From Your Hiring Manager: How Do I Unplug My Brain During the Hiring Process?

Ron Webb Hiring Managers, HR (& Life!) Advice

Hey, HR Pros, I’m a “hiring manager,” so take it easy on my post and any dumb questions I may raise. My wife is an HR Pro, so I’m kind of in the witness protection program for hiring managers.

Recently, a friend recommended a book to me. It’s a business book, but it talks a lot about how the human brain works; specifically how our brain works to predict things. Basically, (and I’m sure I’m butchering this) we can’t possibly act real-time on all the real information our brain is gathering at any point in time. There is too much information coming in and our decisions would happen so slowly that we couldn’t survive. So, the brain spends the vast majority of its time predicting the next steps and sending those predictions to the area of the brain that must act. The book is asking whether organizations can get to a point where they can predict what will happen next, just like the human brain. But, that isn’t what fired me up about this book.

This book finally answered a lifelong question for me. My wife and I talk about this question all the time, and I have quizzed anyone who will listen for close to 30 years looking for the answer.

Here is the question:  How does someone get ready to go out (to a club, to an event, or even to work), and dress in a way that everyone else who sees them wonders “What the…!” yet that person looked in a mirror and thought (or even said out loud), “Yes! I nailed it!”?

Back to how the brain works. The specific process the book outlines is that the “lower” parts of the brain are always taking in information from the environment, (not even the complete information many times, just parts of what is there), assembling it into relative information, and passing it to the “upper” part of the brain where it predicts the final “answer” using past experiences, and the framework each of us has developed for how we relate to the world.

The classic example they use is Wayne Gretzky and how he would not pass the puck to where people are, but where they would be in the following seconds in order to score a goal. He knew so much about hockey and had so much experience, he could predict the game ahead of the other players.

As a hiring manager, this got me wondering how I shut this basic human process down when I’m considering candidates. Or, if I even need to shut this process down. The process is what we call “the gut feeling.”

What I’ve tried to do as a hiring manager is take the data I have on a candidate (resume, past positions, personality profiles, how they respond to interview questions, input from others who interview them, etc.) and balance that with my gut (my past experience) to make a decision that fits for the standards as I know them for my organization (what we value and need to serve our customers).

There are times when my gut has been right and I’m glad I trusted it. I tend to follow my gut when I really, really know the position and the candidate fits extremely well into the position.

I haven’t done the job of every position that I’ve hired. For those that I have done and really understand, I tend to go with my gut more, trust my instincts, and rely on my interaction with the candidate. I can just tell because I know the position so well, and a good resume (not pretty, but content-rich in the areas I know are ideal for that position) are just about all I need to identify or disqualify a candidate. And, I haven’t been wrong, yet. (Fingers and toes crossed).

Other times, I rely on data more. It’s not necessarily just positions I don’t know that well. It is usually for positions that are “numbers” positions. Sales positions are a great example, as well.

Sales pros are notorious for putting stats in their resume’ that don’t necessarily make sense (or are shady – really a 400% increase in sales in 4 months?). I tend to rely more on data and what they can really prove and show me about how they perform vs. having them just explain the soft side of how they sell, how they source leads, etc.

Marketing is the same way. Tell me about the data on the campaigns you own, the systems you have used, and the creative products you’ve developed; don’t tell me about how you got along really well with your co-workers.

Analysts are the same way. Show me the output you did, not the theory you learned in college.

So, that’s how I muddle through this issue. I’d love your advice on this in light of the fact my primal brain is trying to tell me the answer to the question before I even ask it?