Tips: How to Hire Effectively with Multiple Intelligences

Posted on January 27, 2014

This may sound weird, but I’m going to say it anyway.

To hire better, you need multiple intelligences.

Okay, strangeness settled. Now, let’s unpack this.

Using Multiple Intelligences to Hire

How you learn is determined by your type of intelligence.

Notice that I didn’t say level of intelligence. I said type.

You may have someone say, “Everyone has a different learning style.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s just not true. There aren’t 7.1 billion learning styles. There’s actually less than a dozen. And these are what psychologist Howard Gardner calls intelligences. In his books, Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences, Gardner exposes this learning.

In light of this theory, we’re offering a new approach to hiring, one based on how an applicant learns in addition to how well he or she performs. In sum, we propose this: knowing how you learn, and knowing how your candidates learn can help you know who to hire.

Certainly, performance is important. You don’t want someone who cannot do the job. But intelligence matters, too. In fact, it may matter more. As we will soon see, if you want an optimized performance, you’ll need the best intelligence for your position.

In this article, we introduce you to Gardner’s MI (multiple intelligence) theory. But we don’t stop there. Theory is nothing if theory is not applied. In our next article, we offer you 15 recruitment tips using MI theory.

Briefly, the seven types of intelligences are:

  • Linguistic
  • Musical
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal

Before we start, try and guess your intelligence. Are you math-minded, better with words, great with people, a musician? Which intelligence do you think you are?

What is MI theory?

Let’s first get on the same page. What is multiple intelligences theory, and why is it so important?

The Artist in Isolation 

Imagine this: you are a senior in high school. For years, you’ve been a fantastic musician. Not only have you played in bands and school related events, but you’ve produced your own unique CD with twelve original songs. Your fans love your music, your friends think you’re a genius, and your parents can’t help but be proud.

Your parents encourage you to go to college. So you take the SAT. As you study, you discover you’re not good at reading critically or solving math problems. The problems are too strange, the logic too difficult, the questions too boring. You’re good at music, you think, not math.

So although you certainly try, you perform poorly on the SAT.

Are you less a genius because of this? Howard Gardner says absolutely not. That’s because the SAT measures linguistic and mathematical aptitude, not musical intelligence.


Standardized Test Produce Standardized People

So why do we use standardized test questions to qualify people’s intelligence?

This is the question Gardner asked in his book Frame of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. To Gardner, standardized tests are unfair. For, while they test math and language skills, they overlook skills that characterize some of the world’s greatest geniuses, from Mozart to

Michelangelo to Mother Teresa. Think Mama T could pass the SAT? Probably not. Is she less intelligent for that? Absolutely not. Her intelligence was interpersonal, not mathematical.

Thus, Gardner argues for multiple intelligences, rather than one or two intelligences. More precisely, Gardner argues for seven. SAT, ACT, IQ, and other standardized tests measure two of these, (1) logical mathematical and (2) linguistic. But they do not measure kinesthetic, intrapersonal, or spatial. They do not measure how well you understand others (interpersonal), how well you are with objects (spatial), how well you are with big questions concerning life’s meaning (intrapersonal).

Gardner’s theory is revolutionary. We all knew there was something wrong with the standardized educational procedure. Gardner shines light on a way to expand this procedure: keep an open mind when measuring another’s intelligence. It may not be what you expect.

What does MI have to do with Hiring?

To answer this, let’s look at Gardner’s definition of intelligence. In his words:

“An intelligence is a computational capacity—a capacity to process a certain kind of information…An intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting or community. The problem-solving skill allows one to approach a situation in which a goal is to be obtained and to locate the appropriate route to that goal…The problems to be solved range from creating an end for a story to anticipating a mating move in chess to repairing a quilt. Products range from scientific theories to musical compositions to successful political campaigns” (Multiple Intelligences).

If the above is confusing, let me summarize: we solve problems and create products based on our type of intelligence. Each intelligence solves different problems and makes different products. Additionally, when a certain problem arises, our intelligence recognizes the problem, applies an appropriate method to solving the problem, and ensures that the problem is solved. Our intelligence, then, is driven by a purpose.


It is that purpose that you want in mind when you hire. Know what specific problems you want your new employee to solve. Know what products you want fashioned. Know what intelligence best fits your position. Know what purpose is behind the open position.

In her article, “10 Hiring Tips for your Small Business,” Lauren Drell tells us to “be clear about the role, what you’re looking for and what the goals are before you sign a contract.” Indeed, MI theory is an excellent way to clarify exactly what you’re looking for before you start interviewing.

The following section gives a very succinct list of each intelligence.Although I’m not exhaustive in these lists, they will give you a feel for what each intelligence entails. Be warned. This can be a dive into a pool of psychology theory. But it’s good for the mind. To help ground you in life, ask yourself some questions about yourself and your potential employees. What intelligence best satisfies your open position? What intelligence are looking for? Which intelligence best strengthens your current team of employees?

The Seven Intelligences 

Linguistic (Poets, Bloggers, Public Speakers)
  • Skilled in using the right words well.
  • Explains ideas through metaphors, stories, poetry, and prose.
  • Good at persuading others to follow a course of action.
  • Comprehends written or spoken information very well.
  • Reiterates main points after a first or second reading of a text.
  • Enjoys writing and reading.
 Musical (Audio Effects Designers, Songwriters, Advertisers)
  • Skilled at creating sounds for commercials, videos, and other media marketing.
  • Understands musical notation.
  • Creates music through technology, songwriting, and composing.
  • Keen sensitivity to melodies, tones, sounds, and other musical patterns.
  • Can recreate sounds from listening.
  • Enjoys singing, composing, and/or playing an instrument.
Logical-Mathematical (Computer Programmers, Mathematicians, Detectives)
  • Skilled at using symbols, data, statistics, and numbers in a meaningful way.
  • Understands long chains of reasoning.
  • Comprehends abstract symbols, formulas, and codes.
  • Solves complex computations and abstract problems.
  • Uses methods and reasoning to explain the world’s causes and functions.
  • Enjoys thinking about abstract problems, even if those problems are not practical.
 Spatial (Graphic Designers, Web Designers, Artists)
  • Skilled at noticing fine details in shapes, images, and videos.
  • Keen sensitivity to location, environment, and geography.
  • Comprehends patterns and solves puzzles very well.
  • Solves visual problems, such as (1) navigation, (2) recreating an object from different angles, and (3) creating that object from memory alone.
  • Good at thinking in three dimensions.
  • Enjoys painting, drawing, graphic design, playing chess, and others.
Bodily-Kinesthetic (Athletes, Carpenters, Contractors).
  • Skilled at using the body for expressive ends, such as dancing, acting, and typing.
  • Keen sensitivity to the way one’s body interacts with the outside world.
  • Remembers better by acting and doing, rather than reading, writing, and thinking.
  • Solves problems that involve the timing, reposing, and directing of the body.
  • Uses tools to manufacture, transform, and repair things.
  • Enjoys sports, cooking, car maintenance, and other hands-on projects.
Interpersonal (Counselors, Customer Service Representatives, Salesmen)
  • Skilled in communicating verbally and nonverbally.
  • Keen sensitivity to the feelings, moods, and intentions of another human.
  • Interacts meaningful with strangers.
  • Navigates conflict, calms aggressive behavior, and resolves questions and issues.
  • Strong ability to lead, especially among those whose voices are often suppressed.
  • Good at seeing in multiple perspectives.
Intrapersonal (Philosophers, Spiritual Leaders, Strategists)
  • Skilled in understanding one’s own thoughts and feelings.
  • Keen sensitivity to one’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Enjoys introspection, daydreaming, and meditation.
  • Solves deep questions, doubts, and fears.
  • Good at analyzing theories, ideas, and strategies.
  • Strong ability to direction, plan, and motivate one’s life.

So there they are, the seven intelligences. Since his first book, Frames of Mind (1983), Gardner has established two additional intelligences, existential and naturalistic, the ability to answer deep questions and the attentiveness to ecology. Maybe one day we can talk about these two. But, for now, let’s stick with these seven. In addition to these, can you think of any more?

In addition to the above, Seana Moran, in her article “Multiple Intelligences at the Workplace,” coauthored with Gardner, helps narrow the intelligences into specific roles:

“We could venture, further, that linguistic and personal intelligences are more important in the social and enterprising, people-orientated occupations; logical-mathematical in the data-oriented, desk-centered occupations; bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, and spatial in the realistic, thing-oriented occupations; and linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, and spatial in artistic and investigative, idea-orientated occupations” (Multiple Intelligences).

Now let’s go back to hiring. So far, we’ve explained MI as a sort of lens to use when you hire. As a lens, you can discern exactly what you’re looking for. You can decide (1) what intelligence best fits your needed position, (2) what intelligence does not fit your position, and (3) what character traits to look for in an application and interview. In short, we taught you how to narrow applicants. In turn, this will help you hire effectively. 

Using Multiple Intelligences to Hire Effectively 

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: to hire better, you need multiple intelligences.

If you’re interested in this theory, I encourage you to read Gardner’s books Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences.

What are your thoughts on MI theory? Have you ever used this theory, or something like it, in your hiring process? If so, what experiences can you share?


Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2006. Print.

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books Inc, 1983. Print.


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