HR and Recruiting

How to choose between two really good job candidates

Written by Eric Titner

As a hiring manager, your reputation is built and bolstered by your ability to source top-tier candidates for positions across your organization. Chances are your performance goals are closely tied to how effective you are at stocking your company’s teams with the best available talent.

Sometimes this is a relatively straightforward task, and the perfect candidate comes your way for an open position—all you have to do is get them interested and sell them on the notion of joining your team. Other times, the hiring process is a bit more difficult.

Most seasoned hiring managers have encountered nearly every permutation of hiring challenge imaginable—one particularly anxiety-inducing one is when you have what seems to be two “perfect” candidates who are vying for the same position. Both candidates are well-qualified, have impeccable industry backgrounds and skill sets, come equipped with sterling references, and appear to be great potential fits in all key areas—and you’re tasked with deciding who rises from the candidate heap and earns the coveted spot.

Here’s a solid method for successfully handling this situation in an effort to best meet your company’s needs.

Look beyond the obvious

If you’re facing the choice of having to decide between two great candidates and they both seem equally matched in all the key metrics you typically base your hiring decisions upon, then look beyond the typical. Step back from the situation and think about whether or not a candidate made a positive impression on you in an area that you typically overlook or don’t weigh heavily. If there’s an area of strength that may help one candidate perform on the job—no matter how small—then consider taking into consideration. Traits like personality type and problem-solving style aren’t off-limits, even if they don’t fit into typical evaluation models.


Give a test

When facing two seeming equal candidates, take a step beyond and really put them to the test. Consider giving them an additional work-related task to see who does best. Having the candidates complete a project that mirrors one of the responsibilities that they’ll encounter on the job is not uncommon, and can really help you make a tough decision a little easier.

Get a second opinion

Just like no person is an island, no employee is alone in a company—and neither are you. There are reasons why many interviews are conducted by multiple people and over several encounters—hiring someone new for a position in your organization is no small decision, and having multiple opinions factor into the final decision can help ensure that the best choice is made. If you haven’t already, have the candidates meet with other key decision-makers in your company and use their opinions to help you work through this difficult situation.

Trust your instincts

The truth is, there is no perfect candidate. Despite all the state-of-the-art analytics your company uses to gauge candidates and how well they sold themselves during the interview process, there’s just no surefire way to know for sure how well they’ll do when they’re on the job and hitting the ground running. Don’t forget this when you’re facing a difficult hiring decision, and also don’t forget to trust your well-honed instincts as an experienced hiring manager. Hiring someone new is always a leap of faith—so have a little faith in your ability to choose between two candidates wisely using your experienced eye.

Don’t write one candidate off completely

No matter how difficult it is, at some point you’re going to have to make a decision between two highly qualified candidates. Hopefully, you make the right choice. That said, choosing one candidate above another doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “goodbye forever” to the losing candidate. A savvy hiring manager knows that it’s in their company’s long-term benefit to maintain a talent-rich pipeline. That said, do your best to keep all good candidates in your orbit—because you never know when a new position will open up and you’re back on the hunt.

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About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.

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