How do you choose which candidate is right for the job? According to research by job site Indeed, 28% of employers say ‘gut feeling’ is their main reason for hiring someone.  

That’s compared with 23% who say relevant experience is their main reason, and only 8% who say their decisions are based mainly on formal qualifications. 

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But is it really right to trust your gut? A hire is a big decision and it may be best to get the brain involved as well…   


What’s a ‘gut feeling’? 

Your gut feeling helps you make decisions based on your instant judgements and emotions, often subconscious ones. In recruitment, this can mean choosing a candidate based on who ‘feels right’ for the role. 

Gudrun Limbrick explains: “The thing about human beings is that we are genetically wired to pick up on these signs and signals and interpret them in the best way for us. It is exactly these signs and signals which enable us to pick a partner, or decide who is a friend and who is a foe.  

“So important is this ability to make judgments about other people that we cannot switch it off. As soon as we see someone, we make our initial judgements about their worth in our lives and we continue to add to, or perhaps modify, this judgement as we interact.  

“As recruiters, we are picking up these signs whether or not we want to. It can be impossible to separate these very human, gut feelings from the recruitment score pads on the desk in front of us.” 


Can you trust your gut?  

Gut feelings can be positive. You could be picking up on simply liking the candidate, their good communication skills, or their professional manner – or if you’re experienced at hiring you may have finely tuned instincts about who’s right for a role. Conversely, you could be picking up on a lack of any of that and instinctively feel that they wouldn’t be good in the role.  

But the gut can’t always be trusted.  

Everyone has personal biases. Though your interviewer may well have a personal bias towards fantastic project managers with 3-5 years’ experience, some less helpful biases can be operating under the surface too: namely prejudices around race, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, age, and other protected characteristics or minority groups.  

However much we work to eradicate prejudice, it can still lurk in your subconscious and influence your decisions – hence why it’s often called ‘unconscious bias’.  


Listen to your brain too 

Regardless of whether you choose to trust your gut, a good approach to hiring is to gather evidence around whether or not the candidate will be good at the job.  

Some ways you can do that include the following… 

  • Take a formalised approach to screening. This helps you look at objective factors rather than subjective ones. 
  • Make a list of the desired qualities and experience for the position, and measure the candidate up against those. Some hiring managers like to rate how they match up on a scale of one to five. A system like this encourages you to measure the candidates against your person specification, rather than against each other, and helps you see who’s technically best.  
  • Use multiple interviewers or panel interviews. There’s less chance of a single person’s bias driving the decision.  
  • Aim for well-prepared, structured interviews, and keep them largely the same for all your candidates. Structured interviews tend to be a better indicator of future performance. See our Interviewing topic for more info. 
  • Include competency-based questioning, and establish benchmarks beforehand so you know what level of competency you’re looking for. You can ask about specific tasks or projects they’ve done, performance criteria, transferrable skills, examples of their behaviour or how they dealt with problems, and so on. Read more: Using benchmarked competencies (Croner-i Human Resources).  
  • Include sample tasks of what they’ll be doing on the job, where possible. This way you can see their work in action and make decisions around that.  
  • Involving a third party recruiter can also give a more objective point of view. 


For more information, guidance, and assistance on recruitment, see the Recruitment and Selection group of topics in Croner-i Human Resources


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