Intuition Can Save or Kill Your Hiring Success!

Summary: Most hiring decisions are made intuitively, in only four minutes — with 75% of those hires resulting in costly mis-hires.

Background: Intuition as a basis of decision-making is enjoying a rebirth. Google “intuitive decision making” and up pops a Boston College press release advocating, “trust your gut.” Or study an article by Burke and Miller, who in an extensive research project, reported the following statistics that should scare the heck out of hiring managers:

Almost all respondents (91.5 percent) said that they had combined intuition with data analysis in their history of workplace decision-making …

Forty percent of the professionals used intuition to make personnel, or people-related, decisions. Such decisions included interviewing, hiring …

Little research has been done on the ultimate quality of intuitively driven decisions. We asked practitioners to rate the quality of the intuitive decisions they had made and then categorized their open-ended responses. Two-thirds of the respondents felt that intuition led to better decisions.

Yeah, good luck, hiring managers! Intuitive hiring is commonplace, but there’s no research on how well it works? Huh? Actually, it was the McGill University studies from decades ago that showed that most managers make hiring decision in four minutes … and spend the rest of the time in interviews selling the candidate on joining the company or unconsciously justifying the hiring decision they already made.

I have personally done a lot of informal research, with the average executive reporting 10 jobs. So … thousands of times I’ve asked what methods were used to hire and with what results. Bottom Line: The vast majority of hiring managers trusted their gut with very shallow information (i.e., competency interviews with questions like, “tell me about a time you were well organized”). And 75% of the people they hired turned out to be mis-hires — costly mis-hires.

Jonathan Haidt’s recent treatise on intuition scares me. In his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012: Vintage), he takes a huge history of human thought and concludes that humans are almost totally emotional in our decisions. He compares emotion to an elephant and rationality as a rider sitting astride the elephant trying unsuccessfully to guide it to a desired destination. In one example, subjects in a study looked at pictures of unknown Republican and Democrat candidates for offices in far-away states, and with no more information than the photos, they favored 70% of the candidates elected. So much for an informed, rational electorate.

Fortunately the situation for hiring managers is not hopeless. We can recognize that maybe we are VERY intuitive, but embrace disciplines that make the elephant (intuition) controlled by the rider (rationality).