Mastering the hire.
The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming HarperCollins book, Mastering the Hire: 12 Strategies to Improve Your Odds of Finding the Best Hire. Based on scientific research and first-hand interview experience with thousands of candidates, the book provides proven strategies that help employers consistently make great hires.
The reason to hire a candidate is because they are the best person for the job.
But after completing a candidate’s interview process, there are pressures that can influence you to hire them when perhaps you shouldn’t. You may feel pressure to fill the position because it has been open longer than intended. You may feel pressure because the candidate had an average interview but was better than other candidates and you’re concerned you won’t find someone stronger. The pressure to hire may occur because it takes a lot of work to interview candidates, and you don’t have capacity to continue interviewing.
Think of a hiring mistake you’ve made, and you can likely recall moments during their interview process that indicated it wouldn’t end well, but you pressed forward and hired the candidate anyway. Whatever the pressure, at the core of this faulty decision-making is our brain’s ability to rationalize.
In psychology, rationalization is a defense mechanism in which questionable decisions are justified in a logical manner to make them tolerable. Rationalization preys on two powerful parts of human nature, our wants and our desire to feel good. We rationalize because we want something, and we want to feel good about it. Since we don’t have to deal with the repercussions in the moment, we convince ourselves they may not happen and it is worth the risk. Rationalization helps reduce cognitive dissonance, an uncomfortable psychological state produced by discrepancies between actions and attitudes.
When we later acknowledge the mistake and say, “hindsight is twenty-twenty,” we are still protecting our egos. It isn’t that our hindsight is better, it’s that we are now dealing with the repercussions we anticipated and can no longer deny it.
The key to conquering this self-deception is understanding that in the moment—when we make mistakes that we need to rationalize—we know we are making a mistake. That’s precisely why we rationalize. Rationalizing requires your brain to first recognize you are being irrational—only then does it begin the process of justifying.
That moment of recognition is what strong interviewers learn to identify and control.
The trick is to have the same clarity of thought during the decision as you will after the decision. It can be difficult to discern between when you are rationalizing and when you are just making a good case for the candidate by weighing the pros and cons. In those moments, when you are leaning toward hiring a candidate, potentially against your best judgement, conduct what cognitive psychologist Dr. Gary Klein calls a “premortem” before making a final decision.
Conducting a premortem will feel like a counterintuitive approach because rather than envisioning success with the candidate, you envision failure. Imagine hiring the candidate and then imagine every concern you have about the candidate becoming true. Imagine all the bad ways this will play out. The deadlines they will miss. The relationships they will damage. The decrease in team productivity. Imagine firing them because of what you knew during the interview. Imagine having to restart the hiring process.
To resist the tremendous power of rationalization, you need a power just as equal. The power of your imagination fits the bill. It allows you to imagine what your twenty-twenty hindsight might be. This mental exercise taps into that power and takes you out of the moment when temptation is strong. Articulating what could go wrong brings you back from the brink of doing what you want and forces you to think more clearly about what you need.
You may still decide to hire the candidate. But if you do, you’ve shifted the odds toward it being the rational decision versus the one you rationalized.
Chaka Booker is a leadership development expert and author of Mastering the Hire: 12 Strategies to Improve Your Odds of Finding the Best Hire.