October 7, 2021
December 7, 2021

Gut Instinct in Hiring: 8 Time-Tested Tips on Battling Unconscious Bias

Lewis Mc Cahill

Gut instinct is often an intrinsic factor in the hiring process. However, it’s a facet of our decision-making that we sometimes overlook, both professionally and personally.

Gut instinct is right on the border between conscious and unconscious thought. This instinct is a survival mechanism designed to let you make quick decisions without having to overthink the issues at hand.

In this article, we’ll discuss gut feeling in recruitment, how to spot the difference between gut instinct and bias, and give some practical tips on how to trust your gut while debunking biases in the hiring process.  

Gut Feeling, Meet Bias

We have gut feelings about everyone we meet in life. Our brain picks up micro signals and traits that it immediately associates with certain qualities, personalities, and past experiences. However, this can also lead to a less desirable thought process - unconscious bias. 

In an ideal setting, your gut instinct towards a client should come from past experiences and intuition. But, sometimes, it can come from prejudices and stereotyping. How do you know the difference? How do you ensure that you are choosing the right candidate for the right reason, not just from unjustified “gut feeling”? 

To learn more about unconscious bias and gut feeling, I spoke with some of our talent partners to find out their thoughts towards recruiting and prejudice: 

“We're working with people in hiring, so inevitably our judgement will be influenced by our gut instinct or feeling. If we break it down, gut instinct is usually based on past experience, which is not always reliable - but it shouldn't be completely dismissed. Gut instinct should play a role but it shouldn't be the only factor and should be paired with data and facts.”

Past experience is everything in choosing between gut instinct and unconscious bias. As said above, gut instinct is like a divining rod; it’s a helpful tool but it shouldn’t be fully relied upon. One of the easiest ways to analyze your own decisions and suppositions is by asking yourself: 

“Why am I choosing this candidate over all the others?” 

It may seem like a simple question, but it’s common to just jump to conclusions and trust our own decision-making process. By asking ourselves why we chose this candidate, we can investigate where our gut feeling comes in and where bias takes over. 

The X Factor

Here’s another insightful quote from one of our Talent Partners: 

“I can't describe it accurately and why gut instinct does play a role. Sometimes, you just get off the phone with a candidate - you think, that was a great conversation, good synergy, and felt like the candidate could be a good "fit" for your client. I think knowing your clients’ values and team dynamics helps you screen candidates. Then, if they have that "X-factor" or "fit" then most of the time they will do well across the process and an offer is made.”

Gut feeling is simply a feeling. Sometimes we don’t know where it comes from, what it’s inspired by, or what makes a candidate stand out. But the “X-factor” is an excellent way of describing it. 

As an experienced recruiter, you understand the energy and feel of your client; you know their interests and needs. So, when you see the same qualities in a candidate, your gut feeling kicks in. 

As said before though, you should step back from this feeling and ask yourself where it came from - was it because of their gender? Race? Background? Or was it because of their qualities and personality? Unconscious bias can appear in a litany of ways - it’s important to keep it in check. 

First Impressions and First Mistakes 

“As a recruiter, I think that gut instinct absolutely comes into play in the hiring process. However, I think that you must always remember that issues like unconscious bias and subjectivity come into play. A candidate may be nervous or having an off day; this can translate into a less than perfect interview. You must be wary when dismissing someone based on "feeling" alone.”

We’ve all had off days, we’ve all bombed interviews. Sometimes you’re not the right fit for the job, other times outside circumstances can distract you from the task at hand. It’s important to use your skills and experience as a recruiter to make sure that the candidate is at ease and being their best possible self.

This is where your gut feeling comes in as an experienced recruiter. 

You can use your skills to really hone in on the qualities and traits of your candidate. Gut instinct doesn’t just help you know about the candidate, it also helps you in knowing what questions to ask and how to direct the interview. A well-thought-out question coming from your intuition can be vital in shedding light on your candidate and how good of a fit they are for the role. 

How to Avoid Unconscious Bias in Your Hiring Process

  1. Create a strong, clear interview process
  2. Anonymise as much as possible 
  3. Look at skills and abilities, not personal information 
  4. Remember that intuition that cannot be explained is more often than not a bias
  5. If your hiring manager rejects a candidate, ask why 
  6. Break down their answers and write them down in a shared document
  7. Then, ask them: ''Give me two reasons why you are rejecting this client”
  8. Document your process so it can be used for every future hire

With this clear structure, you can ensure that unconscious bias is reduced in your hiring process. Then, you can focus on the qualities of your candidates, not your initial impression.

One of the best ways of tackling unconscious bias in your team is by hiring diversely. A more diverse team can provide you with more diverse influences, allowing unconscious bias to be more easily seen in your hiring process and company as a whole. 

Diversity should be a vital part of every company. The more unique views you have, the more unique ideas can come your way. ACELR8 places a strong importance on diversity, using our knowledge to ensure that our team is filled with talent from all walks of life. 

If you’re looking for more information on how to hire diversely, we’ve written an in-depth playbook that can help you overcome bias in your recruitment process. We also regularly take D&I surveys within our company, learning more about our employees and celebrating our differences. 

Gut Instinct Isn’t Just For Interviews 

“I would say always be realistic in the prospects of actually being able to make the hire - especially if candidates have multiple offers. Gut feeling is important, but don't give up hope even if candidates do have other offers. At the same time, be realistic with your hiring managers that the hire might not happen and that we need to have plan B ready.”

Your gut instinct can not only help tell you more about the qualities of a candidate but also how they’re feeling. We’ve all had a candidate say “I’ll get back to you” and know that you’ll never hear from them again. 

However, your gut feeling and experience in ‘closing a candidate’ can also indicate that the candidate is clearly excited about the potential offer. Gut instinct can help you know in these situations when to reach out, when to stay put, and when you should just leave a candidate be. 

Trust Your Gut, But Don’t Rely on It 

The best way of thinking about your gut instinct is to see it as a peer or coworker that you respect. If you asked them for their opinion, you would trust it, but you’d also factor your own experience and thought processes into the equation. Bias is inherent in everyone’s thought processes, it’s up to you to flag these by questioning your decisions and the reasons behind them. 

Regardless of what the situation is, remember that it’s your responsibility to see the full picture. Gut feeling can help you get there, but remember to factor in outside influences, your own experience, and where this feeling is coming from. From there you can make an informed decision.

ACELR8 is a company that places a strong emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. If you’re looking for some guidance on how to improve the quality and equality of your hiring process, reach out to us. 

Like what we do? Then work for us. ACELR8 is always on the search for new talent to help us create a more progressive approach to recruitment.

If you want to learn more about how to hire with diversity in mind, check out our Talking Talent session, “Racing Towards Diversity", below.

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