Why recruiters shouldn't rely on gut instinct

Surprise, surprise: more evidence that gut instinct isn't the best way to hire the right person.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Managers often rely on their instincts when facing tough recruitment decisions. Take business ‘tsar’ and reality TV ‘star’ Alan Sugar, who claimed he chose his most recent Apprentice, Yasmina Siadata, based on ‘gut instinct’ (so why bother with a 12-week series?). But Lord Sugar might want to re-think next time, if new research by workplace psychologists OPP is to be believed. According to OPP, more than 70% of all line managers would change the people decisions they’ve made if given a second chance – a sign, it suggests, that ‘gut feel’ may not be the best way to judge potential candidates. After all, hiring mistakes can be very expensive…

Since MT readers tend to be paragons of managerial virtue, relying on your instincts at interview might sound like a curiously old-fashioned approach. But it’s still pretty common: almost four in ten line managers told OPP that they still consider gut instinct to be one of the most important factors when making any kind of decision about the people who work for them. OPP boss Dr Robert McHenry thinks this is particularly surprising in the current economic climate. ‘Organisations have to ask themselves why they demand objectivity and transparency in every other decision about resources, particularly in these difficult times when all investment is under scrutiny, but when it comes to people, they allow themselves to ‘fly blind’?’

Now it’s worth remembering that OPP makes its money from selling psychometric tests to employers – i.e. supplying (supposedly) objective data about potential hires. So it loves to beat this particular drum, and is not exactly an impartial witness. Nonetheless, it’s certainly true that making a bad hire can be a costly and time-consuming mistake. And it’s also true that instinct, or gut feel, or whatever you want to call it, is essentially a composite of your existing prejudices and preconceptions (including some you may not even know you had). Since some of these might not be relevant to a particular recruitment decision, you might not end up hiring the best person for the job.

Besides, perhaps managers shouldn’t be too confident in their own instincts. OPP also found that while 97% of managers felt they know their people fairly well or better, just 74% of their staff concurred. We wonder if that includes Yasmina?

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Why recruiters shouldn't rely on gut instinct

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