Trusting Your Gut Can Be Risky When Hiring

Gut, instinct, intuition – it goes by many names and countless executives have made their careers using it. But when it comes to hiring, should you follow your gut? Let’s think about what that means – it’s a feeling, a hunch, an inkling. It’s often devoid of data or facts. When you think about it in those terms, it seems ludicrous that people would put so much trust in something so subjective.

Yet, the vast majority of interviewers claim to know if they’ll hire a candidate in less than 6.5 minutes! That’s barely enough time for a hand shake and small talk. Yes, there is absolutely space for it, but simply relying on your intuition when hiring is risky, especially in today’s job market. With the abundance of job applicants out there, you’ll need more than your gut this time. Here’s why…

Your gut may unwittingly betray you in the form of unconscious bias.
We ALL have unconscious biases – learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained within our beliefs that could affect our behavior.  They cause us to make decisions in favor of one group or person to the detriment of others and more than often are based on unsubstantiated reasons.  We automatically understand and are often critically aware of bias such as racism, ageism and sexism, but what about unconscious bias where an interviewer may lean towards a candidate if they live in the same neighborhood as them, or have the same pastime or support the same sports team.  Gut feel is often weighted heavily by this bias and while often it’s innocent in nature, problems can arise when unconscious biases make their way into the workplace.

You might just get it wrong.
Business Insider estimates that gut hires have a 50% failure rate. A bad hire can cost your company over 1/3 of the employee’s first year of earnings just in direct dollar terms alone AND do irreparable damage to morale. Not to mention the wasted time, effort and, depending on the position, lost productivity, opportunity, or revenue.  Is that something you’d be willing to risk on nothing more than what often equates to a coin toss?

You’ll end up prioritizing style over substance.
If you’re making a decision based on gut, you are often doing so quickly and likely, excessively focusing on a candidate’s personality or presence.  While these things DO matter, more than often they’re hardly the most important and are really just the superficial aspects of the candidate.

Of course, your gut instinct is and should be a part of the hiring process, but experts argue it should be factored in AFTER you’ve gone through the disciplined work of gathering evidence and objectively evaluating your candidate pool. There are a lot of ways to do this – here are a few:

Establish a structure and use it consistently. Identify a series of core competencies, characteristics and skills you’re looking for in a team member. Then, create an interview process that will bring these things to the surface. Develop and distribute a rating system or matrix for each interviewer to use so everyone is using the same criteria. Use it with each and every candidate in order for the structured process to work effectively.

Introduce assessment tools.
Whether you use personality or cognitive tests (or both), data can be extraordinarily useful during the hiring process.  These tools will add to the reliability and impartiality of your system if you use the right one.  The standardized nature of these tools will also go a long way in reducing unconscious bias.

Utilize a recruiting firm.
We’re operating in a talent-rich market right now and utilizing an external recruiter will help!  Use these trained professionals and their experience to dig into the candidates or review your process to gather more facts off which to base decisions.  

Once you have a system in place it is important to monitor your success.  Keep a scorecard for yourself in the interview process with detailed notes. Chances are, your gut feelings impact your decisions quite a bit, but if they’re only PART of the process you’ll see more wins than losses.

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