• January 2015

Barbara Mitchell Gives Us Insight Into Intuition and the Hiring Process

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author of
The Essential HR Handbook and The Big Book of HR

When I am working with managers on how to select the best employee, I have often turned to a great book and video called More Than a Gut Feeling.

While the book doesn’t dismiss using gut feelings in the hiring process, it explains why it’s so important to do more than trust your gut when hiring a new employee.

And though I’ve been recruiting for many years, I’m still amazed when managers tell me they don’t want to hire an applicant because they “knew the minute the person walked into the room that he or she wasn’t right for the job.” When I ask the manager why, the response is usually something like, “I just knew.”

To make a good hiring decision, I think it makes much better sense to get to know the applicants by asking them carefully crafted, open-ended questions. You may have heard this called behavioral interviewing or behavior-based interviewing, and I am a firm believer in using this process.

Here’s how you can put the process to work for you:

1. Understand what it is that you really are looking for in your new hire.

What skills do they need to succeed? Once you know that, you can come up with questions to ask. Be sure to word the questions in such a way that you can elicit information that you can use to make a good hiring decision.

Prepare behavioral questions to generate a more genuine response. Behavioral questions are difficult for applicants to prepare for since they don’t know what you will be focusing on. That means their answers are more likely to be spontaneous, and more revealing.

Most people with experience being interviewed are well-prepared to answer more traditional questions, such as, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” and, “Where do you want to be in five years?” (When I’ve been asked the “where do you want to be in five years” question, I’ve always been tempted to respond, “In a café in Paris,” but I’ve never had the courage to do it!)

2. Write down your questions.

There is a formula for asking penetrating questions, and you can read more about this in either of the two books I’ve written, The Essential HR Handbook or The Big Book of HR.

Let’s say you are hiring someone to work with customers. You might ask, “Tell me about a time when you had a particularly difficult customer. How did you handle the situation?”

After the interviewee responds, follow up with additional probing questions such as, “What did you learn from that experience?” and/or, “What might you do differently next time?”

What you really are doing is asking them to tell you how they will treat your customers by sharing how they’ve treated customers in their past jobs. Like many others, I believe that past performance predicts future behavior.

3. Use your head, as well as your intuition.

Yes, certainly pay attention to your intuition when interviewing and selecting applicants. But remember that it is critically important to also solicit a lot of information from applicants by conducting a well-crafted interview.

Of course, it’s also crucial to do the appropriate follow-up after an interview, no matter how confident you are that you’ve found the best person for the position. That means be sure to do background checks and reference checks to confirm that applicants are who they say they are.

Preparing Well for Interviews Pays Off

There is no magic formula for hiring the right person, but with planning, preparation, and good interviewing techniques (and listening to your gut), your chances of a good hire go up significantly.


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and has consulted for organizations around the world.

She has served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and at several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding The Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook and The Big Book of HR.

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