Hiring? Recognize and Use Feelings Wisely

by | Jan 31, 2016

Jan. 31It was an important hiring decision – a senior manager with a healthy budget and high-level staff. Most hiring processes will consist of an interview panel, checking references, conducting several rounds of interviews, and even potentially a police clearance to ensure you are safe to be working in the corporation. With all of these stages in place, employers should be able to get a good idea of what a candidate is really like. That being said, the hiring process can be a very difficult task, and coming to the right decision is never easy. Especially during Covid-19 where you may find yourself needing more staff, such as a Head of Remote Work, but are unable to meet new candidates in person. Employers will need to use all their skills to make sure they hire the right person. However, if you’ve missed the mark, it can be difficult to understand what you did wrong. What went wrong and what could have been done differently? The inner workings of the brain hold clues, had we understood them at the time, it may have made a difference.

Personnel actions – hiring, firing, promotion, discipline – are complex decisions. There are many variables to consider about the person, the organization and the situation. Ensuring they are trustworthy and law-abiding is essential. Using the Michigan City Drug Test could go a long way towards securing the right type of person for your corporation. Assessing technical competence such as do they have the experience and skill to do the job, is the easiest and most objective. Sometimes this can be hard to decipher, especially when you have a lot of candidates who have a similar experience and skill set. Some companies decide to make the hiring process easier by looking into working with a temporary staffing agency that will be able to provide them with the person who is best-suited for the available job. When it comes to the hiring process, there is just so much that you need to remember. Frequently overlooked are non-conscious feelings. Feelings are an important part of decision-making and are not to be pushed aside. Rather, they require thoughtful consideration to manage their impact.

In general, feelings about a personnel decision fit into two buckets:
• Feel good
• Feel uncomfortable

Let’s take a quick view of how the brain engages. The limbic system (home to brain structures that active emotional responses) is sensitive to intangible clues. The brain scans the information you take in from the person being interviewed. It compares what you experience with what you expect and with your history. Differences send up varying levels of alarm and similarities either don’t register or register as comfort.

Feel good. In the hiring action above, no one “clicked” with me until Bill. He was poised and confident. More importantly to my brain, he answered questions the way I would have. Bingo! This is the person – it feels good. Unbeknownst to me, I experienced confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the brain’s tendency to latch onto information that conforms to its expectations and overlooks other information. Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, notes, “…people seek data that are likely to be compatible with the beliefs they currently hold.” That’s confirmation bias. For example, if you care about strategy, your brain connects with interviewee statements that relate to strategy. In doing so, you may miss clues about their skill in working with staff. Basically, the brain is wired to see what we already believe. We all do it. The only problem is when we don’t account for it.

Feel uncomfortable. The brain is also on the lookout for differences. “Different” registers as an error and prompts the brain to assess threat level. It doesn’t feel good. Many variables may trip up the brain – different appearance, interests (you like golf; they don’t play sports but attend the symphony), life experiences (you have southern values; they are middle eastern), or different business approaches. All of these register in the brain with a little “ding-ding.” It takes more brain energy to consider the differences than gravitate to similarities. Unless you consciously recognize the discomfort and call it out, there is a strong tendency for the brain to reject the candidate. This is implicit bias. I recall two instances where my managers hired a person who rubbed me the wrong way and they did a great job.

When that uncomfortable feeling comes up, pause and examine the source. Is there real substance behind it or is your brain simply reacting to the unknown? Again, perceptions of others are crucial. Sometimes you must choose to override the discomfort and bring a new experience to your brain.

To blunt the force of confirmation or implicit bias, put structures in place to intentionally manage biases. First, use an interview panel carefully chosen to have different points of view and who think differently from you. Look for panel members who have different backgrounds, diversity, and ways of thinking. Second, assign something specific to listen for that aligns with their experience and strength. One person might listen for relational skill; another strategic skill; and another organizational vision. Third, listen to the panel’s input carefully and consciously consider the biases in the room. See past your brain’s limitations to find the person who fits best in the organization.

You can’t brush feelings under the rug. Instead, learn how to use them skillfully.

*Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011, p.81.


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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