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Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Gut During the Hiring Process

Recruiting good employees is one of the biggest challenges employers face in the job market today. And the reason? The hiring process.

The old hiring methods don’t work.

Most hiring processes are subject to a major flaw: the hiring managers trust their gut when making a job offer and that has serious consequences for your employees. Here is what you should be doing instead.

The Gut or the Head?

Our gut reactions aren’t totally baseless. In fact, they’re rooted in something much older–the survival instincts of our ancestors.

These gut instincts helped our ancestors respond to threats. They’re also fundamental to tribal instincts and personal attachment to groups. Our ancestors survived because their gut instincts allowed them to quickly identify friends or enemies.

In the modern world, though, we’re not making an instinctive response in the face of a lion. We’re making emotional decisions to identify “friend or foe” in ways that we don’t even realize.

Let’s say a candidate is similar to you in race, education, or socioeconomic background. These are all subtle cues our ancestors would have used to classify someone as “friend” because they’re similar to your tribe. But in hiring decisions, it creates unspoken biases towards candidates who look, think, and act like you.

The Allure of Intuition

Of course, intuition has a certain allure.

Fred Smith followed his intuition on the transport business when he founded Federal Express despite widespread criticism. Now, we can’t envision a world without easy access to the nearest FedEx.

There’s a reason why we love stories like this: they sparkle. They make business and hiring decisions seem like more than just numbers and spreadsheets.

It also makes us feel special. You have the power to transcend the rank and file with the gift of intuition granted by business gods to the elite. It’s a romantic notion, which is exactly the problem with a gut feeling.

As in Fred Smith’s story, a gut feeling gives you a tailor-made excuse to ignore a complex problem you don’t know how to solve in favor of the belief that your subconscious has already worked out the answer. Which means, of course, that you’re not doing the work of finding a complex solution to a complex problem.

When Your Gut May Be Right

To be fair, there are some instances where your gut instinct may be spot on.

Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a coworker about an upcoming project. This is someone you’ve known and worked with for many years, so you have an established working relationship and a reliable baseline.

Everything about that conversation seems to go well. You’re in a good mood, you’re well-rested, and the project seems to be on track. But you still feel off after the interaction, despite all signs saying that nothing is wrong. What gives?

That’s gut instinct, and it’s reacting to subtle cues from your coworker. Maybe they didn’t look you in the eye as much as usual. Maybe they smiled less. Maybe they fidgeted more.

Humans are fine-tuned to pick up these sorts of cues, as they’re signals that we’re being excluded from the tribe.

Maybe the person is lying. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe they’re anxious about something totally different. It’s difficult to distinguish between lying and other signs of discomfort (unless someone is an exceptionally good or bad liar).

Either way, your gut instinct is that something is off, and based on subtle cues, you’re right.

The Problem with Gut Instinct in Hiring

But that’s a situation when you already know someone. Your gut instinct in the hiring process is another matter entirely.

The thing to remember is that you don’t have an established baseline for an interviewee–that’s the entire point of the interview. And in an interview, they’re putting forth the version of themselves that’s most likely to get hired.

So when you rely on gut instinct in a hiring situation, you’re not playing with a complete deck.  We are not saying you can not use your gut at all in the hiring process; our opinion is that you should find candidates that “look like” your Rockstar employees. Then use your gut.

Style Over Substance

Because of this, gut instinct has a noticeable trend: you tend to hire people based on style rather than substance.

Let’s say you had a great conversation with a candidate during an interview. You got along spectacularly well, and your gut instinct says to hire them over a less gregarious candidate.

The problem is that you’re hiring based on a candidate’s personality rather than their skills and fit for your company. A more reserved candidate may be better qualified but make a weaker impression, and that loses you a good candidate.

Implicit Bias

Gut instinct is also subject to implicit bias, which is the attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding of people, situations, and decisions in an unconscious manner.

A common emotional faux pas among hiring teams is hiring likable candidates. Specifically, hiring candidates that they like regardless of other qualifications that make them suitable for the position.

The problem with this? Like hires like. You tend to like people who are similar to you because it’s easier for you to relate to them. That might bring you a few good candidates, but it can also lead you to pass over even better candidates.

Applications of AI in the Hiring Process

The good news for hiring teams and managers is that there is a better option: data solutions and science designed to bring objectivity back to your hiring process.

We help you go beyond your gut instinct to make real, impactful hiring decisions. It all starts with a demo. Click here to book yours and find out how we can help.

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