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How to Hire in an Uncertain Job Market

Making great hires - especially senior hires - in an uncertain market is tricky. If you’re waiting for that magic moment, when the clouds part and the way becomes clear, don’t.

Uncertainty is the new certainty.

Why flexibility and adaptability are KEY

When you have no idea yourself what’s going to happen from one day to the next, how do you know who to hire into a leadership role?

At the C-Suite level in particular, things are becoming increasingly fluid. Job roles are being combined for efficiency. Less relevant duties are fazed out and new skills are demanded.

The bottom line is this, there will be key functional skills your candidate must absolutely have. But more than this, they will need to be flexible, not just comfortable with uncertainty, but THRIVE on it.

So how do you find this person? The short answer - put some science in your search.

Using behavioural science in the recruitment process

Behavioural Science is applied neuroscience which evolved from the Behaviourism movement of the early 19th century. It shows how people’s brains react in different situations and thus how they are likely to behave.


Our brain is wired for survival. It scans our environment to find threats and opportunities. And different environments will trigger either 'threat or reward' states in the brain. 

Our brains want to avoid being in the 'threat' state. And spend more time in the 'reward' state. In an environment which triggers a 'threat' state we are least confident and make more errors.

Conversely in an environment that triggers the 'reward state' - we are most creative and productive.


Zia (our HR Director) and I both have a background in Psychology. We use BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCE techniques to determine how someone is likely to react to different work environments. Here's an insight into how...

Consequences of a “threat” environment

For one person, giving a presentation in front of 10,000 people might be their idea of hell. But for someone else it may be exciting. They might see it as their chance to shine. 

Similarly one person may be paralysed by anxiety when making critical decisions during uncertain times; but someone else may be energised by the opportunity to make a difference. 

Both on paper may have the same skills and experience (great communication skills, deep knowledge / expertise etc).

BUT if their 'threat' / 'reward' states are different, behavioural science tells us they would react very differently in that situation.

Hence - being in a 'threat' state is unhelpful because in this frame of mind you won’t be able to think straight, will lack confidence, and may be anxious and easily distracted.

For an employer having a team member performing tasks which puts their brain into a ‘threat’ state is unproductive. But putting team members onto tasks that produce the ‘reward’ state is hugely productive and beneficial.

The 'reward' state is where they will be most engaged, focused, collaborative, positive, productive and less stressed.

Getting the brains of your employees into a 'reward' state is the ultimate goal. The challenge is that everyone’s behavioural state is unique.

Why our decisions can’t be trusted

Clearly if we are to choose the right leader in uncertain times, we need to understand each individual’s 'reward' and threat' work environment and match this with the environment they will be working in.

There are questions that need answering, such as:

1. Will the senior leader you are trying to hire perform as well in your chaotic business with limited resources and poor process? 

2. How will these leaders fare if your work environment is constantly changing because you are a startup or a scale up?

3. Will the hotshot executive be able to reproduce the success they had in the past?

One issue is that using a standard interview is not enough to assess this, as our decisions can’t be trusted. 

More and more evidence shows our judgements are biased and driven by mental shortcuts. We do what's easy, what other people do, what the external context prompts us towards and what feels right in our gut.

In this way our decision making is flawed and unreliable. We discriminate, are irrational, suspicious and overconfident in our own ability to make a ‘good’ decision and determine whether someone is in fact the right ‘fit’. 

A surefire solution to hiring great leaders

So what’s the solution?

Use Behavioural Science to formalise the interview process and move away from intuitive judgements, towards a more reliable decision. 

Research shows that organisations who apply Behavioural Science in the workplace can increase productivity between 5-10% so it’s definitely something worth taking seriously.

This is why, at HVO Search we use Behavioural Science techniques in our interview process. This helps us to:

- Determine whether a candidate’s success can actually be replicated at your organisation

- Give a stronger indication of future job performance

- Provide a more evidence-based foundation for decision-making

When we assess who will thrive in an environment, we can be more certain that our candidates will take the offer, help grow a business and stay longer. 

A survey by Gallup showed: “60% of respondents said they’d take a job they love, even if it paid half of a job they hated.” 

So get it right and you will dramatically improve productivity and retention.

Use these 3 simple exercises

And if you want to try harnessing the power of Behavioural Science the next time you need to make a decision at work, why not try these three simple exercises:

1. Strategic decision making - instead of canvassing opinion from people like yourself, who are likely to share similar views; actively seek out people with diverse opinions/experience. Research shows that early on in the CEOs journey they seek input from internal and external sources, but as time passes they tend to rely only on their most loyal lieutenants. Over time this skews their ability to make effective decisions. 

2. Recruitment decision making - recognise “similarity errors” and biases when recruiting i.e. challenge yourself to interview people who are anti-fit e.g. talk to people who aren’t like you in some way; didn’t get the same education, didn’t follow a conventional path into the industry. 

3. Investment decision making - research shows that as we become more senior we become overconfident in our ability to achieve success. Instead of overweighting a particular problem/solution, seek input from a variety of sources and ask each to predict, within a given range, how successful the project might be.

In order for us to hire effectively at HVO Search, we use our rigorous 5 step process which we've developed over many years and apply Behavioural Science techniques to go even further.

If you need some help with hiring or want to chat about hiring right first time - schedule a call with me.

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