“We only hire the best”

How many times have you heard a company claim that they only hire the best? The top of the top. The crème de la crème. Most of them, by sheer necessity of math, are delusional. There just aren’t that many “the best” to go around.

What these companies generally mean is that they hired “the best” of the candidates that applied. Whoopty fucking doo. That’s what all companies generally do (the special ones hire for best team, not just best candidates).

Failing to see the difference between “best candidates who applied” and “the best in the business” is exactly the kind of Dunning-Kruger thinking that deludes companies into these grandiose proclamations.

This gets even more hilarious when companies willfully narrow the pool of potential candidates with bullshit filters. Like, “must be local to San Francisco” or “10+ years of experience required” or “fancy college degree preferred”.

Here’s stating the obvious: The best people don’t all live in San Francisco. Many of them have far fewer than a decade’s worth of experiences in your current environment. And certainly, the bulk of them did not go to some fancy college you idolize.

You know what the best people I’ve ever met or worked with had in common? ALMOST NOTHING! Certainly nothing that could be codified in the form of a list you can filter candidates through by automation.

The best are generally the best because they aren’t typical. Because they came at things from a different angle that gave them a unique perspective, which happens to provide more insights than the widely-distributed approaches.

But even diving into an examination of what characterizes “the best” is missing the point. First, “the best” is bound to be situational. Someone who can thrive in one environment might get crushed in another. The peak skills that gave them a leg-up in one domain may very well make them unfit for work in another.

What’s more, even if you could assemble an elite squad of all “bests”, it’d probably suck. Because a team can only contain so much peak uniqueness before it’s pulled apart by all this “excellence”. It can’t be all chiefs and no indians. (Did you see Hamilton and Rosberg collide in Formula 1 last week? Mercedes probably wish they had more of a Vettel and Webber kind of dynamic right now.)

Mostly importantly, though, is the myopia of putting the burden of excellence on individual candidates and not on the company itself. Does this company even have a chance of cultivating, let alone keeping, the best? If they’re making delusional proclamations like “we only hire the best”, then the odds are slim and shady.

You’re more likely to find that these kinds of companies mistake excellence for shit like “fancy VCs wrote us a big check” or “we once had a hit product” or “game consoles and colored couches makes staying at the office all night long so FUN!”.

It’s great for a company to have aspirations, but recognizing the difference between what you’d like to be true and what actually is serves as a prerequisite for closing that gap.