hire based on instinct

Do you hire based on instinct or impulse?

Hiring new employees is hard. Finding the most suitable employees for an organisation is even harder. The American Management Consultant Peter Drucker famously said that “33% of staffing decisions are bad, 33% are acceptable, and 33% are ok”.

So, why is hiring new employees so difficult?

You may be the type of manager who is simply too impatient to bide your time and wait for a game-changing candidate? Do you hire impulsively with a focus on simply retaining the headcount?

This approach to hiring is a quick fix. It generally results in high staff turnover. Your new employees are more likely to leave after a short time having realised their incompatibility with the job and the company culture.

Other managers simply lack the necessary interpersonal skills to be able to connect with a job candidate during the selection process and accurately evaluate them. Do you tend to focus on the CV and track record of a potential employee?

Relying on people’s CVs is risky as it does not give an insight into important aspects of human nature. It confirms the important hard skills, but does not take into consideration the soft skills such as ability to communicate, their motivational needs and personality traits that a candidate needs to be successful in a role.

This leads to hiring the “promises on the CV” rather than the right person. Have you ever realised a costly mistake some months later, when the new employee transpired to be a terrible fit for the team and the values of the organisation?

As CEO or business leader you will know that your people are the driver behind your business.  However, it is the “right people” that really drive a business forward. Putting the wrong people in the wrong jobs could put your growth rate into reverse!

Understanding the potential future performance, productivity and cultural fit of your candidates is also quintessential to building effective teams and profitable organisations. Make sure you drill down on this during the interview with your candidate.  If you simply hire for the short-term, you’re much more likely to have to deal with poor performance and increased staff turnover.

So, don’t make the mistake of hiring on instinct or impulse. Here are some things to be aware of:

1)    The power of first impressions

Like many managers and professionals, you may swear by first impressions, especially in a corporate environment. Nonetheless, relying on first impressions can lead even the most experienced hiring manager to choosing badly.

 Research tells us just how much we are influenced by first impressions. In an article published by the American Psychological Association  James Uleman, a psychology professor at New York University and researcher on impression management says: “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgments are being made and impressions formed all the time”.

Subconsciously, our view of another person is heavily reliant on the way in which they present themselves when we first meet them and their looks, which of course have nothing to do with their potential performance, productivity or suitability for your organisation.

Maybe it’s a by-product of modern society and our obsession with exterior beauty. It seems almost absurd that we automatically judge beautiful or handsome people to be clever and smart, but we do. Attractive people are seen as friendly and more socially competent, and even as more intelligent and successful. Of course, we all know that this is simply not the case.

Unfortunately, we can’t entirely “switch off” being influenced by first impressions. However, we can become more aware of this human frailty, and make sure that we compensate for it.

2)    Emotions can get in the  way

Emotions greatly influence our behaviour and our judgement. In fact, emotions can fuel our decisions and lead us to ignore hard facts. Gut feeling can overpower our analytical and rational abilities.

In his book, Descartes Error, Antonio Damasio professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, argues that emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions. When we have to make a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences subconsciously affix values to the options we are considering and create preferences.  

In a hiring context, the role of emotions is often the factor that pushes us to make the wrong decision about a new employee over others, sometimes leading us to ignore the facts that present themselves.

3)    Mistaking subjective perception and unconscious preconceptions for absolute truth

As human beings, we draw conclusions and make judgements based on our experience to make the world more comprehensible and predictable for ourselves. It is important to remember that our personal “conclusions” are purely subjective, and may not represent the situation, as it really is.

Most people find it hard to distance themselves from their pre-programmed ideas and perceptions of other people. You may think that you are making an objective decision about your new employee, when in fact you are bringing your own subjective opinions and experiences to bear.

Subjectivity and perceived stereotypes can interfere with our judgement and can lead us to make incorrect assumptions. We can become badly equipped to truly evaluate others.

 Can we really assume, that…

  • an attractive person is healthy?
  • people who wear glasses are intelligent?
  • the person who speaks with confidence and style must be well educated?

As manager and leader, you may sometimes let such assumptions interfere with your recruitment or selection decisions. A seemingly “confident decision” is in effect filtered by your own subjective lens and may not be the most suitable option for the company or the team members who have to work with the new recruit.

Have you ever thought that you had judged a person correctly only to find that they behave in an unexpected or unpredictable way? Have you ever hired someone, thinking that they are the perfect candidate, only to find out a few months later that they could not be more unsuitable for the job? These are common scenarios for hiring managers.

4)    The halo effect

Following on from the previous point, the halo effect is possibly one of the biggest factors that influences poor hiring decisions. This cognitive bias was first recognised by the psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920 in a paper titled “The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings”.  It is a phenomenon of human perception and describes the process of assuming – because of the presence of one certain characteristic in a person – that other characteristics are also present.

For example, you may assume that the extraverted, talkative and attractive job candidate, who connects quickly with you and your hiring team, is also a strong and confident communicator with high levels of social intelligence. You may also assume, because a person is diplomatic, positive and outgoing, that they have strong leadership or management qualities. But why, if there’s no concrete evidence for that?

That’s the power of the halo effect. It is difficult to ignore entirely, but you can raise your awareness of it in an interview situation.

So, how can you hire the right people?

Here are 5 simple hiring tips:

  1. Focus on your business goals and ask yourself what kind of people will help you get there?
  2. Profile the job in terms of behaviours and competencies, not just required hard skills and education.
  3. Plan your interview carefully.  Always structure your questions and define your expected outcomes.
  4. Be as objective as possible.  Ask yourself: “Will this person be able to successfully handle the demands of this role, now and in the future?” and not just “Do I like this person?”
  5. Hire for personality first, skills second. Skills can be learned, whereas personality cannot.

Put plainly, there are many pitfalls for hiring managers and HR professionals when it comes to selecting and retaining good people. Hire the right people, who are happy and motivated in their job, and you’ll see greater levels of engagement, motivation and commitment as a direct result.

We would love you to share your experiences of the hiring process with us in the comments below!