Do You Hire with Your Head or Your Gut?

Which should hiring managers rely on most when interviewing — data or instincts?

That is the question Linda Descano, Managing Director and Head of Content & Social at Citi, asks in a recent post on LinkedIn. It’s a great question, and it got me thinking about how critically important instincts can be when it comes to recruiting — especially during that initial phone conversation.

How to Make a Hiring Decision: Just the Facts? Or Should You Go with Your Gut?

It certainly depends on the role. As Descano’s article points out, when it comes to assessing candidates for analytical positions, for example, data may play the bigger part. I also find this can be the case with both metrics and quota-driven positions — for instance, sales positions or even recruiting roles where the candidate has specific measurements they are expected to meet monthly or quarterly. Typically, in those cases hiring managers have a lot of data points and benchmarks to consider in order to evaluate the candidates’ past performance (and estimate their future performance, as well).

On the other hand, there are other positions that may not offer much in terms of specific metrics or relevant data for hiring managers to base their decisions on.

So, should we rely solely on the facts, or listen to our instincts when vetting a candidate? Obviously both are important, but I do think that having a strong feeling about a candidate (whether it’s positive, or negative) is something you shouldn’t ignore.

Best of Both Worlds

One case for valuing hiring intuition I often come across as a recruiter is assessing a candidate’s reason for leaving their current or most recent position. A candidate may give you what seems to be a perfectly reasonable explanation, but your instincts may tell you something is off. Maybe he or she got nervous when the question was asked, or provided vague or roundabout reasoning. Rather than just accept this information as fact, a skilled recruiter and/or hiring manager will dive a bit deeper into questioning in order to gather more information.

On the other hand, there are certainly times when you will interview a “smooth talker”. In these cases it’s possible the candidate’s data/metrics/quota provided is below par, but everyone on the team loves them. This type of underperforming but highly personable candidate will typically woo their interviewers and do a stellar job of smoothing over past results. It’s even possible going with him or her could work out, but I have to say, completely ignoring performance data like this typically leads to a bad hire.

While interviewing, be sure to not let a candidate’s personality completely take your attention away from major concerns about performance or ability.

A Three-Pronged Approach

My best advice when it comes to choosing whether to listen to your instincts or let the data tell the story is to use a three-pronged approach:

  • review the data
  • listen to your instincts
  • most importantly, ask the right interview questions

If you have concerns about a candidate, dig into his or her background and ask more questions. With the right type of interviewing, the truth about character and performance will always come to the surface. Read our quick guide to behavioral interviewing to learn how to improve your approach and take the guesswork out of your hiring.

Which do you go with most often for your hires — the data or your instincts?

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