How to Choose Between Two Strong Job Candidates

By Robert Half March 10, 2017 at 3:53pm

Here’s an interesting (and enviable) dilemma for employers: When two outstanding candidates are vying for the same position at your firm, and they have been neck and neck throughout the recruitment process, how do you decide which person to hire? In this post, I provide a few suggestions for handling this situation — including at least one solution that might not pop to mind initially. But, first, let’s look at the latest jobs report data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to get a sense of the current employment market.

The current employment market

In February, the U.S. economy saw its record streak of job growth extend to 77 months. Employers added 235,000 new positions over the course of the month, exceeding many analysts’ expectations. So far, it appears that 2017 is off to a strong start. Since January 1, more than 473,000 jobs have been added. This figure takes into account updated figures for January, when 11,000 more jobs were added than originally reported, according to the BLS.

Healthcare and professional and business services were among the industries that contributed the most to job growth last month. Healthcare employment rose by 27,000 in February; the industry has added 30,000 jobs per month, on average, over the past 12 months. Employers in professional and business services increased their payrolls by 37,000 positions in January. The BLS reports that this industry has added 597,000 jobs over the past year.

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Two great choices mean one difficult decision

Many employers today struggle when conducting a candidate search because, as the latest jobs report shows, skilled talent is in short supply. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate in February dropped slightly from the previous month to 4.7 percent. The unemployment rate for college-degreed workers who are 25 or older was about half the overall rate: just 2.4 percent. And for some specialized positions — such as those in accounting, finance and IT — the unemployment rate is as low as 1 or 2 percent.

Finding a promising candidate is challenging! Many in-demand skilled professionals are already hired.

But once in a great while, something amazing happens: You hit the hiring jackpot. You come across two outstanding candidates whose resumes stand above the crowd. Even better, they both interview well. In fact, you could see yourself hiring either one of them.

It’s a fantastic problem to have … until you realize you literally can’t decide which person to hire. You’re paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong choice.

But the longer you wait to make your decision, the greater the risk of losing one or both candidates to another employer. In the current environment, there simply is no time to be indecisive about hiring. A recent survey by Robert Half shows that 57 percent of job seekers will lose interest in a job if an employer takes too long to extend an offer. How long is too long? According to our research, 39 percent of candidates will move on if they haven’t heard back with a decision within seven to 14 days.

How to select the right hire

So how do you make the right choice when you come to this hiring crossroads? And how can you do it quickly? Here are three strategies to consider:

  • Take a long-term view. You are hiring to address an immediate need at your firm. But don’t ignore the future. Look beyond the requirements for the open position and examine each candidate’s potential to grow at your firm over time. For example, does one candidate’s leadership potential stand out more than the other’s? Or does one of the candidates have knowledge or skills in an area that isn’t essential for the job at hand but could nonetheless add value to your business?
  • Think about fit with the corporate culture. This is such an important consideration in any hiring situation. However, employers don’t always devote as much time as they should to assessing whether a candidate will fit well and thrive in their company’s work environment — especially once that exciting “new-job feeling” subsides. One strategy for gauging fit with the work culture is to introduce potential hires to your team before extending an offer. It could be as part of the interview process or more informally as a quick “meet and greet.” Getting others’ opinions on how a potential hire might mesh with the team and workplace culture can be very valuable.
  • Assess both interest and enthusiasm. You’ve interviewed both candidates — probably more than once. Looking back on those meetings, which person seemed to be the most engaged in the process? Who asked the most questions? How quickly did each person follow up with you after the interview? And, just as important, what is your gut feeling about which individual seemed to want the job the most? As you reflect on these things, it’s likely you will identify the more interested and enthusiastic candidate, even if it’s only a hairsbreadth difference between the two.

Seize this rare opportunity (if it makes good sense)

If you’ve weighed all the above factors and still can’t decide which job candidate to choose, here’s another option: Hire both.

Of course, that can be easier said than done. The decision depends a great deal on the budget available to you and the structure and needs of your team. But if you have the means, it’s well worth considering.

The reason is simple: Good people are hard to find — and no company will suffer from having too many of them on board. The needs of your business can change rapidly, and you may find yourself on the hunt for another hire before long. At that point, though, you may not be as lucky as you were this time around.

Just be sure that your decision is sustainable. There needs to be enough work to keep both hires engaged and feeling like their contributions make a difference. A good starting place is to think about projects that have been pushed to the back burner because your team doesn’t have the time to devote to them. Could one of the new hires help move these initiatives forward? Or could the person reduce the workload for other employees who are overloaded or close to reaching that point?

If you ultimately decide the best course of action is to extend only one job offer at this time, keep in touch with the candidate you don’t hire. Connect on LinkedIn and check in with the person occasionally to pass along news about the company and get updates on his or her career. You never know when your next hiring need will arise.

February 2017 jobs report image

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