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Use Brain Research When Hiring

How often has this happened to you?

  • Superb interview —> mediocre to lousy performance
  • Poor interview  —> superb to excellent performance.

Did it leave you wondering what the heck happened and, more importantly, how you could avoid it happening again?

At least part of the answer is found in 2103 brain research  on kids, but since it’s genetically-based it applies throughout life.

To a great extent, interview quality comes down to the genes and brain chemistry that regulates an individual’s response to stress.

The researchers were interested in a single gene, the COMT gene. This gene carries the assembly code for an enzyme that clears dopamine from the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain is where we plan, make decisions, anticipate future consequences and resolve conflicts. “Dopamine changes the firing rate of neurons, speeding up the brain like a turbocharger,” says Silvia Bunge, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. Our brains work best when dopamine is maintained at an optimal level. You don’t want too much, or too little. By removing dopamine, the COMT enzyme helps regulate neural activity and maintain mental function.

There are two variants of the gene. One variant builds enzymes that slowly remove dopamine. The other variant builds enzymes that rapidly clear dopamine. We all carry the genes for one or the other, or a combination of the two.

The kicker that messes up the balance is stress, resulting in what the researchers call “warriors” and “worriers.”

Many companies intentionally create high stress interviews — multiple interviewers rapidly firing questions, adversarial questions, etc.—in the belief they correctly identify those who work well under pressure. But Those situations have little to do with everyday work.

Just as Google found its  algorithm didn’t predict candidate success, it has stopped using brainteaser questions, because they don’t predict performance.

What those questions (here’s a list)  do is increase stress resulting in false positives.

While you can’t change your candidates’ brain chemistry, you can interview in ways that allow the “worriers” to perform better and gives a clearer picture of the “warriors” true skills.

In addition to intelligent, meaningful questions, you can improve results by de-stressing the interview.

For instance

  • take time to put them at ease;
  • avoid multiple-on-one interviews;
  • avoid making it feel like judgments or tests;
  • inform them about the process and make it transparent;
  • avoid surprises; and, most importantly,
  • give them time to think

Keep in mind that the goal is to hire a person, with skills that compliment the team, who can contribute significantly and will stay for the long haul.

Image: Shutterstock