How can you decide between two truly exceptional candidates?

When it comes to recruiting, everyone is searching for a purple squirrel – that perfect candidate who has exactly the right skillset needed to hit the ground running.

Deciding between candidatesBut often these can be hard to find, we know that 45 per cent of hiring managers struggle to fill positions due to a lack of talent. This is why, when you get two exceptional applicants, it can often be a struggle to turn one away. Having invested all your energies to find the right interviewees, and having agonised over your final shortlist, making that final decision won’t be easy if you have two bright and talented people in front of you. Here’s what you need to know.

What do you really need?

You can envisage both candidates doing the job, but what are you really looking for? In this situation, a water-tight job description and person specification will really help inform your choice. Look at how many of the boxes each candidate ticks to get a good idea of how different they are from each other. It might be that you have an experienced applicant, with many years in industry, competing with someone who’s been in work for a shorter amount of time, but has unique experience of a specialism which will really benefit you. Do you need someone who is reliable and can hit the ground running or do you have capacity within your team to train a real ‘bright spark’ who will really come into their own on the job? Examining these things should give you your answer.

Will they be a good cultural fit?

Every workplace is different, requiring different personalities. If you’re a company that places a lot of emphasis on teamwork, shared experiences and collaborative thinking, you’ll need to find someone who can embrace this. On the other hand, if applicants will need to work independently, travel on their own and file assignments remotely, this will require a different type of person. Each candidate will have their own work preferences, so find this out in order to choose between the final two on your shortlist. Don’t underestimate cultural fit, which is incredibly important when it comes to hiring a well-motivated employee. Look at who can you imagine yourself working alongside and whether they’ve spent time in a company with a similar ethos.

Talk to others on the interview panel

When you’re facing a hard decision, it’s always good to get a different perspective. Structure your interview process so that the right people get to meet candidates and are able to offer feedback as a result. It’s likely that the Head of HR will look for different qualities in a potential employee, in comparison to a team member or a manager leading a separate department that you work closely with. All of these viewpoints will be helpful and valid when it comes to deciding between two exceptional candidates. After all, your final choice will have to work with many of these people, and they may have picked up on something that you’ve missed. While it’s important to ascertain who has the final decision-making power, getting your team’s backing for a new employee can be beneficial.

Think about the future

Where is your company heading in the next five years? Are you restructuring your team, expanding to a new sector or aiming to launch extra products and services? Whatever your circumstances, they’ll require a team with a unique set of skills to take this forward. Look at your final shortlist of candidates and think about who has the ability to add to your future business plans. Ask your applicants what their own long-term goals are, in order to see if these match the direction you’re heading in. Ultimately, you’ll need someone who agrees with your vision, and is willing to back this 100 per cent, so make sure your chosen candidate shares your passion for growth.

Can you make room for both?

As mentioned previously, it’s hard enough finding one perfect candidate, let alone two. And in this situation, can you afford to miss the opportunity to work with one of these? If you’re in the position to hire both, why not consider this in order to strengthen your talent pipeline? There are a whole host of situations in which this kind of approach can work, for example if both candidates are open to a job share or you have another role which you were intending to fill later down the line. Communicate with your team and speak to candidates to find out if they’re willing to be flexible in order to secure an opportunity to work with you. By demonstrating that you really value their skills and expertise, you’ll be in a strong position to lead this conversation.

About the author

Kate AllenKate Allen is the MD of Allen Associates, one of Oxfordshire’s leading independent recruitment agencies, that specialises in Marketing, Finance, PA/Admin and HR roles. They also have an office in London, specialising in Marketing, HR and PA/Admin roles.

Allen Associates also offer guides to businesses, containing top tips to help your recruitment and hiring process. They also offer guides to candidates, to help then with their job hunt.

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