Tips to choose the best candidate

  • 01-08-17
  • David Landau

Your hiring process is almost complete, you’ve interviewed a number of candidates and whittled down your shortlist to two leading candidates; both with equivalent skills and the right cultural fit. Two candidates you can see yourself employing and having a positive impact on your business. The problem? You only have the budget for one. Sure, it is a great predicament to have – one many hiring managers would walk over hot coals for – but it is a problem nonetheless. Just because the situation feels like you should ‘toss a coin’, doesn’t mean that you should leave it to chance. Here are a few proven ways to aid your decision-making process.


First things first: make contact with the referees. References are a necessary part of the recruitment process to gain further insight into not only a candidate’s skill and history but also their personality and suitability for the role. As long as the questions are targeted, the additional detail that a referee provides, will help to make a better-informed hiring decision. The key to getting the most out of a reference check is to ‘interview’ the referee using open questions, giving them ample time to respond comprehensively. Being able to compare similar experiences (for example; if both candidates have completed an accounting systems implementation project) can be hugely helpful in these scenarios. It is also good practice to ask detailed questions about specific projects. If the candidate mentioned working on a project in their interview, query the level of their involvement (“I did” versus “we did”), as well as the outcome and where they could have improved, so you can ensure the two versions match up. Remember though, that the one flaw with references is that they are people chosen by the applicants to speak on their behalf; who is going to provide a knowingly bad referee?


In today’s tight talent market, making a hiring mistake is costlier than ever before due to the time it takes to find quality candidates. Due to the rapidly changing employment landscape, the possible tenure of the employee together with the future fit for the team and business have become even more significant factors when recruiting. While both candidates will have the ability to fill your immediate skills gap, the hiring manager needs to understand the importance of where the business is going to identify the skills that will be required.  Think about who is more likely to grow with the business and who would be more likely to leave to progress their career. If one candidate is a proven specialist in their role and the other has a track record of adapting to change and learning new skills, then consider which attribute will be more valuable to your business long-term.


For the two candidates to have made it this far, you’ve likely already concluded that they’ll fit well within your team and company’s culture and also be across your mission and values. However, when you are in this predicament, you need to think one step further and identify which candidate wouldn’t just fit, but would thrive and add to the culture. No company culture is perfect; it’s good to have people who fit in, but great candidates will live, breathe and develop your culture in a positive way.


If you’ve previously only had formal interviews with your candidates, then consider inviting them for a relaxed chat over coffee or a casual lunch with team members they would work closely with. At Richard Lloyd, whenever we are recruiting, we like to take this approach with potential employees as it adds different dimensions to the decision-making process. The first can help you gain a better understanding of the candidate’s character and how they behave in a more relaxed setting. When meeting members of their prospective team, their true personalities may be more visible as they are less nervous than during the formal interview with the hiring manager. Secondly, your trusted team members can provide their perspectives on each candidate. As well as providing their opinions on who is the better candidate and why, it can also gain early buy-in from the team, making the onboarding process easier.


The notes you make in interviews are arguably the most valuable resource you have in deciding between two candidates. When you’re finding it hard to make the call, referring back to your notes and reminding yourself of the important points from the interview room is always helpful. However, to make these notes more useful, they need to be linked back to the key competencies required for the job. To make it easier to compare strengths and weaknesses we recommend using an objective framework such as a hiring appraisal sheet (click here to download an example). You might also want to ask for advice from others who have had involvement in the hiring process, for example, the recruiter you’re working with, or the employee who may have referred the candidate.


Once you’ve collated all the information internally and externally, it’s time to make the decision. It is not uncommon for the difference to come down to gut feeling, and while it isn’t scientific, sometimes you need to trust your own instincts. When conveying your decision to your team, be sure to promote the confidence you have in the new hire so that there are no question marks over their responsibilities or capabilities. The last thing you want after making a difficult choice between two high-quality candidates is for people to start second-guessing your decision.


Your difficult decision is made, but you want to ensure that there isn’t anything else you can do for the ‘silver medallist’ in the business before you let them know that they have been unsuccessful. Are there any other opportunities they could fill either immediately or in the near future? As they seem a great fit for the company, don’t let them go without investigating! If there is nothing available, handle the discussion professionally and honestly so that the door remains open should the situation change. If an employer is in a situation like this and is forced to pass on a talented candidate, it’s not uncommon for us to see them maintain the relationship just in case. Some employers will proactively engage with the rejected candidate for months or even years after the completion of the recruitment process before eventually hiring them when the right moment arises.


Keeping both candidates informed along the way is imperative. Try to avoid getting into a situation where the interview process stretches out for a long time due to the difficult nature of the decision. Taking too long can run the risk of losing both candidates! Once you’ve made your choice, provide the other applicant with constructive feedback on their application and then focus your energy on making your new employee a key member of your team.

At Richard Lloyd, our aim is to consistently provide our clients with high-quality candidates which can inevitably lead to the situation outlined above. When this occurs, our approach is to always focus on the key competencies required for the job and to provide unbiased, objective advice. For further assistance or help forming a shortlist, feel free to contact us for our professional assistance.

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