Don't Trust Your Gut: Hire For Success

The higher you go in an organization, especially at the C-suite, it seems the more likely you are to hear something like: “I have really good instincts about a person, I know when I have found my ‘guy.’” The problem is that, that is just not true.

Leadership IQ did a 3-year study that looked at 20,000 employees and 5,427 hiring managers, from 312 organizations. Their findings were staggering to anyone but management consultants and HR professionals. They found that 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months and only 19% will be unequivocal successes.


When pressed, 82% of hiring managers reported that looking back there was something in the interview that should have warned them about the problems ahead. So why didn’t they take note of misgivings? The answer is simple: FIRST IMPRESSIONS!


Everyone knows first impressions matter, but maybe they don’t understand the true definition of the term: FIRST IMPRESSION! According to Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov (Psychological Science (v.17): July, 2006), the first impression often happens inside of 1/10 of a second. They researched how people judged pictures of peoples’ faces, given time constraints, along 5 traits (attractiveness, likeability, competence, trustworthiness, and aggressiveness). They found 3 very interesting things that should inform how you interview in the future:

  • People developed a judgment of someone in 1/10 of a second that was strongly correlated with those given more time. 1/10 of a second appears enough time for someone to make a judgment that will stick.

  • When given more time, people still made judgments in about 1/10 of a second; not using the extra time to evolve/challenge their judgment. People want to make a judgment in a fraction of a second, even if it is unnecessary.

  • More exposure to a subject doesn’t change a judgment, but it does increase one’s confidence that the judgment is correct. After 1/10 of a second, people spend the remaining 9/10’s of a second (and beyond) convincing themselves that they were right. 

The fact is that traditional interviewing doesn’t yield great results because, as Willis and Todorov show, most interviews and interviewers are based too much in subjectivity. To hire more successfully, all interviews need to move to a more structured and objective set of criteria.

Some of our clients spend thousands of dollars on each (Executive) position that they fill; to increase their chances of selecting out the bad fits and selecting in the good fits. But what about smaller companies that don’t have the budget or internal expertise to design and implement an elaborate selection methodology? Here are 5 keys to success:


1. Have a Great Job Description This sounds like a “no-brainer” but it isn’t. Having a great job description is valuable for two reasons: 1) It forces the hiring manager to get very specific and clear on what the job entails and the skills necessary to succeed; and 2) It will select out candidates that haven’t met the minimum requirements (or at least drive a conversation as to why an exemption is granted).


2. Interview with a Script Do NOT go into an interview with only a resume in your hand! Have a list of questions that you are going to ask and stick to them! Use that same script with every single potential candidate that you interview for that job. This will ensure that each interview is more valid and legal. It will also prevent you from getting sidetracked when you find out that your kids are in the same soccer league.


3. Use Behavioral Interviewing Questions Behavioral interviewing questions require the person to draw from a real experience, rather than a hypothetical set of answers. By asking, “tell me the time when you failed the worst, what happened, how did you rebound,” you force the responder to give you context on a situation. This minimizes the likelihood that they are making it up in a socially desirable manner that will make them look good. It also concretizes where the experienced happened and shows whether they have relevant experience to what the demands of the job might be.


4. Assess Non-Technical (Culture) Fit Most people get jobs they have done before, or where they have done something similar. So most people don’t fail because of lack of technical proficiency. Instead they fail because they don’t fit with the organization, team, or manager. It is often not the work that one does, but how one does it that defines their success or failure. Leadership IQ says failure is caused as follows: Coachability (26%), Emotional Intelligence (23%), Motivation (17%), Temperament (15%) and Technical Competence (11%). Make sure that your interview questions help you assess whether the prospective employee is a good match with your workplace culture and environment for employees.


5. Challenge Your Initial “Gut” Reaction Everyone makes judgments very quickly. People with high stress jobs, with many demands on their time, make decisions even quicker. It is a survival instinct that helps to bring order out of a chaotic schedule. The higher up in an organization that you are, the more you need to challenge your first impression. Suspend judgment by a whole 5-10 seconds. Maybe even wait to decide if they get the job until they answer the first or second question.


TAKEAWAYS Estimates on the cost (to an organization) of an unsuccessful hire range from 50%-100% of that employees yearly salary, and even higher for executives. Regardless of the exact cost, making a mis-hire can have catastrophic effects; yet it happens all too commonly. The key to increasing the likelihood that your interview will be successful is to replace the intuition with a more rigorous and objective process; designed to squash your innate tendency to make a judgement in a millisecond. Remember: if after reading this, you hold off making judgements for a whole 5 seconds (after seeing someone’s face) then reading this was time well spent!

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