Why Going With Your Gut Causes Hiring Mistakes

You’ve likely been told you can’t afford to hire the wrong person. The costs of making a bad hire are many: damage to your reputation, lost opportunities, the expense of replacing a bad hire, and the stress that each of these create for you.

To avoid making bad hires, some people believe you should hire with your gut. They say things like:

“I go with my gut when deciding if someone will be a good hire.”

“When I ignore my gut instincts, I always regret it.”

“My gut is never wrong.”

Going with your gut is actually a bad idea. Here’s why.

Interviews are like dates. The person sitting across from you is on his (or her) best behavior. He does what I call the tell, sell, and swell:

  • He tells you what he thinks you want to hear.
  • He sells you on the best parts of his background.
  • He tries to swell your ego.

Does this mean he’s being dishonest? Not always. It’s normal that people position themselves in the best light. Unfortunately, this very human behavior interferes with making a good fit. Instead of getting all of the facts you need to make an accurate hiring decision, you’re left to rely on your feelings.

That’s what we’re really saying when we refer to our gut. We’re making decisions based upon how we feel. Feelings are not facts and are a leading cause of failed hires.

In 2015, my organization conducted a comprehensive study of failed hires. We defined a failed hire as employment lasting less than six months. Nine out of 10 hiring managers with failed hires reported that they had experienced distracting feelings during interviews. One common emotion was feeling overwhelmed at having to fit interviews into an already busy schedule. Fearfulness over losing a good candidate to a competitor was another common feeling. However, the most frequently mentioned emotion was likeability. They liked the individual being interviewed.

As we discussed the impact of this feeling, managers agreed that liking a candidate allowed them to ignore a negative trait or overlook a missing required skill. Their feeling became a fact. Liking the candidate was false evidence that he or she fit the job.

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What’s better than relying on your gut? Trust the facts. Here are four steps that you and the hiring managers in your company can take to identify definitive proof that someone does or does not fit the job.

Step 1: List

List the must-have skills and traits for the role. These are the required attributes that a candidate must have to succeed in the job. How do you identify these? Look for patterns among the people who’ve succeeded in the role. Skills and personality traits that show up consistently among those individuals become your requirements for future hires.

Step 2: See

See if she matches at least a few of the required attributes on your list. Don’t just rely on her resume. Find her pages on social media, looking for evidence of those must-have skills and traits. Also, look for contradictions between what’s on her resume and on those pages. If you find proof that she matches at least several of your required attributes and see no contradictions between her resume and social media, set up a phone interview.

Step 3: Hear

Hear how she’ll fit in at your company during the phone interview. Listen for how she communicates, noticing both her listening and verbal skills. Pay attention to how she relates to you, comparing that to the personality features noted on your list of requirements. Since communication skills and personality are an integral part of making a good fit, move forward with a face-to-face interview only if she’s a match in those areas.

Step 4: Experience

Experience the quality of her work by having her perform sample tasks. This sample work should provide her with the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not she has the skills and abilities you’ve noted on your list of requirements. For example, if she’s interviewing for a role that requires a high degree of accuracy, have her do sample work that showcases her ability to be accurate. If she’s interviewing for a position where attention to detail is important, have her complete a task that features her detail orientation. Hire her only if she proves she can do the work and do it well.

All of us have gut instincts. These instincts are helpful indicators when making important decisions. However, hiring by gut alone is risky. Especially when the person across the table is doing his best to tell, sell, and swell his way into the job.

Better to seek proof that he fits the role or not. Then, go fill your gut with a celebratory meal after you’ve made the right choice.

As president of the Wintrip Consulting Group, Scott Wintrip has helped thousands of companies improve their ability to hire talent on demand. He helped these organizations to grow faster, increase revenues, improve profitability, and expand market share. In the process of advising, educating, and coaching his clients, he has created more than $1.3 billion in positive economic impact for them. An astute strategist, he is respected for his strong leadership and practical advice. He is also the author of High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant (McGraw-Hill, April 2017). You can learn more about him and his services at WintripConsultingGroup.com.


3 Comments on “Why Going With Your Gut Causes Hiring Mistakes

  1. Nobel-prize winning behavioural economist, Daniel Kahneman,in his fantastic book, Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, supports your view, entirely, Scott. The candidate’s likeability (favouring the extroverts) is the the unprepared or rushed interviewer’s most vulnerable, and irrelevant, aspect of the assessment. I suspect you would appreciate my blog (quoting Kahneman) on the same topic https://rossclennett.com/2013/09/what-nobel-prize-winning-economis/

  2. I like “tell, sell, and swell”! It can definitely be the case that someone who seems outgoing and skilled in an interview is actually over-confident and potentially a toxic addition to your team. Here’s how to identify that type of toxic employee BEFORE hiring them: http://recruit.ee/bl-toxic-worker-eb-bh

  3. Having made some bad job choices in my now 60 years of existence, I’d submit that the same gut-level techniques should be used for the interviewee. When I was desperate, or didn’t trust my gut when the red flags waved, I ended up in some real toxic hell-holes with nefarious and sociopathic bosses, owners, and colleagues, and where it didn’t end well. The problem I’ve seen is that many employers today, in all sorts of industries, want candidates who “give them the tingles”. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been dismissed in interviews (where I was clearly well qualified for the said position) based on not “giving them the tingles”.

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