One of my problems is finding smart, hard-working people. For every one smart guy there are 100 people that would waste my time. Finding that one gem of an employee is really hard. I don't need book smarts, so getting the valedictorian of Harvard is not my problem, I need ordinary people who are smart and hard working.

Putting out ads is not useful, because the kind of people who are looking through ads are generally the type of people I would rather not hire.

I wish I could just get a list of the 10,000 smartest people in my area and their basic characteristics so I could identify what I wanted and just recruit them, but there is no such list that I can find. I thought of brute forcing it by getting a list of every adult aged 20-45 within 50 miles, which would be about 300,000 people, then getting backgrounds on every one of them, then just winnowing it down until I had the top 1,000 candidates, then just working through it one at a time. But obviously this would be a LOT of work. Also, sometimes smart people do not have characteristics that easily stand out in a database.

Does anybody have any secret tips for locating smart people?

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    – Neo
    Aug 5 '20 at 16:06

12 Answers 12


From various comments, what you seem to be looking for is:

A) People who are decent, smart, and hardworking

B) Who do not already have successful/lucrative jobs

So either people who are valuable, but don't know their own worth. Or people with potential who have not already been recognised/taken on board by somebody else with the same idea.

Putting aside for a minute what you're planning to offer them in terms of pay, training, mentoring, career development etc. and taking your question at face value:

I think your best bet for searching for such people, without either brute forcing it on one end or hiring an expensive recruiter on the other, would be to pick some set of hobby/interest societies/community groups that align with the kind of characteristics you're looking for and using that to filter your pool of people to reach out to down to something manageable.

Depending on how early you're willing to start investing in people, you could also try local high schools, especially any that don't have a reputation for sending students off to prestigious colleges, and asking them if they have any "bright but unconventional" students who might fit your criteria.

Thinking about this some more, I think your central problem is that you're trying to find people who the job market has systematically undervalued, and the job market really is quite efficient.

So if people are being undervalued, this will generally be because they have some messy characteristic that companies systematically refuse to deal with. Historically, this would have been "not having a degree" but that is increasingly something that companies aren't undervaluing anymore.

Thinking about what's left, ex-cons might be an interesting place to look. Somebody smart and impetuous enough to make some bad juvenile mistakes, get locked up for a couple of months or years, who has now learnt their lesson but is going to be instantly blackballed by just about every application system out there.

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    @Socrates: If this is your intelligence test, you could just hire the people with Stackexchange answers that you like?
    – guest
    Aug 5 '20 at 15:05
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    @guest Right, we just need 10,000 in my area to try to answer my question and we will be making some progress.
    – Socrates
    Aug 5 '20 at 15:08
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    @Kilisi As a group, yes. But if you're looking for a handful of good people who have not already been found by the job market, I'd say there's worse places to look.
    – Kaz
    Aug 6 '20 at 8:20
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    OP seems to think they're capable of recognising good people when they see them, so I'm sure they won't have a problem narrowing it down.
    – Kaz
    Aug 6 '20 at 8:50
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    I'd fish also in those unlikely areas. If you live in an area where racism is strong, I'd look for black people. If sexism is strong, I'd look for women. If good univerisites are reserved to wealthy people, I'd look for low reputation, cheap ones. If older workers are kicked out of the business just for their age (as software programmers in France), I'd look for older employees. Etc... Know your territory. Hunt where others are not hunting (especially if it's for bad reasons). Look for the gems others did overlook.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Aug 7 '20 at 9:54

This is what good recruiters are for. They're connected to everybody in your area, they know who they (or their colleagues) have placed before and who the really good people are.

Yes, there are bad recruiters out there. If you're not getting good results from the one(s) you're using, find a better one.

Yes, you pay a premium for the service of a good recruiter. But if you're not prepared to pay that premium, it means you're not serious about finding the best people.

  • Recruiters look for skill sets, not intelligence. I am not looking for people with particular skill sets, I am looking for people with high intelligence.
    – Socrates
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:31
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    @Socrates In this comment you say you are "looking for people with high intelligence" but in a comment on another answer you say you are "looking for ordinary people." Which is it? High intelligence is not ordinary.
    – shoover
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:33
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    @Socrates Ah. You mean cheap. Aug 5 '20 at 14:38
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    Yeah, he wants to identify people who are smart but don't realise it so he can exploit them by offering under market rate and expecting them to prove their continued intelligence by working 80 hours a week.
    – MKHC
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:42
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    @Socrates Here's a thing. That girl MIGHT want to work there. She's so smart she don't care about status, she realize howe much $ she need, for anything else she's smart enough to get anyway and why bother with responsibility, overtime, demanding job or boss wanting employee to go extra mile "because they're smart". She don't want job you might offer her. Aug 5 '20 at 15:17

You need to give these people a reason to want to work for you. Just offering to hire them isn't going to magically make them want to join you.

Your comments and attitude seem to be about finding someone super intelligent who for some reason doesn't know it, or doesn't realise their potential. This sounds to me like you intend to exploit that person by making sure they never find out how valuable they are, and hide them from the competition.

You're also focused on 'intelligence' as the sole attribute that makes someone employable. Ask any manager and they'll tell you that the ability to do the work is a small part of what makes someone a good hire. There are plenty of people who are very good at the job itself, but can't work in a team, don't get on with colleagues, have bigoted views they like to share openly, treat subordinates like slaves and turn into sycophants for their superiors.


"For every 100 CV's I recieve I throw them all in the air and any that don't land on my desk I throw out. I don't like working with loosers".

I could identify what I wanted

So you don't know what you want. From designer point of view this is the worst type of client "Show me everything, I will let you know when I'll see something I like".

Also you don't want to put in the work that would require to filter anyone.

every adult aged 20-45 within 50 miles

That's LinkedIn, Facebook even Tinder feature. Then YOU need to prepare a test for them. Which they would need to want to go through.

A) you don't want to make that quiz B) YOU would need to show people who you are for them to be willing to work for you.

And if you don't want to do it you need to pay for it. There are companies who have binders full of people. They might, for a fee, sit down with you and figure out what you are looking for. And then they prepare a way to find such filter.

Time, effort or money. You need to put something in to find smart people. Even attending your local Mensa meeting will require time and effort on your side.


It is easy, look for the dream jobs positions in the companies of your area, there is little to no reason why smart and hard working people did not already land these jobs.

Now you can contact them and try to offer them something way better and maybe they will join you.

  • Just to reiterate what it already says in my question: I am looking for ordinary people, not high profile people in high profile positions. I already know who those people are. Also, I am not looking for people who are already successful, in general I am looking for people who are young and undiscovered.
    – Socrates
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:32
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    @Socrates For what purpose, so you don't have to pay them as much?
    – MKHC
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:43
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    @Socrates your attitude is dismissive and arrogant to all the answers here. You seem to want someone to give you a magic secret to business success on a public forum.
    – MKHC
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:51
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    @Socrates many professionnal recruiters are already looking all day long for smart and hard working people. There's no reason these smart and hard working people do not already have a job except if they are still studying, in which case there's no reason they're at noname university. So you can narrow down your research to the 20-25 who are in prestigious universities. Also you do not get an answer to your question because there's no answer to such a general problem. Narrow down your question, explain why, tell us what your ressources are.
    – meop
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:51
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    @Socrates if you have 10 billion to invest or if you have 100$ we are not going to provide the same kind of response. And any response trying to answer both the 10 billion hypothesis and the 100$ hypothesis would be worth writing a book.
    – meop
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:53

First you need to be more specific as to what you're looking for. "Smart" and "hardworking" are vague terms that mean different things to different people. You need to narrow it down to more objective measurements. For example:

Some amount of experience working in a specific industry.

Some amount of experience performing a certain job function (such as managing people, doing data entry, etc).

Demonstrable knowledge with certain tools and technologies.

Having certain certifications.

Willingness to travel some percentage of the year.

Willingness to work certain hours.

I could keep going but you get the idea. Once you have these requirements figured out then tailor the way look for employees to those requirements. Make sure your job advertisement is written in such a way that it attracts the kinds of people you're looking for and make sure you advertise in areas where those kinds of people will see it. When you interview the candidates make sure your interview actually tests for the desired qualities and screens out the ones that don't have them.

  • I specifically said I have not found ads useful. Simply prowling through LinkedIn is way more effective than running ads. Also, I specifically wrote that I am not looking for a skill set.
    – Socrates
    Aug 5 '20 at 14:41

What are you offering to those you recruit/hire? What is "smart? Hardworking?

To hire the best you need to have position(s) clearly defined. Vague terms such as "smart" or "hardworking" really don't mean much. Someone who is great at sales might be terrible writing backend code. Both can have the characteristics you're wanting - just not for a particular position.

You need to define what you're looking for in quantifiable terms. Saying something like "there are 100 people that would waste my time." is a problem with unclear expectations which is something that you control. It's not the candidates - it's the unclear expectations that you've set.


You could talk to my boss. He would show you all the people working at the company right now, and then you could offer each one of them 30% more than they are making now. Maybe someone would leave, if you can convince them that your company has any future.


I would like to challenge several premises:

You think people hang somewhere in a scale of intelligence and that intelligence is a measurable, distinguishable feature. It is not. Based on how you measure it, you will find different amount of intelligence in different people. People are not equally skilled in solving problems but they also aren't equally different in their ability to solve different problems.

The good news is that you are most likely not really interested in intelligence as a whole, but rather efficiency at solving a certain type of problems, that is the ones you have. This contained, personal definition of smart, is called intellectual skills, can be hunt for and tested by different means based on the nature of the job. So you should start there.

If anything I'd say the problem of your request is not, contrary to your belief, that you are trying to find a needle in a haystack, it's more that you believe that intelligence birth gifts exist and are invaluable, and that if so, that you would be able to tell about someone holding it while truly you'd just measure some random subset of their skills.

By the way, I grew up fighting against people thinking I was a gifted child, to only stand as ordinary and fail many iq tests once being an adult. People identifying as high potential or similar, are often not much more but people with ego problems trying to prove the world they stand out. In the end, what really stands out, if not extraordinary skills and achievements ?

And when it comes to hard working, don't you think many people can be hard workers when given the right circumstances ? I hardly doubt that there is such thing as "hard worker" in a vacuum either. What makes you think you need a particular profile in that area ? Aren't your conditions motivating enough ?


Your question (and the responses to the various answers that people have given you) presupposes that all the smart people are famous and/or high-profile. Personally speaking, I consider myself hardworking, and I have a genius-level IQ (140+) and I'm a low-level software developer and you've probably never heard my name; I'm not famous or high profile in any way. So, here's how you would recruit me, a person who is very smart (IQ 140+) and hardworking (I'd like to think I am...):

  1. You at least have the part right that taking out ads in a newspaper doesn't work. People like me don't read newspapers. Boomers read newspapers.

  2. LinkedIn absolutely does work. Get yourself a LinkedIn Recruiter account. I don't know how it works exactly because I've never done it before (I'm not a recruiter so I don't need to), but you can use LinkedIn to look for people in your area who graduated from prestigious schools and/or have the background you're looking for.

  3. Offer me something I don't already have. If my profile says I'm unemployed, offer me a job with a good salary. If I already am employed, offer me a better salary. Tell me how good your company culture is and how cool the people there are to work with and how they're so much better than the people I already work with. Tell me how you offer unlimited vacation which would allow me to take an annual month-long trip to some sightseeing destination I want to visit. These are things which might entice me personally, but everyone is different and once you've made that initial connection, ask that person what matters to them and see what you can give them to entice them.

It seems like you want people who are completely undiscovered though, and not people like me. So you're targeting primarily university new grads. Here's the thing about university new grads: EVERYONE is targeting university new grads. What are you going to offer the best and brightest new grads that a better company than yours wouldn't offer them? That's what you need to figure out. Once you've done that, contact your local universities and see about doing recruitment on their campuses.

But let's step back a moment because there's one very important detail you need to decide before you start any of the above: Throughout all the answers here and all the discussions, you have failed to mention the most important detail: What does your company do and what type of job are you recruiting for? If you need a warehouse assistant and you're trying to recruit a Harvard-educated new grad with a law degree to stock shelves in your warehouse because they're "smart and hard working", well sorry bud but you're probably not gonna have luck with that one, no matter how hard you try. That's the first thing you need to decide: Do you think people with the skill set you are targeting will actually be interested in the job you are offering?


You look at their history, their experience and their personality. An old school work ethic is becoming increasingly hard to find and is more valuable than pure brains. People acquire this mostly through their upbringing, so look at that aspect of them as well.

People coming in from the third World tend to work hard because they're not normal (I don't mean refugees or these latest migrants), they're self confident (it's a huge, scary risk), imaginative, ambitious and want to better themselves and avoid trouble. Third World countries get a big brain drain from that, the lazy, stupid, corrupt ones tend to stay home. Fairly good choice if they come from a reasonably compatible culture. Be careful though.

People from rural communities, some schools etc,. all factors to consider if all else is equal. Common sense stuff. Where did you acquire your work ethic? Think about it and look for similar people.

As for smart.... most qualified people have the necessary brains, it's whether they're committed and willing to use them that matters.


You simply start a company where you let your employees take decision. And then you share profits based on the validity of those decisions.

I believe I'm smart (but yeah, even morons do).

I can easily get well-paying jobs.

Yet, I've been job-hoping every one or two years, for twenty years, because not a single place had a boss that would let you make any decisions. (Except a five year stint that was great)

So, in my experience, not hiring or not retaining smart people is due to not letting them call the shots or sharing the benefits of those shots.

But yeah, your mileage will vary and this would just be a gross over-generalization.

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