There are three key tools people use to make decisions and the most commonly cited methods are probably the least reliable.

This may be a challenging concept, but rest assured, nobody is asking you to stop thinking, which is one way to make decisions, and nobody is asking you to give up on your emotional reactions to a candidate, either. In any case, you can't just turn those mechanisms off. So we're stuck with the head and the heart. And, luckily, they're very helpful; no doubt about it.

But, back up the truck. Is there something more reliable than your brain for making staffing decisions? Going out on a limb, I would say yes—and I have 14 years of experience doing social work and a degree in psychology to back up my claims. That means 14 years of anecdotal proof. I'd love to see a study on this—but for now, just play along.

The Head and the Heart Vote Yes

A candidate walks in and you check out his or her resume. You conduct a short, probing interview. In that interview, you find out that the candidate is qualified for the job. The person is also unemployed and your heart goes out to them. Your head and your heart have cast their votes. Two yes votes—and one no.

Your head and your heart have cast their votes. Two yes votes—and one no.

The no vote comes from your gut. You have a nagging cramp in the pit of your stomach that tells you there is something off base. But you can't put your finger on it.

I contend your gut is right. Oh, you can make the placement and likely you will sleep well at night. But I will bet dollars to donuts if you called up the business where the candidate was working, those working with the candidate would say the exact same thing. There is something a little off about this candidate and they can't put a finger on it, either.

Duck—Here Comes the Psycho-babble

There are a few standard psycho-babble terms that we use to define this dynamic. Passive-aggressive is the most common term. In real life, passive-aggressive means acting sneaky. The reaction to that is that you think something's up, but you can't name it. That's because off-putting behavior can be very subtle and it takes practice paying attention to your gut-level reaction and naming what it is that prompted it.

This is an important factor in many decisions involving people, but it is an especially valuable lesson for staffing decisions. Why is that? Because in the world of hiring, personality trumps skills much of the time.

Let me explain: A very likable candidate with marginal skills comes in. Then a disagreeable candidate with solid skills walks in. Demanding employers might not care, but most would say this: "I would rather train an employee I enjoy working with than have to tolerate some jerk who has the skills to do the job."

Those Hard-To-Name Qualities

Essentially, all the esoteric qualities of a personality are equally as important as the tangible skills the candidate has to offer. And some of those qualities are hard to name, because our culture does not focus on deeper qualities as much as the surface ones. I don't normally meet someone and say in ten minutes, "Wow. You have a very humanistic sense of empathy." I say. "Wow. You are smart and funny!" That's about as deep as it gets.

After that interview, meanwhile, you still have a feeling that a candidate is "off" somehow and you can't put it into words, so here are some concepts that might help:

Food for Thought

1) Look for the proof (not the words) of an individual's character. A candidate who spends weekends mountain biking is someone with a positive, healthy attitude.

2) A candidate who takes adult education classes at a local college or upgrades their skills at places like Investment Management Consultants Association is a go-getter and a problem solver (more about CIMA courses).

3) A candidate with a neat appearance is social, considerate, and confident. But a person who overdresses or a woman dressed to the nines on a Tuesday morning might be self-centered or shallow.

4) A candidate who is late is sending a message. Being prompt might be more important for some tasks than for others, but disorganized, emotional, and attention-hungry people like to show up late. Your head doesn't know that, but your gut does.

5) Candidates who pander or flirt or keep their eyes riveted on the interviewer are often disingenuous or deceitful. When you have that gnawing feeling in your gut that you are being over-sold with likable charm, pay attention to it.

People Are Pros At Provoking Reactions

Your heart wants to help. Your head says it's a go. But your gut tells you otherwise. It's not always a deal-breaker, but don't walk away thinking the odd feeling in your gut is your fault or that just because it's hard to name your reaction to a candidate that it must be something you ate. People are very practiced at provoking reactions from other people. Kids collapse and kick the floor and scream because it works. By the time we're adults we've each honed communication down to a real-time, 3-D science. So don't ignore your gut-level reaction when ferreting out the winners and losers. Your gut is trying to tell you something. Stop and listen to it once in a while.

Tags: Advice, Gut, Instinct, Passive aggressive, Investment Management Consultants Association