How to hire people who are better than you

Petty jealousy can stop you recruiting the cream of the crop. Here are 3 interview questions that will help you target the very best.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 14 Jan 2019

The great David Ogilvy used to give every new manager a set of Babushka dolls. His point? If they only hired people who were worse than them, they would become a company of dwarfs. If they hired people who were better than them - and each of those people did the same - they could become a giant.

Ogilvy's principle has since become an overused management cliche, but alas few people tend to hire people who are better than themselves. This isn't caused by an inability to find or vet talent - but rather, petty and short-sighted career jealousy.

As a method for judging talent (or potential), interviews are quite ineffective, yet they still represent the most common selection method - it is virtually impossible to get a job without being interviewed (at least by phone, Skype or an avatar). The main problem is that interviewers are generally not competent to ask the right questions or make sense of people's answers, which explains why the world of work is full of 'false positives' (inept employees who excelled at the interview).

Instead of the classic questions (eg why did you decide to apply for this job, what are situations in which you demonstrated leadership/initiative/the ability to think outside the box, or where do you see yourself in five years?), here are three useful questions that may help you hire people who are better than you:

1. If you had my job, what would you do differently? The answer will reveal how much the candidate knows about your job, and whether they are able to come up with useful suggestions. The good news for you is that even if you don't hire them you may be able to get some free advice.

2. If I hired you, how do you think you could get me promoted? This question will establish your clear priorities - you are OK with the candidate getting your job, so long as s/he can help you get promoted - and force him/her to come up with a strategy. As with the first question, this may be useful even if you don't hire them.

3. Can you give me a long list of reasons for not hiring you? This exercise will reveal how creative and honest candidates are. Short and predictable lists may be indicative of dishonesty, delusion, or poor imagination.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, people analytics, and talent management. He is professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter: @drtcp

Image credit: Cayetano/Flickr


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