“A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s” is a myth

There is this saying that “A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s”. The idea is that the best employees (A’s) are smart and want to be smarter. They also don’t want to be babysitting a bunch of bad employees (C’s) and cleaning up their messes. That’s why you can trust A’s to hire other A’s. The problem with average employees (B’s) is they feel insecure about their position on the totem pole. They are really concerned that their job is in jeopardy. That’s why, if given the chance, B’s would hire a bad employee (C’s) because it makes them look better. That’s the theory, at least.

I think this is a ridiculous concept: A’s can hire C’s and B’s can hire A’s. Hiring A’s, B’s, or C’s has more to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect, the 4 stages of competence, and with the personality type of the interviewer. You may not be aware of these first two concepts so I will explain them in detail:

The Dunning-Kruger effect says, “unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate”. If the person in charge of hiring is suffering from this condition, they will automatically assume their opinions are “correct”. When they interview someone who has differing opinions, they will assume that person to be wrong. This kind of person can only hire someone as good as they are. This also means B’s with this condition will tend to hire other B’s, not C’s. But this is more or less in line with the traditional quote. But who will you hire if you don’t suffer from this condition? That has more to do with your personality type. But I’ll elaborate on that after I talk about the 4 stages of competence.

The 4 stages of competence are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Competence
  • Unconscious Competence

You should read the article to get more details about this, but suffice it to say, if you’re in the Unconscious Incompetence stage, you can’t even tell if you’re skilled. You certainly won’t be able to tell if someone else is.

Once you’re past this stage of Unconscious Incompetence, you are capable or recognizing others who are skilled around you. It’s relatively easily to get past this stage and once you’re past it, you’re capable of hiring A’s. But, if you’re stuck in Unconscious Incompetence, you can hire an A, but you’ll only be able to do it by luck.

And that’s why the major determining factor of hiring A’s has more to do with personality type than anything else. Are you the kind of person who’s jealous and insecure? If you are, you’ll probably hire a B or a C if given the chance. An A can be just as jealous and insecure as a B. Some A’s would jump at the chance to be the only one that can save a project and be seen as a hero. There are also B’s out there with a thirst for knowledge that would love nothing more than to learn everything an A has to teach them. These personality types would go out of their way to hire an A and fight tooth and nail to avoid hiring another B like themselves.

As I subtly hinted at just now, this A/B/C stuff is fluid and changes. Nobody starts as an A. In fact, we all start as F’s. There are people who were A’s and are now C’s because they got arrogant and then stopped learning. This “A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s” concept is a myth. You should hire the person that’s the best fit for your company based on their skill and personality type.

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One thought on ““A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s” is a myth

  1. Isaac Johnson says:

    The issue I see with this article is that it takes a far too literal interpretation of a statement that is intended as a statistic wrapped into a convention. Most companies have superstars that have been on top of their game for years and years. They are often self-assured and confident.
    Most also have employees who have managed to stay on as a drag for years, and tend fluctuate between arrogant and insecure.
    Whether arrogant or insecure, a person will often either take offense to, or be intimidated by, a highly capable candidate.
    Unencumbered by this component, a self-assured and confident person will often gravitate to capability.
    Certainly tertiary factors can influence anyone out of the norm, so it is correct to say that an ‘a’ could hire a ‘c’ and a ‘c’ could hire an ‘a,’ but this statement was intended to say that statistically, confident, capable and well-assured employees hire more ‘a’s, and arrogant, insecure, incapable employees hire more ‘c’s, which is a reasonable conclusion.

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