Analyze Job Candidates With Your Left Brain. But Hire With Your Right.


I hear voices in my head. Well, not voices, plural. Just a voice, singular. As far as I know, I'm not schizophrenic or mentally ill (in a clinically diagnosable way). I would be completely adrift without this voice to guide me. I've ignored her before but I've learned to listen. You see, unlike me, she's never been wrong.

My theory is that this is my right brain talking to me.

Everyone (most everyone) has both a left brain and a right brain. The left brain is typically characterized as analytical, logical, rational, objective. The right brain is characterized as emotional, subjective, holistic, random, and intuitive. Actual neuroscientists will probably tell you that this is not how the brain works, but I think it's a useful metaphor for this discussion. You can also think of it as the quintessential balance of yin-yang. I particularly love this ad campaign from Mercedes-Benz above to illustrate the point.

In the age of data mining and big data analysis, and certainly in Silicon Valley, there’s a strong bias for so-called left brain thinking. I call it the "tyranny of data." We’ve become so data-driven in so much of what we do these days that we routinely overlook other, more subtle, signals that are essential to making a good decision. Relying on data gives us some comfort but doing so absent an check-in with your gut can lead to more bad decisions than good particularly where people are involved. Human beings are data-exuding machines.

But if you don't believe me, take a page out of the Google hiring textbook.

Perhaps no other company is as famous as Google for their analytical approach to hiring. Google is a very left brain company known for running job candidates through the mental gauntlet during the interview process. The process at Google is extremely data-driven. I worked there and lived it. When I was interviewing there as a candidate I had one engineer apologize to me for having his laptop open while we spoke. He assured me that he wasn’t multi-tasking. Quite the opposite. He needed to take notes in real time because interviewers document quite a lot about their interactions with candidates. Interviewing is so labor-intensive at Google that some people actively avoid doing it. It’s well-known that Google asks about GPAs and SAT scores even for people years out of college and that they place a premium on top-tier university graduates. These are tangible metrics that are thought to predict success - they are things that can be observed, quantified, and correlated.

But even at data-loving Google, they understand and appreciate the value of the human element. Every candidate get rated on how "Googley" they are. To be clear, this is not how much the interviewer *likes* them. It's about Googley-ness. People who work there, know what it is. It's hard to define but you know it when you see it and you especially know when it's not there. Lots of very qualified candidates never get an offer from Google. If you are not Googley, you won't make the cut. Google understands that hiring is as much art as science.

Introducing a right brain veto on hiring can improve your hiring success. The reason it works isn’t all that complicated. Every person is giving off subtle signals that are often overlooked. Everyone one of us has experiences to draw from that we don't even consciously remember.Your “intuition” is catching these signals, tapping into these memories, and processing them for you. This is just your brain working the way it’s supposed to.

As a hiring manager, I vividly recall a handful of times when I tried to ignore my right brain to hire someone who seemed utterly perfect on paper, answered all the questions right, and were generally well-liked by all the interviewers. But the voice nagged. The voice said something was not quite right. I ignored the voice and hired the candidate. In each of these instances, I wound up having to let that person go. The cost of making a bad hiring decision is not insignificant. So I learned the hard way - do not ignore your right brain!

When that voice pops up to warn you that something is amiss, it is. It’s processing the data you can’t see or recognize. Think of it as the softer side of data. So listen to it, it’s there to help you. It might even be smarter than you are. Correction - it IS smarter than you are but you can be thankful that it's on your side.

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