Hire Wisdom: Part 1 of 2 – How to Assess a Candidate’s Wisdom Quotient (WQ)

Ross Campbell Financial Services Insurance Recruiter
By Ross Campbell, Toronto Financial Services & Insurance Recruiter

In my years in Executive Search, I have interviewed thousands of candidates, and have found that the one quality all successful candidates have is wisdom.  As Key #5 in my blog series Hire Wisdom: The 12 Keys to Successful Hiring, I will break down How to Perform Quality Assessments: Assessing a Candidate’s Wisdom Quotient (WQ).

While Hiring Managers continue to focus their attention on assessing the Big Three: Intelligence (IQ), Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and work experience, they are missing what I believe to be the key metric, Wisdom Quotient (WQ).  Assessing for a WQ isn’t as simple as a candidate filling in the right ovals on a multiple choice test, but comes from a wise interviewer asking wise questions and assessing candidates on their responses face to face.

The system I use to assess for WQ is to rate candidates on predetermined attributes of wisdom on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being Unsatisfactory and 5 being Outstanding.  Remember to place emphasis on the key attributes that are most important in the role they are being assessed for.  Having multiple interviewers, conducting multiple interviews, and assessing a large pool of candidates will give you multiple chances to gain a more accurate picture.  Here are some key attributes to look for when assessing a candidate’s WQ:

1. Social Interaction

Candidates with a high WQ will:

  • Have answers that respond directly to the question asked
  • Communicate well
  • Communicate concisely
  • Have confidence in their responses, and
  • Respond to questions logically and meaningfully


A wise candidate will also be able to read the interviewer’s physical and verbal cues, and “get”, for example, that it is time to wrap up when answering an interview question.  There should be a level of comfort on both sides in the dialogue that is free flowing and natural.

The candidate’s interpersonal skills should be well-grounded and their behaviour should make you feel comfortable as an interviewer.  Assess the candidate’s ability to allow you, as an interviewer, to lead the interview.  Start with an icebreaker question to get more genuine answers from the candidate throughout the interview.  For example, “Did you go to the industry conference last week?” How is their rapport? Are they seeing your physical and verbal cues and changing their behaviour or is it tough to get a word in edge-wise?  Are they actually great listeners or are they too busy telling you how great of a listener they are?

The candidate needs to be scored on how they answered the questions and how they interact.  Ultimately, what you are asking yourself here is: Can I tolerate working with this person?

Assessing a candidate's wisdom quotient

2. Experience-Driven Learning vs. Work Experience

A lot of work experience is a ‘nice to have’ if you’re trying to rack up a pension in the public sector.  Wisdom increases with age but is experience-driven so rather than focusing on the number of years thecandidate has been in a certain role, for example, the focus needs to be on what the candidate has learned and applied from their experience.

Given that it’s appropriate for the organization (usually smaller start-ups), I encourage Hiring Managers to use the “Moneyball” approach and hire undervalued candidates that are wise beyond their years for their age, experience, and salary in order to get the best value.

To assess for wisdom in this context, ask them to walk you through their resume and tell you:

  • What have they learned from their experience on similar projects and how have they applied that learning to future projects?
  • Ask them what their strategy is in being successful in their job and why.  Has their strategy worked?  Why or why not?
  • Did they learn from their mistakes and apply the learning to their next project?
  • Ask them to explain their specialization in deeper detail.


3. Discipline vs. Talent

Maybe the most important component of wisdom to assess candidates for is discipline.  Wisdom can be developed by practicing discipline.  According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  Wise candidates understand that they need to focus on their strength of doing one thing extremely well to become a master.

Many candidates don’t challenge themselves and can become complacent.  Wise candidates understand the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into being successful in a discipline, and that persistence beats resistance.  Wise candidates understand the need to invest in a specialization with intense focus on becoming a specialist.

The wise candidate will be able to describe their vision, and while their plan may change their vision will remain the same.  Ask them what their vision is for the next 3-5 years and ask them why.  Ultimately, we want to know if they will stay in the role and enjoy the job.

Consider assessing a candidate’s WQ in terms of social interaction, experience-driven learning, and discipline as opposed to the traditional IQ, EQ and work experience model for better results. Stay tuned for next month, when I will break down four more components of wisdom to look for when assessing a candidate’s WQ.

Learn more about Toronto Financial Services & Insurance Recruiter Ross Campbell and connect with him out on LinkedIn.

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