ON THE one hand, intuition - particularly for women - is often more logical than you think. Because women tend to excel at reading body language, you often pick up non-verbal cues that make you feel uneasy about certain job applicants.

A candidate's failure to look you in the eye, for example, does not jibe with her self-description as a "real people person". Or, the candidate who taps his foot whenever you ask questions about a former position, may make you suspect that he is hiding something.

On the other hand, relying solely on gut feelings, of course, is not an objective way to make sound hiring decisions. So, as a rule of thumb, trust your instincts - but not completely.

Before making any candidate a job offer, take the time to dig a little deeper. Check a few more references. Bring her back for another interview, and see if you can pinpoint what is bothering you. Have your team members meet candidates and see what they think. This way, the final decision is based on more than your observations.

"I have learned to rely on my instincts 99 per cent of the time," says Ms Lynn Richardson of Xerox Corp. "However, I feel strongly about not being the only one to make the final decision. In fact, when I bring my team in on the decision-making process, I don't see it as abdicating responsibility, but rather as effectively delegating an important decision."

Adds Ms Morene Seldes-Marcus, an Atlanta-based executive coach and human resources consultant: "My gut feeling plays a major role in my decision-making. But what I really force myself to do - and others I help in the hiring process - is to stick with the list of criteria or behaviours and key experiences that someone needs to be successful in that job. Then I try to ask questions of every candidate that relate to those key elements."

For example, Ms Seldes-Marcus was involved with eight others in the hiring of a chief financial officer. Job requirements included experience in operations and systems and a solid financial background.

"I knew that inevitably there would be personalities they preferred," she says. "But I tried to get the group of interviewers to come up with a profile of the person who would best fit the position and the organisation.

"I did this by asking questions like, 'What are the key experiences this individual should have in order to help the company move forward?' and by pointing out the need for someone who had more experience in specific areas than the last person who had held the position."

After interviewing the top four candidates, the selection committee got together and listed skills, behaviours and experience needed for the job, then rated the candidates against that criteria.

"But just as I had predicted, the conversation soon turned to the personalities of the candidates, and everyone's gut feelings were to hire the candidate who lacked the key elements needed for the job," Ms Seldes-Marcus says. "However, I managed to steer the group back to the profile of the ideal CFO, and in the end we hired the best-qualified person."