Should I trust my gut feeling when hiring people?

The short answer is no and never! If you want to know why, please keep reading. Using your gut is similar to scratching the surface of something; to examine and discover only the superficial aspects of something or in this case a candidate. We call it the Four A Syndrome, because when you trust your gut, you are assessing a candidate’s presentation skills over business performance and substance. The four A’s are:4558_stethoscope_burgundy

  • Articulate
  • Assertive
  • Attractive
  • Affable

For sure, we have all been there. Welcome to the gut club, you have just fallen into the typical trap of assessing presentation instead of performance. You are falling in love with the candidate’s personality. It would have been easier to just flip a coin, heads, you hire but tails, and you don’t. Think back to your latest recruitment challenge, and it might have looked something like this.

You have received resume after resume from HR or your external recruiter, you have spent days and days sitting in useless interviews, and just having a conversation in English with the candidates has been an uphill struggle. You are getting more and more desperate because your head office is pushing hard to get the hiring done sooner rather than later.

5739_clipboard redThen one day, you receive this two-page resume with just the right amount of information, the font type and size are reader friendly, there’s lots of white space and a beautiful built up. It’s a model resume so you quickly arrange a meeting.

Your interview goes well, the candidate is friendly, articulate and speaks fluently and coherently. The candidate is assertive and confident without being aggressive. The person is attractive, well dressed and presentable, and you built rapport quickly and easily. The interview goes beyond your expectation, so you start asking the easy questions to get a home run. Your gut is screaming at you: hire, hire, hire.

Welcome to the gut club, you have just fallen into the typical trap of assessing presentation instead of performance. You are falling in love with the candidate’s personality. It would have been easier to just flip a coin, heads, you hire but tails, and you don’t.

Jack Welch, CEO and chairman of General Electric told an MBA class that while he developed a strong instinct for knowing which mergers would work, even when the data and facts said something different, when it came to hiring decisions, he never trusted his gut. He found first impressions and subjective opinions very unreliable. Instead, he looked for hard evidence that a candidate came with the right skillset and fit.875_pile_books

What is it about the gut feeling that makes it so ineffective? In short, it is the absence of hard data and the lack of facts and reality.

So if your gut is not reliable, and if you cannot use your finger-spitzen-gefühl, a German term translating to “finger tips feeling” and meaning intuitive flair or instinct, then how do you best assess the qualification of applicants and candidates?

An effective interviewing process follows these four steps:3984_chalkboard_green_chocolate

  1. Prior to the interview make sure you understand the key elements of the job.
  2. Identify the knowledge, attributes, and skills the candidate needs for success.
  3. Identify the people skills a person brings to the job. This is by far the hardest trait to determine, but by understanding the applicant’s personality and motivation, you are guaranteed to improve your hiring process.
  4. Follow a structured process. This does not mean the entire process is inflexible without spontaneity but that each candidate is asked the same behavioural-based questions.

If you’re interviewing someone by asking them hypothetical questions, also called situational or scenario questions, you don’t get the truth, you get speculation. This means that to get a good, accurate picture of their capabilities, don’t ask interview questions along the lines of “what would you do in X situation?” or “if X happened, how would you react?”. Questions should be reality-based, something similar to “tell me about a time you had to…” or “when this happened in your previous position, what did you do?”Print

Try to understand what people have accomplished in their career rather than spending the whole interview just talking about yourself and how great your company is.

And always remember that hiring is also a selling activity. If you are meeting so-called passive candidates, which are people typically provided by headhunters, keep in mind that these people have good jobs and are not yet necessarily convinced that they should make a move. If you feel you have a strong candidate, you need to switch into sales mode. That means you should tell them why the grass is greener on your side of the fence compared to where they are employed now. If you manage this, the candidate leaves convinced about the great opportunity your company can offer.

PS You are welcome to leave a comment below!


One thought on “Should I trust my gut feeling when hiring people?

  1. Dear Tom,
    Many thanks for your reasoning around gut feeling and hard facts. I guess that the most important thing is to find the equilibrium between the right and left brain priming and anchoring us into various emotions and conclusions.

    The most benefit will be found when we can match short and long term objectives for both parties. If the employee or company does not believe in the same thing it will never work. We can only find two setups on this planet. First one, Business which focus on delayed perfectionism as a strategy. Second one, Business which focus on continuous improvements as a strategy. Both are fine in one sense but match making can only be successful when we ascertain and attach humans with same system strategy.

    I always ask the following question:
    what can I do?
    what can I not do right now but, will do when I learn?
    what will I not do even if I know how to do it?
    what can we do better already today if I am involved?
    what is my gut and hard fact feeling about the community behind and in the company?
    what is the hard facts for the company in the big picture when disruption takes place?
    what is possible to do with the people and systems in place?

    Everything is possible to do but it takes a shared mental model for understanding what the company is determined to achieve and do on a holistic level. Profit and loss is the easiest thing when gut feeling and hard facts are resonating.
    Why? Because improving and doing better business is possible only when there is a genuine shared mental model around continuous improvements. Delayed perfectionism does not work any longer because we are living in a ever faster learning, disrupting, improving world.

    I wish you and your team a joyful day while finding equilibrium between gut feelings and hard facts. We will always know if our facts which are mere opinions and if our truth which are mere perceptions were right. The challenge is that we need to wait to know all this before we can put it in our file: hindsight.
    Get in touch in case you have a company which is keen to continuously improve for real.
    Kind regards,
    Jan

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