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HIRING: Go with your gut... right?

Posted on 03 March 2022

​‘I looked in their eyes and I liked what I saw’, what better assessment of a candidate could we possibly hope for? Well according to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman we should strive for much better.

 

For Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 2002, this intuitive approach is deeply flawed and can lead to organisations making questionable decisions during the hiring process. In his seminal book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ Kahneman notes that the human thinking process consists of two systems. System 1 is our fast twitch response, it is automatic, and requires very little effort; this is our intuition. System 2 is a much slower system, that requires much more effort and concentration, and is associated with our subjective  experiences of agency and choice. The issue for Kahneman is that system 1, or our intuition, is open to many ‘cognitive biases’ and can therefore be led astray.

 

What are these cognitive biases? These are essentially unconscious shortcuts that our brain takes to help us deal with the overwhelming information presented to us in today’s complex world. It would be impractical for anyone to sit down and reason every decision they make during the course of a day. We therefore must rely on these snap judgements to help guide us through a complex world. We should however be aware of how these snap judgements can be biased, so that we are able to challenge our intuitions when the situation demands it. Let’s have a look at a couple:

 

  1. Anchoring – the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered;

  2. Overconfidence – the tendency to overestimate our own knowledge or our ability to predict;

  3. Availability – we use examples that are recent, and therefore immediately available to our minds, when reaching judgements;

  4. Commitment – the tendency to stick to what we have done or said in the past;

  5. Peak-End rule – the tendency to remember the peak of an experience as opposed to the sum of the whole experience;

  6. Confirmation – the tendency to want to confirm pre-existing beliefs;

  7. Halo Effect – the tendency to assume that if someone is good at one thing, they will also be good at others.

 

System 1, or our ‘Lazy controller’ as Kahneman refers to it, cannot be ignored but must be challenged and tested by our more logical ‘system 2’.

 

So, how can we do better?

 

  • Set Criteria (and stick to them!)
    By sticking to 5-10 independent and objective criteria we force ourselves to engage system 2, and are less likely to be swayed by our biases. We should be able to ask a couple of questions on each point to come to our conclusion. Collect information on 1 point and then move on. We can then end by scoring the candidate, for comparison.

  • Keep evaluations separate before discussion
    It is easy to go with the herd, so insist on decision makers bringing their own points to the discussion will force them to look at the data and come their own conclusions. This can lead to more meaningful discussions with a wider range of points.

  • Pre-mortem
    As a final check before a decision is made, we should imagine ourselves further down the road in a world where this decision failed. We should ask ourselves what went wrong? How could this go wrong? By considering the potential failures of a decision we are forced to check our intuitions.

  • Slow down!
    When making any important decision, including the hiring of a new team member, we should take our time. We should try and find out where our intuition and biases may be leading us astray.

 

Whilst we can never avoid being swayed by our intuitions we should equip ourselves with the courage and the tools to challenge them. Kahneman had great success in revolutionising the recruiting process of the Israeli army, and parts of his original process are still in use today. This isn’t to say it was without resistance; many believed the process demanded people to be more like robots than human beings.

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