Understanding psychology to make the right hiring decision

This article was first published in the September 2021 issue of Australian Printer, authored by Meqa Smith

These days, it seems like as a small business owner, you need to be able to build websites, do accounting, handle social media marketing, lead a team, work with clients and now make good hiring decisions.

The good news is you don’t have to be a psychologist to make good hiring decisions; and learning a few things about the way people are wired will help you.

The bad news is that even though pretty much every single thing has changed to the point of being unrecognisable over the last 100 years, human beings’ brains haven’t changed much at all in tens of thousands of years.

Why does that have anything to do with recruitment? The people you’re looking to hire and ideally engage (so they are able to contribute more to the bottom line than they cost you) have ‘old-school brains’.

You’ll give yourself a massive edge when you approach recruitment to engage with your potential candidates’ primitive brains to send them the message that this job is something that they want.

I call this hard-wiring the ‘human iOS’ because it’s the operating system that runs us.

Here it is in a nutshell.

Way back when we lived in tribes, we lived with 35 to 50 other people, each had a necessary role in the tribe’s survival. Our brains told us that acceptance, belonging and being necessary (aka having a key role in the tribe) equaled life and that being unnecessary or being rejected equaled death. 

Fast forward to today and everything else has changed but our brains still tell us that acceptance, belonging and being necessary equals life and that being unnecessary equals death. 

So, because humans are hard-wired to stay alive, we crave the psychological safety of belonging and having a purpose we believe is valued by our ‘tribe’ (usually this is the way we earn our living).

The world we live in these days is the opposite of the world we are hard-wired to live in – one where we don’t really need each other to survive and one where we’re increasingly seeing jobs replaced by AI or technology. It’s also one where connection and belonging is scarce.

Even though most of us don’t know it, everything we do is driven by our psychological need to feel like we are necessary and important enough to stay ‘in the tribe’. It’s why people buy expensive cars, want nice clothes and impressive job titles. We want to be wanted and to belong. Opportunities to belong and feel purposeful are limited, which is where our jobs come in.

Now, back to recruitment.

Most job ads are bullet point lists of tasks, responsibilities and qualifications needed. They include the standard ‘about us’ paragraph that’s got the date the company started and some vague statement about what it does. 

Is it going to emotionally engage somebody and make them feel like that job is the opportunity they have been looking for to put their strengths to work so they will feel valuable? 

Does it sound like the kind of thing that would cause a person to feel deeply compelled to want to belong to that ‘tribe’? No, it doesn’t.

It shows that anyone will do, as long as you are going to do those tasks and have that degree. It shows that the advertiser is looking for a job to be done, not a new member of their tribe. And it makes people feel that they’re not unique, they’re replaceable. 

The traditional way of advertising for a new role equals a strong prospect for a life without psychological safety, which equals death from the brain’s perspective.

What could you do differently?

Step one is to write the ad so it appeals to a person’s emotions and shows them that belonging to a tribe that sounds like ‘their people’ is on offer. 

Engage them. Write about the value this role will contribute to the team, why the role exists, what the culture is really like (hint: not the five values on the poster in the staff room – the real way people describe working there). 

Write an ad that paints a picture of what working there would be like.

Yes, there’s more, but for today that’s plenty. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to the way candidates respond to the recruitment process and to the types of candidates who apply.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

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