“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,

And know when to run…”

–Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

Three_Card_MonteI knew something was wrong the moment the two men sat in front us on the bus. I was only a freshman in college, but I knew that feeling in my gut — the pinch of danger.

One asked, “You want to play a game? You’re a winner every time.” The other acted like he didn’t know the guy, but I had seen them laughing together at the bus stop before they got on.

I didn’t respond, but my friend did. “Sure, I’ll play,” he said.

“Eric,” I muttered, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The instigator persisted, “C’mon man, he’ll be a winner for sure. I promise.”

The other man chimed in. “Oh, I’ve played this before. You can win. I’ll help you,” he said.

Eric ignored me and unsuspectingly dove into a round of three-card Monte, a classic street con in which victims think they’re teaming-up with a stranger to cheat the dealer — when the stranger is actually conspiring with the dealer to cheat the victim.

In less than 15 minutes, Eric lost $80. I kept telling him to stop, but between his own belief that he could win, and the dealer’s encouragement, he kept right on losing.

Time and time again throughout life, we all learn that our gut isn’t a very accurate decision maker. Yet we tend to think we can beat the odds — even when it comes to hiring the best candidate for a job. Of course, applicants don’t think of their job search as three-card Monte, but many hiring managers and recruiters assume we can pick the best candidate in a heartbeat.

In reality, recruiting and hiring data reveal a different story — the gut actually steers us wrong most of the time. Maybe empathic, balanced decision makers have a better track record (when guided by reliable data), but recruiters really can’t predict the future.

There are better bets than soothsayers. For example, consider the Challenger sales model, from a powerful new book by CEB. Based on a survey of more than 6,000 individuals, The Challenger Sale explains how sales professionals tend to fit one of five profiles:

 Hard Worker
 Problem Solver
 Challenger
 Relationship Builder
 Lone Wolf

If you’ve been responsible for sales or marketing, you know that most of us focus on building customer relationships. It makes sense to assume that the best salespeople are relationship builders, right?

The CEB study suggests otherwise. In fact, “Challengers” are sales rock stars — they’re the only ones who consistently outperform in complex selling environments. They push customer thinking, they introduce new solutions, and they illuminate problems customers overlook.

Bottom line: overall recruiting success depends on these two things:

  1. Guts: We all bring intuition to the hiring table. But the real guts of recruiting comes from valid, reliable data and methods that inform our human nature. The more we know about the skills, competencies and characteristics that lead to stellar job performance, the better our decisions will be — for recruiting, hiring and retention.
  2. And Glory: Hiring top performers is a process. It demands continuous review and adjustment, based on performance and retention data. It takes rigor to understand who to hire next — whether candidates are external or internal. Ultimately, that’s the critical challenge: the more you know about employees who “go all in” — those who consistently elevate their performance for your organization — the better prepared you’ll be to find a winner in your next hire.

Maybe the rare recruiter who is empathic and generally balanced and insightful has a better track record at screening with the gut (because of leveraging some sound data), but folks just aren’t wired for prescience, no matter the cons that convince us otherwise.

This is a new Reach-West series based on TalentCulture #TChat. Don’t forget to check out the TalentCulture #TChat Show every Wednesday from 6:30-8 pm ET (3:30-5 pm ET).