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Position Yourself Towards Great Hires: The Multiple Intelligences Way

Every person is a medley of talents, but what we instinctively think of as “intelligence” is not always the end all be all of a person. For better and for worse, excellence in one area of intelligence is hardly telling about other abilities. This is what I learned after a decade of hiring errors and successes

According to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, humans have several different ways of processing information – such as spatial, inter-personal, logical-mathematical etc. – and these ways are relatively independent of one another. A few months ago, in quoting Gardner, Bill Gates pointed out on Twitter how important it is to identify your own types of intelligence. That’s a point well made: pin-pointing your intellectual strong suits can be an eye-opening experience. But the power of Gardner’s intelligence breakdown goes far beyond the individual. It’s a powerful tool for anyone dealing with people: HR, recruiters, team leaders and CEOs.

During my nine years as founder and CEO of a scaling high-tech company I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates and recruited dozens. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some of my colleagues from day one, through years of trials and tribulations. I can still remember interviewing them: what was said then, and how things eventually turned out. I’ve seen some of the people I hired grow and evolve, release newer versions of themselves and develop new skills. I’ve seen others who failed miserably at what they thought they would excel at. This perspective has given me deep insights into the workings of intelligence and of the way each of us perceives their own intelligence.

In his series of tweets, Gates mentions that “Intelligence takes many different forms. It is not one-dimensional. And not as important as I used to think.” This closely echoes my experience. On the one hand, every person is a medley of talents. On the other hand, what we instinctively think of as “intelligence” is not always the be all and end all of a person. For better and for worse, excellence in one area of intelligence is hardly telling about other abilities.

The Measured and The Immeasurable

When starting out, I gave a very high valuation to the prestige of the school candidates graduated from. I myself went to a respected university, and I made a point of making sure that the people who joined the company graduated from schools of the same level. But as time went by, I realized that some of the more important talents and kinds of intelligence aren’t measured by standardized testing and the education system.

I’ve learned this the hard way when I recruited two people who excelled at the same academical track as myself. I had no doubt that they will succeed fabulously, but they crashed and burned. It was then that it became clear to me that excellence in academia can perhaps predict success in structured environments such as enterprise businesses but has less value in predicting success in the dynamic startup sphere. A degree from a prestigious school will not guarantee that an employee has the inter-personal or intra-personal intelligence that is required for collaboration and teamwork. Neither will it provide any assurance that the individual is armed with the existential intelligence for work in an environment that requires an ability to deal with extreme fluctuations. This kind of well-roundedness can be found in individuals notwithstanding their academic pedigree.

When it is found, however, it’s usually a good predictor of the employee’s ability to grow with the company and to shift positions both horizontally and vertically – a priceless asset for an employee in a startup. At Optimove, when we recruited people with this make-up we’ve seen shifts from data-science to marketing, from PA to CFO, from customer facing to the research lab.

But not all employees need to be upward mobile or even mobile at all. Some people dramatically excel in one specific area of intelligence, just like in the saying from the movie Big Fish: you may not have much, but what you’ve got you got a lot of. These are the people whose ability is off the charts, but very limited in scope. Many recruiters avoid hiring these talents, and I believe that they do so mistakenly.

At Optimove, some of our great success stories pertain to such talents. The operations wizard who is hardworking and relentless but has no managerial skills. The customer support manager who gives perfect service but can’t widen the scope of his duties. If the job description compliments their super-skill, they will excel above and beyond the call of duty.

Sometimes, the organization needs to be creative by reallocating employees in order not to lose talents. If an employee has an outstanding logical-mathematical intelligence but his traction with customers is wanting, moving him to a non-customer-facing department might do the trick. If an employee has very good inter-personal intelligence but lacks the killing instinct for sales, he may do better in customer support. This is a hack that’s especially valuable for fast moving startups. The organization need to be sensitive enough to recognize the individual’s superpowers and redirect them to the position that best suits their abilities, it’s not an easy task.

Intra-Personal Intelligence and Self-Worth

One kind of intelligence which recruiters need to pay extra attention to is intra-personal intelligence. During interviews, candidates are often asked to talk about their past professional experiences, and to explain their trajectory. Some may have a hard time doing so – they lack the ability to meaningfully reflect about their past. The recruiter will then have to decide whether this skill is crucial for the specific job.

On the other hand, people with a developed intra-personal intelligence may be able to dazzle the recruiter into not appreciating correctly their core abilities. We’ve experienced both: we’ve hired employees with low intra-personal intelligence for positions which didn’t require it and seen them excel. We’ve also took on candidates with superb intra-intelligence only to discover that they can’t pull their weight in their main field of expertise, which required other kinds of intelligence.

Another pitfall which recruiters need to avoid relates to candidates’ sense of self-worth and confidence. I’d like to plot this characteristic on a matrix as follows:The best employees are obviously those who are talented but aren’t aware of the extent of their talent. On the other end of the spectrum are those employees which value their talents more than they’re objectively worth (the Dunning-Kruger Effect). Usually, they have been able to maintain this professional self-image thanks to managers who’ve covered up their shortcomings in the past. It’s not always easy to call their bluff, but keeping this in mind during interviews may help to avoid taking them on.

Location, Location, Location

Personally, I’ve had the good fortune to build a business around my superpowers. Everything I do maximizes my skills and talents in one way or another. In the professional world, much like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. We’re surrounded by talented people whom we assume will excel at anything they’ll do, but that’s rarely the case. Most of these very successful professionals have simply had the luck or good sense – and usually both – to accurately align their talents to their position. This is what we need to strive to do, both for ourselves and for the people we hire. Every single person can do great things: seeing the employees you’ve recruited reach impressive achievements is sometimes as satisfying as reaching them yourself.

This article was published on Forbes Communications council

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