Hiring: Learning From the Behavior of Crowds

There are no simple ways to determine if you’re hiring the right person for a job and, in my experience, complex approaches to hiring fail almost as frequently as winging it.  OK, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point. Those who have used regimented hiring methodologies created by behavioral scientists and organizational behavior experts know what I’m talkin’ about. Nothing is better than simply laying down a few basic guidelines, understanding what you’re really looking for, knowing what’s important to you and listening to your gut to maximize your chances of hiring a good person.

The problem is, what if your gut isn’t experienced enough to help you with your decision? You can be logical about it, for sure. You can ask all the right questions, you can have everyone on the team interview, you can even have a checklist to make sure that the candidate meets all the criteria you set out. But how do you know he or she is the right person?

As with most things interpersonal, I think it’s a combination of many factors, many of them barely perceptible. Combined, they make up what our gut feel is. The way someone acts, how they greet you, the amount they talk, the number and kind of questions they ask. I’ve been thinking about the behaviors I look for when hiring and have been noticing something interesting when going out to coffee or a meal with a candidate (which I recommend – it can take them out of their comfort zone). It’s about how they move through crowds.

I lump people’s movement through crowds into four categories:

  1. Those that dive into holes in traffic as soon as any opportunity opens up
  2. Those that wait to see what people around them do
  3. Those that need to plot out their next few moves before making the jump
  4. Those who plow into the crowd without thinking or caring about the people they bowl over

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s a major amount of generalization going on here and there are usually roles for each type of person in some organization. The question to ask: is what each of these behaviors represents correct for what you’re looking for right now in your organization?

The last group includes people that don’t have the desire or good sense to be part of the crowd or an integral piece of the action. They think about themselves only and likely do the same when they’re at their jobs as well. Sometimes, behavior like this is a positive, but for the most part, these people are just assholes.

The people in the third group put optimization ahead of speed (no, they are not synonymous). Strong process skills are terrific and can add great value to a team. In heavy traffic or with big workloads, however, these people can often get paralyzed though.

The second group is the most problematic for me. These people usually aren’t particularly aggressive or driven – attributes of almost anyone I like to hire. On the other hand, there are clear places for such people.  Think customer-facing roles.

The first group represents the crowd behavior I like to see. Aggressive without being an asshole about it. These are people who can keep the noise going on around them in their peripheral vision in order to get things done. They move quickly, but not recklessly. For these people, moving forward is often the most important thing on their mind.

OK, I’m biased. The real point here is that people’s behavior – in this case, how they work in a crowd – is strongly indicative of how they will work when they’re your employee. Notice the small stuff like this and you’ll get that gut feel you need to hire the right person.


  1. Well put….take candidates out of the usual office environment…introduce them to my wife!! She has always been right on the money!!

  2. Seems like the title of the post is a little off – it's the behavior of the candidate IN crowds that you're talking about, not the behavior OF the crowd.

  3. Totally right Dave. Fell in love with the title without thinking about it too much. I had originally meant to generalize about how crowds work (particles AND waves kinda thing), but got more specific than I had originally intended.

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