How to choose between two great candidates – in 8 steps

You have whittled and whittled, then whittled some more. But now you are left with two great candidates - for one single vacancy. And choosing between them is fast becoming as excruciating as trapping your fingers in the photocopier.

Relax. It’s a good problem to have. In a way you can’t lose. It’s impossible to make a bad decision because whoever you choose is likely to do a great job. So mull over the finer points of your candidates - albeit mindful that other employers may be about to snap them up.

Here are eight steps to help you find clarity when two candidates can’t be separated.

1. Revisit your job description or job ad

Remind yourself of the type of person you were looking for before this recruitment process began. It’s easy to get nudged off-brief by a winning smile and a sharp suit. Revisit each candidate’s CV and cover letter too. You may notice things you didn’t spot before. Such as whether the initial applications were crafted for your specific role or were just an exercise in copy and paste.

2. Learn from experience

Not yours, theirs.

Studying each candidate’s experience and job history can be revealing. Have they gathered a lot of experience quickly? They are probably ambitious. Have they worked outside your sector? They could bring fresh perspective or direct you into a new market. Are they job-ready or would they need guidance? Become a detective. And remember it can be better to hire candidates who are slightly out of their comfort zone. You don’t want to employ someone who is complacent after week one.

3. (Try to) decide which candidate wants it more

Some personalities are extremely nuanced and the amount of underlying hunger for the job can be difficult to detect. But you should think about which candidate seems to want the job more. Training can fill gaps in a skill set, but it’s impossible to force someone to show passion for a job if they’re just not feeling it.

4. Ask yourself who you is a better fit for the company culture

It almost sounds fickle. Then you realise that on a weekly basis you will likely be spending more time with your new recruit than you will with your family and friends. Who’s the better fit for your company culture? What does the rest of the team think? Chemistry counts.

5. Get a second (and third and fourth...) opinion

You are not hiring someone to work directly for you. You are hiring someone to be part of a team. Ask everyone that was involved in the interview process for their candid opinions. Sure, the final decision might be yours. But some ulterior perspective can help you reach a more reasoned decision. Why do you think Alan Sugar has his aides?

6. Decide who you would most hate to lose to your arch rival

Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. Disclaimer: making decisions based on your competitors is awfully passive. And it can be quite damaging to your ambitions as a business. But in this instance, thinking about who you would least like to lose to a rival can help.

7. Hold another round of interviews

If you haven’t done a second interview yet, now’s the time! A third interview may be trickier to wrangle, but it’s worth a shot if you are properly stumped. Be sure to assess each candidate’s skills on real-life tasks, problems or challenges. You have to know they can do what they claim to. A presentation at final stage interview can often allow the right candidate to shine and showcase their skills and passion to work with you.

8. Think about connections

Your final decision should never come down to who has the bigger contacts book. But for some jobs, connections can be important and may even help land new contracts (especially in a sales/business development type of role).

To sum up...?

  • Revisit your job description or job ad to remind yourself what you’re looking for
  • Assess what each candidate’s experience gives away about their credentials
  • Try to get a feel for who wants the job more
  • Think about who you get on with better; who fits the company culture
  • Seek the opinions of everyone who has had contact with the candidates
  • Ask yourself which candidate you would hate to lose to a rival
  • Consider holding a final interview to assess on-the-job skills
  • If it’s relevant to the role, think about who may have the most valuable contacts


Over to you!

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