Should you just “trust your gut” in job interviews?

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From personality tests to panel interviews – it’s only a matter of time before someone decides completing an obstacle course is the best way to assess applicants.

However, one US CEO has said he keeps interviews short, and relies heavily on his gut reaction.“The goal of my interview is, first, to assess the person’s passion — the biggest asset an employee can bring,” Tom Szaky from TerraCycle said. “Then, I look for someone who is comfortable taking risks and who is eager to face the challenge of doing something that seems impossible. Finally, I push candidates on why they want to join us — even, sometimes, encouraging them to look for a job that might pay more or be closer to home.”

Szaky said he doesn’t focus on resumes or reference letters, beyond looking for telltale signs such as frequently changing jobs. He’s more likely to notice the formatting  of a resume: did the candidate put time and effort into presenting something that presents a good case and is nice to look at?

“Once we begin the interview process, I tend to keep it short  and put a lot of value into my gut reaction. As a result, my interviews usually last only five to 10 minutes,” he said. “I ask candidates to describe the biggest, most glorious mistake they have had in their business careers — including all of the gory details. I am still surprised that the majority of candidates think about it and then say they haven’t made any major mistakes in their careers. To me this says that the candidates are either lying or don’t take risks. Both are deal breakers.”

His point of view goes against most conventional advice, but Szaky said he stands by it.“We all make mistakes,” he says. “I think I make a good hire three out of four times.”

What do you think? Would  Szaky’s approach  work here? What about at a bigger company or when there is more than one person involved in the process, and what role could subconscious prejudices play?


  • Wendy on 2012-09-25 10:09:55 AM

    Recruiment, policy and legislation are different in Canada as compared to the U.S. this style of interviewing would not hold water in the event of a discrimination complaint.

  • Vicki on 2012-09-25 12:54:43 PM

    A 75% success rate is not sufficient. I agree with Wendy as well. How can you support that you've made a non discriminatory hire decision based on a 5 to 10 minute interview. Finally, what impression does that leave with all those non successful candidates. Do they feel they've been given a fair opportunity?

  • Harley on 2012-09-26 11:41:07 AM

    Lots to be said for this approach, my interviews seem to live or die in the first ten minutes as you can judge a person's engagement in that time. Length of interview, as long as it is consistent for all candidates, does not seem to be a discrimination issue as far as I am concerned.

  • Debbie on 2012-10-01 4:18:11 PM

    This method is not discriminatory as long as all candidates are evaluated on the same basis. I am assuming that candidates met in this type of interview have been pre screened according to education, experience and other criteria. And in my experience the final call is usually based on a gut feeling, like it or not.

  • Ruben Benmergui BA, MIR, LLM, CHRP on 2012-10-03 4:55:34 PM

    After 40 years in HR, I can confirm that this approach is an archaic, negative, and "zippy" perspective on a professional HR function that should seek to tap the best human potential which would add value to the enterprise. It falls within the ambit of those recruitment processes today which have as their tenet and objective "reasons not hire this person". Even more egregious is the fact that decisions are made on the shallow reason that a resume doesn't look acceptable. It is an insult to my professionalism to suggest that I would advise a hiring manager not to consider a candidate because their resume is not the right colour, not printed on "resume paper", or, may contain a simple typographical error.

  • AJ on 2013-06-05 8:56:15 AM

    I agree relying on gut reaction is appropriate, but I learned from an ex boss to interview each serious contender a minimum of 3 times before deciding. When I personally experienced this before my boss hired me, I was outraged, but when I applied the same method when hiring under him, I saw the wisdom in it. First interview people are on best behaviour, second they relax a bit, but still pumped up. 3rd interview the latecomers, bad attitudes, and lack of interest shows up.

  • John on 2012-09-26 12:08:39 PM

    I am in HR and personally do not see a problem with his approach as long as he is achieving what he sets out to achieve. Perhaps 75% is not a sufficient success rate but it obviously is for him. And who said anything about discrimination? He is simply judging by his own set of standards, ie. risk taking, truthfulness and passion and these traits are non-discriminatory. Besides, what HR person cannot say that they don't get a "gut feel" for any candidate that passes through their door?

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