How do you choose the right person for your business when both candidates are perfect?
I want to share with you the experiences of Ian, a small business owner I know who was looking to recruit his first member of staff.
As you might imagine, this was a pivotal moment for Ian and one he had to get absolutely right.
The role on offer was client-facing but which also involved data analysis. He was looking for a recent graduate who was competent, credible, would be responsive to client needs as well as organised and trustworthy.
Looking good on paper
Having advertised the position and received a number of CVs, Ian was able to quickly identify two very solid candidates. Both had good and relevant degrees and both came across well in their CVs and covering letters. They were also clearly very different in character – while candidate A had a detailed CV and came across as competent, professional, serious with some work experience, candidate B’s covering letter conveyed enthusiasm and personality which offset their somewhat slimmer CV.
Ian decided to meet each of them informally. This gave him the chance to explain the role in more detail and gave them the chance to back out gracefully if it wasn’t for them. Both candidates came across really well during these sessions.
It was following this that Ian and I had a chat to discuss what he should do next.
Strengths and risks
Firstly we compared each candidate’s strengths – what they would bring to the role and the risks of taking either on.
It was clear that at this stage, candidate A seemed to be the stronger candidate – they were capable and professional and their organisational skills would complement Ian’s drive and creativity. Candidate B, while very personable and easy to get on with, was perhaps too similar to Ian personality-wise – was there a risk some tasks wouldn’t get done?
Testing the difference
Then we talked about how Ian could best assess each candidate to work out which of them was the best person for his business.
I shared with him my interview pack to help him structure a formal interview and score their answers (you can download your free copy here).
I also advised him to create an exercise related to the job they would be doing. Ian would get to see how they handled the task, how they interpreted what they were being asked to do and how they presented their thoughts and ideas to him. Also it meant he would be testing them on something relevant rather than simply on their ability to perform at interview.
Following our conversation Ian decided to ask them to prepare a presentation related to their student experience, but also relevant to Ian’s business (followed by a formal interview).
A decisive result
The results were fascinating. While both had done an impressive amount of research to inform their presentations, candidate B had thought things through laterally and came up with some brilliant ideas and observations. He clearly demonstrated an excellent understanding of the topic. Candidate A’s approach to the task was perhaps more academic. While their presentation was full of information that seemed insightful, they weren’t able to demonstrate a deeper understanding when questioned.
“The presentation exercise ultimately helped me to make the right choice. Had I not set a test then I would probably have selected the other candidate based on their CV, covering letter and the informal interview. Instead, candidate B was recruited and, two months in, has turned out to be a great hire, much liked by both clients and suppliers and demonstrating an eagerness and ability to learn.”
If you have two (or more) candidates you’re struggling to choose between, try thinking creatively about how you might assess which candidate is the right fit for your business. Lots of candidates can look good on paper and perform really well in an interview so what test or exercise could you devise where you could observe their true behaviour or reveal how they approach a problem in real life?
As I said to Ian, it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive but it does need a little bit of thought. And as Ian has proven, it really can reap rewards.