Mindfulness and employee selection – Two concepts you didn’t expect in one title


There may come a time you find yourself behind a desk – you’re a hiring manager about to interview candidates for an open position on your team. Maybe you’re having a bad day. Maybe you had high hopes for the person who left your team, and maybe there are several other hypothetical fires you need to extinguish in your hospital at this very moment. The bottom line is: you’re distracted, and distraction doesn’t serve us well in the realm of hiring.

You’d rather just get this over with and hire the person who puts off the best “vibe,” or an acquaintance that applied who you have a “really good feeling” about, and forget about all the paperwork. Unfortunately, the verdict is in – research shows over and over that hiring based on our “gut feelings” does not serve us well, either. In fact, research demonstrates hiring based on intuition does not predict how well a candidate will perform in a job. So, what can you do?

Whether you subscribe to the benefits of mindfulness as an avid meditator, or you shrink away from the idea of purposefully sitting and doing nothing for a period of time, at least acknowledging that some tenets of mindfulness meditation can aid us in the selection process can truly make a difference. Here’s how:

Remain objective

Objectivity is arguably the most important aspect of practicing mindfulness. Objectivity is seeing things as they are, not as how we think they are. We interpret our environment using labels – we’ve spent our whole lives building a library of labels for people, places, and things based on our own experiences with them. However, our experience isn’t the only experience, so our labels are not always accurate or appropriate. Here’s what objectivity looks like when we’re being mindful.

You sit down to have a quiet moment to yourself, but your mind is racing. Instead of getting caught up in your thoughts and how they’re making you feel, you think to yourself, “I’m having many thoughts right now,” and continue your attempt at sitting in peace.

See, the focus is on the actual thing that is happening, not your interpretation of it. Objectivity matters in hiring because it teaches us not to jump to our own conclusions. Objectivity in hiring is based on behavior, which is demonstrated action (things the candidate actually says or does, their spoken responses to interview questions) – not our subjective interpretations of the action. When our hiring process is not objective, we base our decisions on our inferences of candidate behavior instead of their actual behavior. Here is an example of letting our subjectivity get in the way:

The candidate is speaking very fast after you asked her your first interview question. You think she must be really nervous for this interview because she’s speaking so quickly. If she’s already nervous in this interview, there’s no way she could handle being a nurse manager! When, in reality, she grew up in the city and is a naturally fast speaker. The speed at which she speaks has no bearing on the type of nurse manager she could be.

Go against the grain

Mindfulness is about disentangling our everyday thought process. Rather than operating on autopilot, as is often easy to do, it’s about actively examining what our senses are taking in. Continually turning off our cruise control and practicing acting deliberately can help us slow down and fully take in the information in front of you.

Humans naturally take many mental shortcuts. After all, if we had to stop and think about every single thing we did during the day, we’d be more exhausted than usual! Careful, strategic hiring requires us to go against the grain by turning off our autopilot. Autopilot in hiring looks like doing what we’ve always done – take the list of competencies with us to the interview and hope you ask the best question on the spot. Going against the grain in hiring means thinking carefully about our interview questions the day before, and making sure they’re behaviorally-based. Many managers think they’re too busy for this, however, if they don’t slow down now, they may make a bad hiring decision and be forced into duplicative work when the candidate they hired decides to leave. Going against the grain and planning ahead might win you the race of higher retention.

Be OK with being uncomfortable

Remaining objective and going against the grain does not come naturally to us, which can be uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is work, and don’t we have enough of that already? Although mindfulness is typically thought of as pleasant, in order to obtain the pleasantness, we must acknowledge our negative thoughts and emotions. If we take a moment to inspect our current reality head on, we can see it more clearly and understand it for what it is. As Benedictus Spinoza once said, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering when we form a clear and concise picture of it.”

I’m not saying that conducting interviews should or will cause suffering. I am saying that doing selection carefully can be anything but comfortable, as can be anything we aren’t used to doing. Careful hiring can feel impersonal – we shouldn’t provide physical feedback with nodding or smiling, we don’t make the jokes we might make outside of an interview setting. We inhibit our natural tendencies, and this just makes us feel inauthentic. However, in inhibiting these tendencies, we introduce less bias to the candidate and avoid giving them any signals that he or she is doing a good or a bad job. If we spend this time making ourselves slightly less comfortable at the expense of allowing the candidate to perform his or her best, then we may later experience the pleasantness of making a good hire.

Consider relevant characteristics

You wouldn’t put a Band-Aid on a broken leg the same way you shouldn’t attempt to fix internal turmoil with external factors – like shopping (external factor) when you’re stressed or sad (internal turmoil). Instead, it would serve us well to pick apart our stress or sadness mindfully. Why are you feeling this way? Consider relevant characteristics by focusing on where in your physical body you feel the stress – in your shoulders, back, all of the above? Without trying to make it go away, investigate it through the lens of curiosity and be willing to sit with it for a minute.

Considering relevant characteristics in hiring means, starting today, striking the phrase “we just need a warm body” from our thoughts and vocabulary. Living by this phrase is the same as using an external factor (warm body into the open position) to fix something more complex (the position in particular has a history of high turnover). The “warm body” mindset is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Can a warm body be a nurse manager? There’s no way to be sure unless we interview them and ask them job-related, behaviorally-based interview questions. When we base our selection process on characteristics relevant to the job, and when we actively work to minimize our biases to the best of our ability, we’re more likely to make a sustainable hire.

Practice makes perfect

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was any decent organization. More than likely, you won’t be (or weren’t) stellar at being mindful right away, just as you may not become a subject matter expert in selection as soon as you try. However, just like playing a sport, you will improve with practice. What does practice look like? It could be as easy as actually taking to heart the breathe reminder on our smart watches. Start small by taking one minute just to focus on our breath each day. Practicing careful selection methods is important because the more we implement them, the more natural they become. The more natural they become, the more comfortable we feel, and the better the selection process overall.

Will interviewing and hiring ever actually feel like mindfulness meditation? Probably not, but our work environments can benefit from our remaining objective, going against the grain, being okay with being uncomfortable, considering relevant characteristics, and practicing to perfect careful selection procedures – not to mention it can provide us some peace of mind.