Another Take on Job Interviews: It’s All About Your Gut Reaction

Every day, you can find a lot of out-of-the-box tips, philosophy, and conventional wisdom when it comes to how you should handle job candidate interviews.

Mel Kleiman, the CEO of Humetrics who also authors the “Hiring Wisdom” posts every Monday here on TLNT, says that there is one simple but basic question that every hiring manager conducting a job interview should ask:

Any work history makes more sense when viewed from the beginning, which is why the first and most important question every interviewer needs to ask is “Tell me about your very first paying job. What was the first thing you ever did to earn money?” Even first-time workers have done something to earn money; and if their primary job was staying in school, that answer still gives you a lot of information.

The reason to ask this question is to get a good idea of applicants’ values and work ethics. Psychologists tell us most of our values are established early in life. Although, in theory, these can later be changed and adapted with conscious effort, in practice, most people carry the values they learned as children throughout life.”

An interesting interviewing philosophy

I’ve always found Mel’s advice about job interviews to be spot on, but here’s another look at how to interview job candidates from You’re the Boss, the small business blog in The New York Times. In How I Interview Job Candidates, Tom Szaky details his own “unusual interview style that has served me well over the past decade.”

He has his own interviewing philosophy that I found both interesting and insightful. For instance:

  • “First, I don’t put much weight on résumés except to look for a few telltale signs: Have the candidates jumped around from job to job and industry to industry? Or do they join businesses and stay? This is important because turnover is costly to an organization.”
  • Education level comes into play only when candidates haven’t had more than five years of job experience. After that, where they went to school and what they did there matter significantly less (personally, I hold only a high school diploma). Also, the more lofty a candidate’s alma mater, the more likely it is that the person will expect to get promoted quickly — either internally or to another company.”
  • One other thing I look for in a résumé is formatting. Being able to present a case — whether it’s asking for a job or proposing an initiative — is critical to most functions in a business. Is the document on one page? And is it laid out in an aesthetically pleasing manner?”
  • I consider letters of reference and reference checks a waste of time. Is anyone going to give you a reference letter that isn’t glowing?
  • 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.”
  • “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.”
  • The goal of my interview is, first, to assess the person’s passion — the biggest asset an employee can bring. 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.”

Hiring is not an exact science

There is a lot more great interview wisdom from Tom Szaky in How I Interview Job Candidates, and you should take a good look because it is pretty thought-provoking. If you are involved in interviewing candidates at any level, I doubt you can read it and not come away thinking about job interviews a lot differently.

For me, the most interesting part was the notion that candidate interviews should be fairly short and largely based on your gut reaction. I don’t know about you, but that goes counter to just about every piece of conventional wisdom I’ve ever read about job candidate interviews, yet from my own personal experience, I found that it rings very true.

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And one more thing: hiring is not an exact science, and like most things in life, you won’t ever be perfect with your hires no matter what you ask or how you interview. That reminds of the old Wayne Gretzky quote that, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take,” but Tom Szaky has his own version.

“We all make mistakes,” he says. “I think I make a good hire three out of four times.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty good track record in my book — and a pretty good reason for reading How I Interview Job Candidates.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


5 Comments on “Another Take on Job Interviews: It’s All About Your Gut Reaction

  1. “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.”

    Worst. Interview. Advice. Ever.

  2. Having read Szaky’s full article, this makes a lot more sense.  He doesn’t simply talk to someone for 10 minutes and go with his gut.  He asks difficult questions that provide a wealth of information…he just doesn’t ask a lot of them.  He is very efficient with his time, and just because someone makes it past the interview, it doesn’t mean they are hired.  He also tests the abilities of the potential employee, which is something many of us don’t do and get burned for.  He also doesn’t recommend this for senior positions, but does say that for the majority of the lower level or entry level positions this is suitable.  I tend to agree…the more time I spend trying to find the exact right fit for the mail room or lumber yard, the more time I am wasting.  There will be turnover, and there is likely no perfect fit for those positions. There are people applying for those jobs that have potential to do much more within the company, but that is easy to spot in a 10 minute interview, and it creates a whole different set of questions regarding potential for advancement and the like that can’t be answered during the interview anyway.

  3. While some of these are good tips, it seems like you need more than five or ten minutes to truly get to know a candidate. Whether you’re interviewing in person or through online video, five minutes isn’t going to tell you all you need to know. It also seems like good practice not to forgo reference checks. They might not always be the most effective but you don’t want to get stuck with a poor candidate because you didn’t take the time out to do the legwork.

  4. As a Hiring manager you must not lose sight of the compatibility of the candidate.  Obviously if you are recruiting for a Technically Skilled position , you need to have the credentials. But, otherwise the major question that must be answered is “ DO I LIKE THIS PERSON ?”  Sounds simple but it can take awhile for certain candidate to warm up to you . Once you peel back a few layers , and get them to open up to you, you may find your answer.

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