How Do You Decide Between Two Equally Qualified Candidates?

You were hoping for one close-to-perfect candidate to fill the position. But now you find yourself in the enviable, yet stressful, spot of having two candidates who are ideally suited for the job. Their qualifications are virtually equal, and now you’re faced with the challenge of choosing one over the other. What criteria should you use to help you decide? While every situation is different, here is some advice that will help you select between two equally qualified applicants.

equally qualified candidates

Conduct Another Interview

You may feel like you’ve exhausted the interview process. But there is always more to learn about potential hires. If you haven’t brought other colleagues into the interview process, now would be a perfect time to do so. Since you’ve already narrowed the field down to two possibilities, you won’t have to feel like you’re wasting your colleagues’ time. Go ahead and inform your co-interviewers that you’re struggling with your decision, and ask them for their input on which applicant they feel is better suited for the position. You don’t have to commit to their choice, but it never hurts to see your candidates through a fresh set of eyes.

Consider Additional Factors

Even though the candidates are neck-and-neck when it comes to competence, there are other considerations that must be measured as well. Which one is more likely to stay with the company long term? Which one is easier to get along with? Which one can you see climbing the corporate ladder the fastest?

If you write down a list of considerations that go beyond experience and education and compare the candidates based on those parameters, you might find one really does stand above the other. Your list could include factors such as enthusiasm for the job, willingness to go the extra mile, salary requirements, the ability to stay calm under pressure, dressing for success—basically anything that could tip the scales in one direction over the other when there doesn’t seem to be much extra weight on either side.

Eliminate Personal Biases

We all know that discrimination is both illegal and unethical. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have certain biases when it comes to hiring a man over a woman, a younger candidate over an older one, or someone you find more attractive. It’s important that you put your personal preferences aside when it comes to superficialities and stereotypes. Your decision needs to be made based on the facts, not your potentially misguided preconceptions.

Re-Review The Job Requirements

Both candidates may have equal qualifications, but equal is not the same as identical. There are likely to be some areas where Candidate A excels and Candidate B comes up short (and vice versa). These strengths and weaknesses may balance each other out on the whole, but you have to ask yourself which strengths are more directly related to the current job description and to the long-term objectives of the employment opportunity. For example, Candidate A may have excellent people skills but her organizational skills are less impressive. Candidate B may be extremely organized, but seems a little reserved around other people. If the job you’re hiring for demands sociability over structure, then Candidate A is probably the better choice.

Test Them

If you’ve exhausted all of the typical interview questions and scenarios and still can’t decide, you may want to think about throwing your candidates a left hook, and see who returns it with the best punch. For example, try taking each of them out of the office for lunch or a golf outing and see how they behave in a more relaxed situation. Once they let their guard down, you might see a completely different side of your “perfect” candidate. Or literally—give them a test. Pre-employment tests can help you decide who will be the best fit for your organization—just don’t use them as the only deciding factor, and make sure your test meets all Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. Sometimes you have to see a candidate in action to know what they're really all about.

In the end, if all else fails, trust your gut. All things being equal on paper, some part of your internal radar is probably leading you toward a specific candidate. As long as that part isn’t based on unreliable personal biases, trusting your instincts may be just what you need to have that “ah ha!” moment. 

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