Hiring staff? Go with your gut

In my first recruitment job I was trained to disregard gut feel, and since I left I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to unlearn that nonsense and focus on what works.

Leaders are familiar with sitting on the more pleasant side of an interview table. How often have you had a sense within the first couple of minutes about how right the candidate was for the role? Not whether you like them, not whether they are attractive, or well-dressed or whether they smile nicely, but whether they are right.

And yet the process must be observed, and many decision-makers must be involved, and while you know the candidate will be successful, nothing can speed up the outcome.

That is the kind of gut feel you should listen to. Hiring managers often aren’t trained interviewers, so going through the motions will rarely reveal any startling insights – in fact, it may only serve to have the interviewer second-guess themselves.

Rely on your experience, your knowledge of the industry, your understanding of the market and your competitors, rather than an interviewee’s vanilla answers to bland behavioural interview questions. Putting skills to the side, listen to what your brain is telling you.

We once had a candidate interview for an associate director position at an investment bank. After five fantastic interviews, the candidate underwent several hours of psychometric testing assessing her personality type and work preferences.

Based on the results of the test, and despite the five fantastic interviews, the candidate got a “no”.

I didn’t say this at the time, mainly because I wanted to keep the client, gee that’s dumb.

Why waste thousands of dollars of time on interviews only to rely solely on the results of a test that may or may not reveal anything insightful?

They should have gone with their gut, and given her the job. While psychometric testing is useful and can genuinely inform the best way to manage and work with staff, used in the recruitment process as an absolute decision-maker it can do more harm than good, adding cost and creating an artificial hurdle. It also helps recruiters justify their charges.

This runs entirely counter to what the recruitment world will tell you. A quick Google search reveals a host of recruitment luminaries with exactly the opposite opinion. I don’t buy it. They all recruit with their gut; they just couch it in process to make it seem legitimate (in science, this is aptly referred to as “interviewer bias”).

This is not to say that the process itself is not important: on the contrary. A robust process is critical for probity and governance, and yes, to make sure the candidate with the best fit for the role is ultimately successful.

But if you trust your gut, that indefinable, unscientific sense of intuition, it will inform far more than all that other stuff combined.


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