Do you hire on instinct or intelligence, what's best?

by Mina Machacek

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As technology advances, algorithms are being developed that can test many aspects of a candidate’s suitability for a position. There are claims that it’s more accurate, cheaper and more efficient, and all of this may be true, but can a test tell you everything you need to know about a person?

In a world dominated by information and technology, people are turning to facts and figures or scientific evidence to help them make decisions. Information is becoming more precise and therefore it’s easy to see how intelligence wins out because of this scientific approach to life. However, in a real life situation, when an individual is asked to analyse others based purely on their impression of them, what do they turn to? Instinct.

It’s as simple as asking them; “What did you think of that person, did you like them?” and they might say yes or no. It’s only when you ask them why, that it reveals their impressions were really based on a gut feeling. They liked how the other person made eye contact or had an open smile when they greeted. On the other end of the scale they might say that they can’t exactly put their finger on it, but just something about the person made them uncomfortable.

The two worlds of recruitment

Back in the 1950’s people were generally hired because there was job to do and someone willing to do it. Employers looked for people who were hardworking and honest. Today, those traits are assumed and people are expected to hold degrees and diplomas, as well as additional industry certificates and accreditations. Additionally they must have several years of experience in specific industries before they’ll be considered for a position.

In my experience as a recruiter there have been many times when a candidate has looked very impressive on paper, but not so impressive in person. Their CV tells me they’re the ideal person for the job, the tests even confirm this, but something in my gut just told me that they just wouldn’t be a good fit. Do I believe the intelligence or my gut instinct?

While these two worlds of thought may appear to be diametrically opposed, pulling in different directions, I find myself using both at different times. Sometimes instinct wins out and at other times I favour intelligence. Even within the recruitment industry is there is much debate about which is best.

Is one way right and the other wrong?

I have a real appreciation for the science and yet I tend to be a more of an instinctive type of person. This doesn’t mean I dismiss all intelligence and testing in favour of listening only to my gut instinct. There are many occasions where people are hired because the person interviewing them liked them. Maybe they have similar interests or background or an easy way about them and so they are hired purely on instinct. In this case, problems often arise when the person gets on brilliantly with their boss but not their co-workers. Or they’re nice enough but they don’t really have the right skills to do the job properly.

Recruiters who favour intelligence often use these examples as to why testing is the better way to hire. They claim that facts don’t lie and that tests reveal the real level of skill, aptitude and experience. To a degree this is true. But the downside of this is that good people who could do well in a position may get overlooked because of test scores. This can be a loss to the company because it means that they may miss out on people that could really bring something unique and valuable to a team simply because they think differently from others that have more traditional training and education.

Will we lose the human element of hiring?

There is a risk when recruiters look only at intelligence testing that the human element of hiring can be lost. Test results only tell part of a person’s story, and often its gut instinct, obtained while interacting with the person, that fills in the gaps and helps determine if the person would be a good cultural fit for a position.

In January 2016, The Guardian reported that publishing house Penguin Random House is set to follow in the footsteps of Ernst & Young, by opening up job opportunities to people without degrees. “We want to attract the best people to help grow and shape the future of our company, regardless of their background – and that means that we need to think and act differently.” 

Acting differently means that rather than hiring based on only one absolute - intelligence or instinct – there is space for both when used in context. Test results hold great value, but so does having that human interaction, they needn’t pull in opposite directions.

They can and do complement one another as tools for helping recruiters find the best possible person for the job. It is how we choose to apply and utilize them both that creates the outcome.

Meet the Author

Mina Machacek | Recruitment Director
020 7929 2999 |
Find out more about Mina here. 


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