Hiring for General Ability versus Specific Skills

Pete Weishaupt
2 min readJul 3, 2022

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The Paypal mafia went off to start some amazing companies to include Yelp, Yammer, Palantir, SpaceX, Tesla, and YouTube among them. Jason Portnoy suspects it could be there was a lot of latent talent in these individuals that was identified by the people who hired them. Jason was employee number 34 at Paypal and has gone off to do some amazing things as well. He was recently on the Tim Ferriss podcast dropping some wisdom, to include his views on hiring.

According to Jason, when it comes to team building, two things stand out. First, hire for general ability rather than “does this person have the specific skills to do this very specific job.” He advises being focused on “is this person just exceptional in lots of different ways?” Because if they are, they’re going to be exceptional at whatever job they do. And hiring the right people is important, particularly for startups. It’s probably the most important thing a founder can do to increase their odds of success.

In his own experience working with startups, Jason says employees often have to wear different hats — and switch context a lot. You need to find good all-around utility players for several years until the organization scales to a point where you may need to start hiring for more specialized roles.

The second thing, and Jason says was certainly the case at Palantir, is to look for people who don’t have specific experience in the industry the business is in. It’s very counterintuitive, but these people aren’t weighed down by the legacy ideas of how things should be done.

This post originally appeared on the Social Leverage blog.

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