High integrity vs High expertise

Are you looking for integrity or expertise? 

If you’re trying to hire someone on a tight budget or in a competitive market you’re going to end up with a lot of candidates that fall into one of two categories:

  1. High expertise / low integrity – These people know a lot about the subject you need help with, but they aren’t very reliable. Either they have a long turnaround time, some character flaws or their work is uneven. 
  2. High integrity / low expertise – These people are hard workers, they strive to meet deadlines, and will be honest, but often they don’t know a lot about the job you need done. 

Choosing between these people can be super challenging because you really want both. You want someone who knows a lot and is reliable, but very often these people are is short supply or very expensive to hire. 

So If you can’t have both which one do you choose? 

In most cases, the best answer is to hire the High integrity low expertise person. The reason is simple. Knowledge can be learned but integrity is hard to change. Some people will get better with the right incentives or the right coaching but people with character flaws and challenges are often reluctant to change. 

But high integrity people, people who do what they say they’re going to do, those people are pretty amazing. Because they can use that integrity to learn, grow, and become better. 

The only place where you should choose a high expertise low integrity person is when either:

  1. The role demands expertise and it demands it now
  2. You only need them for their expertise and not their execution

For example, let’s say you need someone to give you feedback on your speech. Working with a skilled speaker will make your speech much better, but if the only person you can find to help is a little flaky that’s ok. Make sure you figure out a fast and simple way to get their feedback and give yourself enough time that they can cancel or delay. 

You can do something similar with programming. If you need really good code written it might be better to hire someone like them to start the code (create the framework) and then hire someone else to finish it in their style. 

Again this isn’t ideal but often if you think and strategize you can limit or compress your need for expertise instead of doing what I see a lot of people do, which is hire brilliant people and then try to wrangle and deal with their difficult personalities. 

I know it may take longer, but generally, it will still be faster and less stressful if you limit your exposure to low-integrity people and only rely on them when you absolutely need to. 

It’s a simple lesson, but one that I’ve seen a lot of founders and entrepreneurs have to make again and again.