What neuroscience can tell recruiters

What neuroscience can tell recruiters

There has been a lot of talk about neuroscience recently.  It is the latest flavour of the month but what does it really mean in the field of recruitment?

Neuroscience is more than just an understanding of which parts of the brain become more active in certain situations. In fact, the more we find out about the workings of our most complex organ, the less we find that we truly understand. However, the research is uncovering new knowledge that can makes us better at recruiting to ensure that we place the right candidate in the right role at the right time.

The outputs from brain research, social science and psychology can help recruiters to attract and retain new candidates and clients by helping to understanding more about motivation, personalities and behaviour and what drives them. All this can play a part in improving performance.

A lot of the research is providing peer-reviewed evidence that supports many of the things that we have known or suspected for years. However, it is adding to our knowledge of what makes us tick as human beings. This means that we can now look at making changes in our behaviour that is proven to have more positive, sustainable outcomes in the long term.


Motivation is vital in recruitment. However, it is not just about money. The motivation and reward systems in our brain drive us towards our goals with energy and enthusiasm.   Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in generating feelings of pleasure. In business, if a happy environment full of rewarding experiences is created, our brains produce dopamine in the right areas so that we become more motivated to push ourselves. So trying to find out what produces those dopamine responses for individuals will help to determine what motivates them.


Cortisol has been found to accumulate in parts of the brain when a person is feeling stressed. It has become widely known as the stress hormone. High levels of cortisol for extended periods lead to high blood pressure (with the associated health issues), memory loss and possible depression. All of these are costly to the individual and the organisation. Good businesses need a healthy workforce, which starts with performance management that is consistent and transparent to avoid stress in the workplace.

Recruiters may view a candidate’s history of working long hours as a positive indicator of commitment. In the future, however, recruiters may need to interpret a history of working long hours as a negative indicator suggesting a lack of balance and a consequent inability to think and perform effectively. This is, also, where consideration of a person’s motivational factors becomes critical. What is driving this behaviour?

Empathy and emotional involvement

Male and female brains are not only wired differently, they are infused with different combinations of neurotransmitters (such as oxytocin) and hormones (such as oestrogen, adrenaline, oxytocin). Oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter and a hormone.

Women have been shown through studies to be better at intuitive thinking involving people. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved and will listen more. Women are more naturally empathetic.

Women’s ability to listen more effectively and read emotional cues has enormous implications for how businesses are run, especially in the crucial area of teamwork. According to recent studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there is a positive correlation between the ability of teams to accomplish group tasks and the number of women on the team. The correlation between team success and gender was not the diversity of the team, but the actual percentage of women on the team. The more women on the team, the more effective the team, even when they worked online without face-to-face meetings.

From this, recruiters may need to view the recruitment of more women as a workable strategy for creating stronger, more effective teams. Such a strategy is likely to become more important as social networking increases the amount of team activity in the workplace.


Good leaders and managers ensure their people will be given opportunities to develop and grow. Synapses in the brain grow and strengthen with new information, referred to as plasticity. However, neuroplasticity takes time and the system can be overloaded if too much information is delivered all at once. Research shows that we retain information better when we learn in in small regular doses interspersed with good, quality sleep. Training that combines a mixture of theory, reflection and practical activity and will allow the brain to assimilate and use the information well. In order to embed in the learning, the training needs to be relevant and built into working practice over a period of time.

When a company is harnessing their employees’ individual personalities, goals, needs and abilities, in an employee-focused manner and communicate with them properly, the employees feel valued and valid, which helps to build a successful and intuitive working environment. This in turn empowers them and alleviates stressful situations reducing the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can narrow their attention to any perceived threat, and opens them up to broader thinking, better problem solving and more creative thought.

All this is very interesting but what does it mean in practice? Certainly, from a recruitment perspective it means working with candidates in new ways to look at how they take in information, how they process information, how they work with emotions, what factors are motivators for them, how they interact with others, how they manage stress and their effective working practices.

Another way of looking at this conundrum is to start focusing on emotional intelligence. This is how a person combines their thinking with their feelings in order to build quality working relationships and to make more effective decisions. The evidence is mounting that emotional intelligence is a more effective measure of success in work and life that is bringing in the new understanding supported by the evidence from neuroscience.

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