How to Choose Between Two Strong Job Candidates

By Robert Half March 10, 2017 at 3:00pm

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?

Many employers today struggle when conducting a candidate search because skilled talent is in short supply. 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. 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 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 office 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? Who asked more insightful 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 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? Could they 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 their career. You never know when your next hiring need will arise.

Paul McDonald photograph
Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.

McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald become senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

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