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Andy Fryar

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Intuition or Indigestion?

I am sure it's happened to us all.

The potential volunteer you have to interview arrives exactly on time at 2:30pm. They are well dressed, seem keen and can boast a long list of quality referees. In addition, you are assured that any police department screening checks you make will be just fine. The perfect volunteer!

So why is it that somewhere deep inside the pit of your stomach there is a voice yelling 'danger', 'danger' with a greater urgency than the robot featured on 'Lost in Space'? It's gut instinct - and gut instinct can in fact be a very valuable tool when used by the discerning Manager of Volunteer Programs.

Gut instinct is that voice inside us all that indicates things may in fact not be as they seem.

So just how reliable is gut feeling?

Used as a stand-alone method of recruitment, gut instinct can be famously unreliable and in actual fact it probably contravenes most equal opportunity and selection guidelines anywhere in the world! However, used as one of a number of 'tools' within the broader recruitment process, gut instinct can be a valuable guide to selecting the most appropriate of volunteers for your program.

Gut instinct, or intuition, it is something that we are born with and should not be overlooked.

In life, it alerts us when our safety may be jeopardised, or in circumstances where there may be a con man at work. Further, the older we get, and the more people we meet, the more highly developed this instinct becomes. If you consider for a moment just how many people the average Volunteer Program Manager meets and interviews each year - there is fair chance that this will be a highly developed skill in most of us.

But beware, it is easy to be totally wrong when making judgments about people based on a gut reaction alone, as our instinct can be pre-conditioned by a number of factors.

Let's look at a few of the issues you should consider the next time you have that sinking feeling in your stomach

Intuition or indigestion?
Firstly, make sure that what you are feeling is in fact an instinctive reaction to the person you are meeting, and not the result of last night's curry!

Clarify your feelings
Secondly, it is important to try and 'think' about what you are feeling. If you need to, make an excuse to leave the interview for a few minutes to re-group, assess and clarify your thinking. Try and assess the reasons the person is making you feel uncomfortable - after all, the reason may simply be that they are reacting to being nervous about the interview.

Danger or difference
In making an assessment of the reasons the volunteer is setting off alarm bells, ask yourself some of the following questions;

  • Am I being biased against the person being interviewed, as they don't sit comfortably within my own belief system or comfort zone?
  • Does the person express different political or religious beliefs?
  • Is the person from a different race or cultural background?
  • Does he/she have a disability?
  • Do I think the person's age, gender or sexuality is an issue?
  • Do I disagree with the way the person looks? (clothing, tattoos, body piercing)
  • Do I generally think the person won't 'fit' in to the program's culture?
  •  Do I feel threatened because this person has higher qualifications than what I do?

If you answered 'yes' to any of these (or similar) questions, you may in fact be discriminating if you use these as reasons for declining that person's application.

Dig ...don't decide
Gut instinct should only be used to alert you to the fact that you think the person you are speaking to is being deceptive and keeping important information from you that may influence your decision.

Intuition or gut instinct should never be the sole reason for not accepting a new volunteer, but it should prompt you to dig a little deeper for answers to those questions where the response is less than satisfactory.

Remember - it is the answers they give not the feelings they leave that will be quantifiable should they choose to appeal against your decision.

Seek further information
Don't be afraid to request additional information in your quest to make a decision about a candidate's suitability. Insist on additional or different referees from the ones being offered. Request a second interview. Ask a colleague to meet the person and then seek their feedback.

Be honest and persistent
The old adage of 'honesty being the best policy' still rings true. If there is an area of a person's answers you are not sure about - tell them you are unable to make a decision unless they can provide you with additional information. Revisit the topic several times throughout the interview process, maybe approaching it from a different angle each time. Listen carefully to the answers being given - check for inconsistencies.

Remember the flip side of the coin
Having said all that, it is important to remember that gut instinct also has the ability to work in reverse. It is often the thing that encourages us to give someone a go, even though they may not appear to be the ideal candidate on the surface.

Let me assure you that it is just as important to ask a similar set of questions in these circumstances, to ensure that your bleeding heart does not stand in the way of you making recruitment decisions that will haunt you for months afterwards.

So in summary, simply allow me to wish you the best of gut ...errr luck!


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