Of the qualities valued by hiring managers, intelligence ranks near the bottom

Dimming their bulb.
Dimming their bulb.
Image: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
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Intelligence isn’t necessarily the most important consideration for every job. Some pharmaceutical companies, for example, find optimism is the most important predictor of success in salespeople.

But it’s perhaps a bit jarring to see where intelligence landed when 500 staffing professionals, such as recruiters and hiring managers from human resources departments, were given a choice of six qualities in potential job candidates and asked to pick the three traits that were most important to them.

The survey comes courtesy of Fairygodboss, an employment and job review site targeting women. (The bulk of the survey was devoted to measuring hiring biases based on appearance, of which there are still many.)

From the perspective of a human resources professional, the responses may not be that surprising. Particularly in big organizations that need to fill hundreds or thousands of entry-level jobs—such as in sales, customer service, or fulfillment—the priority is hiring workers that will show up on time, pass drug tests, and perform the assigned tasks. Moreover, a recruiter will rarely get in trouble for hiring someone who’s reliable but a bit dim. Hiring an unpredictable genius, however, can blow up in their face.

But from the perspective of a CEO, the results should be horrifying.

The quality of the people in an organization is routinely understood as among the most critical elements in its success. “If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could,” management guru Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great, in 2001.

Since then, the emphasis on developing and retaining talent has only grown, and star performers are now viewed as critical factors in sustaining excellence. In studies of various professions, from athletes and politicians to programmers and project managers, high performers can be four to eight times more productive than the average employee, according to McKinsey’s Scott Keller and Mary Meaney in their book, Leading Organizations.

Almost all CEOs are obsessed with ensuring their companies remain innovative, and while the relationship between intelligence and creativity is still being explored, it’s likely that hiring smart employees improve the odds of landing creative, innovative ones, too.