Hiring 101: Should You Trust Your Gut Instincts When it Comes to Hiring?

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This is the fourth post in of Indeed’s SMB series. See what SMB owners have to say about using surprise questions in part three.

How many times have we followed that sharp gut feeling to find it leading us in the right direction? Now let’s count the many times we found ourselves led astray. While gut feeling can be helpful for certain decisions, the margin of error is reason enough to refrain from letting it influence important hiring decisions. 

“Gut feeling is a terrible way to hire” says Mike Silagadze, Founder of education software giant Top Hat. The risk of recruiting a candidate from gut feeling is that we may actually be responding to likeability, shared interests and most importantly – unconscious bias. This means leaning towards a candidate for aspects other than their qualifications, soft skills and experience. Did the candidate attend the same high school? Were they also part of their university track team? Often without even consciously realizing it, these factors and more influence how we feel towards a candidate. In sum, we’re hiring someone who we feel at ease with and can imagine being our friend. 

While it’s very important to get along with your future hire, you shouldn’t have everything in common. Especially when this begins to hinder inclusivity and diversity. In addition, hiring someone who is very similar to both the employer and the rest of the team restricts the flow of brand new ideas and stagnates creativity.

Below, we outline the biases that often underlie a gut feeling, the risks they incite and how you can avoid them.

Hiring based on similarities

One of the biggest risks of following gut feeling in the hiring process is that it tends to incline us towards candidates who share similar interests or character traits. This can feel comforting and put the interviewer at ease. But in the office, it can mean creating a monoculture (link to culture-fit blog post). Without introducing entirely new perspectives, the old ideas never get checked and companies end up missing out on opportunities to innovate. Additionally, hiring people who are similar to us inevitably fosters a non inclusive environment in the workplace. This means employees of a certain age, gender and background can begin to dominate the workplace and create a lack of diversity. 

Instead: take a more objective approach to reviewing a candidate and consider what you can learn from them. Maybe they have a distinct set of experiences they can introduce to the team. It also pays to take note that companies with ethnic and cultural diversity have shown to outperform those lacking in diversity by 33%. Additionally, a recent survey by Indeed determined that 89% of Canadian employees in tech agree that a diverse workforce positively impacts business performance.

Hiring based on likeability

Similarly to hiring people who resemble you, hiring based on likeability can lead employers to surround themselves with people who don’t challenge their point of view. It’s easy to fall for a candidate who is friendly and relatable, especially if they bolster our self-esteem by giving praise to our ideas or supporting our outlook. However, it’s important to be reflexive and critical in analyzing when this becomes the main reason for hiring someone, especially if they’re lacking in qualifications and experience.

It’s also important to remember that Interviews are stressful; candidates want to showcase their biggest assets and accomplishments in just a short amount of time. This will inevitably limit them from revealing much of their personality right away. So if the candidate has the right credentials for the role and is able to communicate them effectively, not feeling like their friend should not influence the hiring decision. 

Instead: Introduce the candidate to your colleagues and ask them to give feedback. While you assess how the candidate interacts with different team members, your colleagues will be able to zero-in on qualities you may have overlooked through their distinct viewpoints. Alternatively, you can conduct a panel interview where multiple team members can weigh in on their assessment of the candidate at once, providing a wider variety of perspectives.

Falling for presentation 

We all have a friend or acquaintance who seamlessly merges into any social situation – the kinds of events that would make the rest of us nervous. Similarly, there are those who tend to interview well, building great rapport between themselves and the interviewer with ease. A big part of this is the ability to sell oneself and be a persuasive speaker. 

These are huge assets and often essential ones for certain roles, however they should not overshadow whether the candidate has the important soft skills and qualifications. Many employers are captivated by presentation (the candidate’s appearance, humour, friendliness), and get immediately swept in. This is often mistaken for gut feeling and the risk is that the employer is actually making their decision without substantial information.

Instead: be more objective, prioritize candidate qualifications and check references from their previous teammates. Past coworkers and employers are the best mediums of insight into your candidate’s true performance as an employee. They’ve gotten past the presentation stage and seen the candidate in their regular workflow. Additionally, the employer needs to prepare situational questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate their thinking process. If the company has available resources, ask the candidate to complete a sample assignment or solve a challenge to be able to assess their work. 

The takeaway:

For SMBs, a candidate’s role often covers a wide range of responsibilities, impacting large aspects of the business, so it’s especially important to avoid hasty hiring decisions. Using one’s gut feeling can be enticing as it prompts us towards a quick decision without asking us to dig deeper. In the hiring process, however, a good feeling about a candidate can often stem from perceiving them as likeable or similar to ourselves. 

Equally, having an off-putting feeling about a candidate may be the result of meeting someone who challenges our point of view. Yet, the latter is often essential for the exchange of new ideas and innovation in business. In both cases, it’s important to get more information to support our feelings by establishing a well-rounded interview process. This includes: introducing the candidate to colleagues, asking their past coworkers for feedback, assessing skills through sample tasks and, foremost, being open to learning from their differences.

You can also read this post in French