great Hire - WIT

With wit, i.e. true intelligence, an employee is book smart and street smart and uses both to invent new ways of doing things bigger, better and faster. Although book smarts and street smarts are distinct they are interconnected in important ways – finding candidates with both is critical.

Book Smarts

Book smarts are important for two reasons. First, candidates have academic knowledge, some portion of which is applicable day one (like writing a business email or using Excel). Second, and more importantly, a candidate with book smarts knows how to use the experiences of others, in the form of great books or the internet, to gain knowledge they don’t already have. Candidates who effectively learn through reading are incredibly valuable because they are able to take on just about any task.

Ascertain book smarts with questions like these:

  • What types of books or articles do you read?

  • What’s a book that changed your view on things or the way you work?

  • Tell us about a time you had to learn a new skill, how did you go about getting started?

If the candidate is not passionate about continuously and intentionally learning more about their craft from quality sources then move on, they will be average at best. Also keep in mind, academic knowledge without the ability to apply it does not equal “smarts” of any kind. A 4.0 GPA, a great vocabulary, or facts and figures don’t mean anything if they don’t lead to greater effectiveness.

Street Smarts

The school of hard knocks is a messy but incredibly potent way of learning. Street smarts mean experiencing firsthand the pains and elations of failure and triumph. Working in unique aspects of the industry, taking calculated risks with big challenges, working with a variety of people, facing rejection or mistakes and being able to learn from all these experiences is what makes someone street smart.

A candidate's experience has to amount to more than simply "time in the saddle." Simply existing for a long time in the same job does not make someone smart, “street” or otherwise. Rather than looking at “how long has this person worked?”, ask the question, “what types of experiences has this person had and what did they learn from each one?”

Dig into a candidate's defining setback and comebacks with questions like these:

  • What is a “life lesson” you gained from experience?

  • What is the hardest job or assignment you’ve had and what did you learn from it?

  • Tell us about a situation when things didn’t go as planned, where did things go wrong and what did you learn from the experience?

Look for candidates who have developed their street smarts through intentional and meaningful experiences (not simply bouncing around). Also keep in mind that difficult and challenging experiences are the best of the best when it comes to learning. Candidates with a wide array of experiences within their field will bring more to the table than those who have done the same things over and over and over for years at a time.

Inevitable Disappointment

Asking questions that peel back the layers of someone’s intelligence, whether or not they have it and how they got it, can be a disappointing exercise. Don’t lose faith because of the sheer number of candidates turned down because they lack wit.

Worth It in the End

It is well worth the effort to find someone who has real intelligence and can translate that intelligence into greater effectiveness.

Candidates need all the ingredients of a great hire. The combination grit, fit and wit results in a candidate who is going to be extremely valuable to the team, make life easier as a manager, and play an important part in the company.

How do you test for real intelligence when looking at candidates?

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