The Science of Gut Feel?

The Science of Gut Feel?

The Science of Gut Feel?

When hiring, ‘gut feeling’ becomes an integral tool in the assessment of a person’s abilities – whether this is a conscious decision or not! But how do you know when to trust your intuition and when to disregard it?

Research suggests that gut feeling is based on unconscious comparisons to past experiences. Naturally, the more diversity or longevity in a role using intuition, the more experience a recruiter has to draw upon.

Gut feel has both positives and negatives:

  • Gut feel is a useful judgement tool about humans and fit. The process of recruitment is all about people, managing expectations and match-making – if it wasn’t, the whole process of recruitment could be done by machines! While technology is helpful to the process, it isn’t a total solution to the hiring process.
  • We’re in a knowledge economy – this means new complexities and priorities have been added. It’s no longer just about what school you went to or what degree you have, there’s much more to it than that. This makes the gut feeling very relevant.
  • However, as mentioned earlier, gut feeling is based on prior experience. Because each person has different experiences, the interview process has suddenly been plagued with subjectivity. This opens up the possibility of bias and we must always be aware of this.
  • From a different perspective, a candidate could use a hiring managers gut feel to manipulate the process – taking the focus away from key competencies and toward similar interests.  This creates the added risk that they person they “like” can’t actually perform the tasks required.

To counteract subjectivity, a number of objective tools are used in the recruitment and selection process:

  • Psychometric testing (aptitude, numerical reasoning, behavioural competency)
  • Job related testing
  • Profiling – biased or otherwise
  • Competency (behavioural interview techniques) based recruitment vs traditional matching methods
  • Assessment centres

It is argued that these avenues, if used correctly, should lead to a higher level of objectivity, accountability and transparency.

I can think of an example where I used my gut feeling during an interview a client had asked me to sit in on. Throughout the interview, various technical and behavioural questions were asked to assess competency. The candidate had to provide examples of their work, design calculations and sit a software test.These assessments came to the conclusion that this person was indeed competent. However, I was left with an uneasy feeling due to the way this candidate answered questions, almost like they were manufactured or telling us what we wanted to hear, rather than the truth.

So in my opinion gut feeling is as important as ever. You can assess via every other means possible, but at the end of the day it’s this intuition that you grow over time through experience that helps you assess risk and hire the best candidate.

In this particular case, my advice to the client was to undertake thorough reference checking and gain industry feedback from mutual contacts – with prior permission from the candidate of course!

The end results confirmed that the candidate was great at interviewing and taking tests, but real world application of their skills coupled with a slightly abrasive personality meant that tension was created on project teams. So, even though the candidate interviewed well and had the skills on paper, didn’t mean they were suitable for the job.

“What counts can’t always be counted, and what can be counted does not always count” – Albert Einstein

Have you had experience where trusting your gut feel has been the right call, in recruitment or otherwise? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!




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Daniel Gallen

As Principal Consultant, Daniel enjoys forming long term relationships with a range of clients and helping their business grow. He started his career in telecommunications, before transitioning to recruitment; totalling nine years of experience with strong networks. When he gets a chance, Dan enjoys spending time at the bach in Taupo and going trout fishing or occasionally taking part in the odd track day as he has a passion for motorsport.

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