Intuition in Business: Trusting Your Gut When Interviewing


What is intuition in business and what does it have to do with hiring? Let’s break it down.

Intuition is the ability to know things without conscious reasoning. And the intuitional elephant in the room is that this faculty is unreliable. We can’t trust it. We are better off relying on data, spreadsheets, and empirical evidence outside of us.

Yet tangible metrics often can’t predict the next breakthrough or innovation. And frankly, relationships are messy and don’t always fit so neatly into tables and formulas. Learning to trust our gut can be one of the most powerful ingredients in a variety of human interactions in business. From sales to hiring, to marketing to managing others, there are endless opportunities to practice including our intuition in our conversations.

The data elephant in the room is that sometimes the data is wrong or misleading. The perfect resume, educational background, or even work experience of a candidate doesn’t always translate into how they approach your customer issues, maintain a relationship in a sales process, or fit well into your company culture.  

As mentioned in my last blog article, how can you bring the best of both worlds together? The key is to do your due diligence and perform thorough research on a candidate, yet also learn to listen to, honor, and include your instincts and intuition as you navigate this process.

#1: Do Your Due Diligence

The first step in recruiting and hiring is to gather as much material as possible and get as much of a 360-degree view of the candidate as you can. This includes actually reading their resume and marking any questions that stand-out for you to follow up on. Calling on references is a critical step that hiring managers often skip. Trust your intuition and curiosity as this might lead to the very question that helps you decide if they are a fit for your company or not.

When hiring you may find yourself rushing to fill a position. Examples?

“We need a new salesman yesterday!” or “We have a backlog of websites to develop and we are two developers short!”

Yet, coming from scarcity and urgency is the worst place to make decisions from. When we look back and realize we overrode our gut instinct on a hire, we knew we were caught in the moment of crisis or urgency and not choosing from a more balanced place.

#2: Bring Spontaneity and Unpredictability to the Interview

Candidates walk in prepared for your most challenging questions about their top personality or behavioral flaws, missing holes in their expertise or why they left their previous job. So, the more you can bring a question that they couldn’t possibly prepare for, the more you will get to something real and authentic. Which is really the aim of any interview: to get an honest read and experience of the person in front of you.

Asking scenario questions is one of the best techniques in seeing how a candidate thinks on their feet, takes the small bits of information you give them, and then weaves them into a solution. For example, if you are hiring for a project manager, think of typical dilemmas or challenges that this role faces, such as dealing with delays and staff who are not following through or communicating.

How would they deal with those situations? The more you can capture a likely situation that they will have to face, you will get to see how they put it all together, under pressure. When I’ve interviewed, I’m not always looking for the 100% correct answer, but more so that they can think on their feet and get creative in finding solutions.

#3: Ask About the Conversation That’s Not Happening

One of my favorite ways to help people thread intuition into the interviewing process is to by training them to listen to the conversation that’s not happening. What is the underlying narrative that the candidate is telling you about them? What are they not including in the story? Are there areas that you get a sense are being skipped over or avoided? Did they not fully answer a question you asked?

Setting your inner-tuning fork for congruency is very challenging. Yet, like listening to music, when there’s a note that sounds ‘off’ it tends to stand out. And often in conversation, we hear the rhythm and the melody and can learn to cue-in on where our attention goes when someone skips a beat. This can look like talking around a subject and not being direct, a sudden awkwardness or big shift in tone or energy that seems out-of-the-blue, or overly positive or flowery language that doesn’t match what you are picking up on. It can also be any non-verbal communication that doesn’t match what’s being said.

When I have taken the risk to name the conversation that’s not happening—or at least ask about it—this is often where the biggest shifts happen and an interview or a 1-1 meeting in a company as communication gets more real. When we name the disconnect, it puts us back in connection. Or, said another way, when we tune into the conversation that’s not happening and presence this, we complete the conversation.

Bringing a balance of research and doing our due diligence—along with bringing spontaneity and training our hiring managers to listen to what’s not being said—are crucial steps toward a fuller communication of what your candidate is broadcasting. And this is a perfect starting place for training your teams to begin to listen to their intuition and trust their gut in the hiring process.