If finding the right candidate for a job were a matter of matching keywords on a resume we could just shut down the HR departments and let computers do all the hiring. But this automation stuff can only go so far. Computers cannot sniff out half-truths on resumes. They cannot get beyond the black and white and into the all-important gray of a person’s psyche. And they cannot gauge actual intelligence.

For that you need intuition and finesse; a set of observational abilities that can only come from experience and pure smarts. The difference between Candidate A and Candidate A-minus is likely to be as minute as the difference between cobalt blue and ultramarine. And only a pro can pick up on it.

Cathy Haught, who holds a doctorate in cognitive psychology from Princeton University and teaches organizational psychology at Rider, has applied such insight to her primary career as president of Recruiting Intelligence (RI), based in Manhattan, scouts talent for its corporate clients across several fields. Haught, who lives in Ewing, recently expanded the business by looking into top talent amid Princeton’s brain trust.

And when she says “top talent,” she means tip-top. RI’s strength, Haught says, lies in finding the A-level candidate, not the A-minus. And what separates the company from others in the field, she says, is that she and company founder and CEO Jane Caryl believe that recruiting is not a matter of HR.

“I have always felt that recruiting, especially at the executive level, doesn’t belong in the HR department, but in risk management and strategic planning,” Haught says. “No one can predict with 100-percent certainty how a new hire will work out, there are simply too many variables to take into account that are out of your control.”

The easiest way to maximize the odds of a successful hire, she says, is by starting with “a truly outstanding, intelligent, driven, high-integrity person who is an excellent match for your business.” But then, the easiest way to pitch a perfect game is to throw 81 consecutive strikes. Easy to say, tough to do.

“Don’t all companies say they have the best employees and that people are their most important asset?” Haught asks.

The formula for finding an A is something of an amalgam of calculus and intuition that measures three main factors. One is that there are just not that many people who possess what Haught calls the “rare combination of attributes” like intelligence, technical skills, ambition, resilience, and commercial appeal. Another is the fact that those who do fit the bill are probably happily employed already; and the last is that “not all these hot shots are an ideal match for your business,” Haught says. Those who might thrive in an entrepreneurial venture, for example, might not be right for an established company.

Making the right match is important for more than the obvious reason. Sure, a company that hires the best person for the job gets great performance, but moreover, the company keeps getting it. Fitting the work environment to the worker, Haught says, leads to a more engaged employee.

The idea of intelligence being applied to the job search is, believe it or not, relatively new. Ability used to be judged by experience, but these days recruiters are aware that merely spending years in a particular job is no guarantee that you are any good at it. This realization has seeped into corporate practice and is even getting into government agencies. Governor Chris Christie’s blitz against the state’s teachers’ unions, in fact, is largely fueled by a wish to obliterate tenure based on experience.

For Haught, the growing focus on intelligence — as opposed to a focus on requirements like knowing PhotoShop versus Illustrator — makes perfect sense. More businesses are coming to the realization that if a person is smart in one job he is likely to be smart in others. Intelligence, she says, can be applied at large.

Intelligence is not the only factor Haught seeks in potential candidates, of course. There is also resilience. An ability to adapt to new environments and new work realities. More than one worker in the past few years has had to deal with the effects of downsizing and shrinking budgets. Until very recently, when more optimism has entered the business picture, the motto was “do more with less.”

Not everyone appreciates the challenge, but then, Haught isn’t looking for those people. She wants the ones who do like the challenge, who can, when pushed or asked, reshape the way they do their jobs and help their companies stay afloat.

How Haught actually finds these people is a trade secret. The basics, however, fall into categories like “network” and “contacts.” Recruiting Intelligence has built a hefty supply of contacts since its inception about 15 years ago, Haught says. It is, at heart, a more purely profit-driven form of networking.

She will not offer the specifics of how she became involved with Recruiting Intelligence, but the Romania-born Haught (whose 94-year-old grandfather E-mails her almost every day with news from home) says she met Caryl while working as a strategic planning manager for a hedge fund in New York. She was hand-picked for that job while studying for her doctorate at Princeton.

She liked the job but she wanted to apply her skills to actual people, so she left the firm about a year ago and joined Recruiting Intelligence.

Haught has always had a bent toward psychology and the sciences, something she likely inherited from her parents — her mother was an endocrinologist and her father a math professor. She came to the U.S. via Queens University in North Carolina at 18. When she saw the opportunities the U.S. offered, she decided to stay.

Had she stayed in Romania, she conjectures, she probably would have followed her mother into medicine. Instead she earned her degree in psychology while working full-time. And to show you how serious she is about the value of intelligence, she managed a 4.0 grade point average doing it. These days she stays in touch with promising Ivy League talent as chair of the Princeton Area Alumni Association’s Graduate Alumni Committee.

Now firmly settled in central New Jersey, Haught says she wants to develop her roster of contacts among the area’s rich biotech base. And what she would like these potential contacts to know is that she’s better than a keyword search at finding the right person for a job. She hesitates to say that her strength is partly due to intuition, but she acknowledges that intuition is something you only build through experience and intelligence.

Which is what she’s looking for anyway.

#b#Recruiting Intelligence Ltd#/b#., Box 2436, Princeton 08543-2436; 646-530-3592. Cathy Haught, president. www.recruitingintelligence.com

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