Resource: Marc Andreessen on talent and hiring

Marc Andreessen is super smart, bracingly abrasive, and almost always worth listening to. This is a summary of a post from 2007, revived (embalmed?) on pmarchive.com – I highly recommend reading the whole thing. You can read Driverlesscroc posts about ideas from Andreessen here.

1. Intelligence is overvalued

(I mainly included this section because it showcases Andreessen’s snarky brilliance and the kind of highly efficient laziness (an ability to focus intensely on what matters and utterly ignore the rest) that seems to me to be one of his superpowers.

You will read, hire the smartest people out there and your company’s success is all but guaranteed.

I think intelligence, per se, is highly overrated.

Specifically, I am unaware of any actual data that shows a correlation between raw intelligence, as measured by any of the standard metrics (educational achievement, intelligence tests, or skill at solving logic puzzles) and company success.

Now, clearly you don’t want to hire dumb people, and clearly you’d like to work with smart people.

Microsoft’s metric for intelligence was the ability to solve logic puzzles…. For example, a classic Microsoft interview question was: “Why is a manhole cover round?”

The right answer, of course, is, “Who cares? Are we in the manhole business?”

(Followed by twisting in your chair to look all around, getting up, and leaving.)

2. Hire for drive instead

I define drive as self-motivation — people who will walk right through brick walls, on their own power, without having to be asked, to achieve whatever goal is in front of them.

People with drive push and push and push and push and push until they succeed…. That’s what you want.

Some people have it and some people don’t.

Of the people who have it, with some of them it comes from guilt, often created by family pressure.

With others, it comes from a burning desire to make it big.

With others, it comes from being incredibly Type A.

Whatever… go with it.

Drive is independent of educational experience, grade point averages, and socioeconomic background.

I look for something you’ve done, either in a job or (often better yet) outside of a job.

The business you started and ran in high school.

The nonprofit you started and ran in college.

If you’re a programmer: the open source project to which you’ve made major contributions.

Something.

If you can’t find anything — if a candidate has just followed the rules their whole lives, showed up for the right classes and the right tests and the right career opportunities without achieving something distinct and notable, relative to their starting point — then they probably aren’t driven.

And you’re not going to change them.

Motivating people who are fundamentally unmotivated is not easy.

3. Hire people who love what they do (using curiosity as a proxy)

Curiosity is a proxy for, do you love what you do?

Anyone who loves what they do is inherently intensely curious about their field, their profession, their craft.

They read about it, study it, talk to other people about it… immerse themselves in it, continuously.

And work like hell to stay current in it.

Not because they have to.

But because they love to.

Anyone who isn’t curious doesn’t love what they do.

And you should be hiring people who love what they do.

4. Hire for integrity

Ethics are hard to test for.

But watch for any whiff of less than stellar ethics in any candidate’s background or references.

And avoid, avoid, avoid.

Unethical people are unethical by nature, and the odds of a metaphorical jailhouse conversion are quite low.

Priests, rabbis, and ministers should give people a second chance on ethics — not hiring managers at startups.

‘Nuff said.

One way to test for an aspect of ethics — honesty — is to test for how someone reacts when they don’t know something.

Pick a topic you know intimately and ask the candidate increasingly esoteric questions until they don’t know the answer.

They’ll either say they don’t know, or they’ll try to bullshit you.

Guess what. If they bullshit you during the hiring process, they’ll bullshit you once they’re onboard.

A candidate who is confident in his own capabilities and ethical — the kind you want — will say “I don’t know” because they know that the rest of the interview will demonstrate their knowledge, and they know that you won’t react well to being bullshitted — because they wouldn’t react well either.

5. Run a good hiring process

First, have a written hiring process

Second, do basic skills tests

Third, plan and write down interview questions ahead of time...

Fourth, pay attention to the little things during the interview process…

Fifth, pay attention to the little things during the reference calls. [This is gold, so I’m including a quote]

(You are doing reference calls, right?)

Most people softball deficiencies in people they’ve worked with when they do reference calls.

“He’s great, super-smart, blah blah blah, but…”

“Sometimes wasn’t that motivated” — the person is a slug, you’re going to have to kick their rear every morning to get them to do anything.

“Could sometimes be a little hard to get along with” — hugely unpleasant.

“Had an easier time working with men than women” — raging sexist.

Sixth, fix your mistakes fast… but not too fast….

Finally, although this goes without saying: value the hell out of the great people you do have on your team. Given all of the above, they are incredibly special people.

Marc Andreessen, How to hire the best people you’ve ever worked with

See also:

More from Andreessen

Tyler Cowen on Talent

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