The HR Director’s Cut: Choosing Between Candidates

Everyone wants the ideal hire. (We can help with that!) We all want someone who walks into an interview, ticks every box and leaves us feeling confident in their abilities. (We can help with that too!) It’s best for the company, it’s best for the candidates, it’s best for the future. The selection process is tighter now more than ever: unemployment is at a record low, and the candidate pools are getting smaller and smaller. When that happens, it can be hard to find the right man or woman for the job. But it can also make the recruitment process like that saying about buses: you wait forever for the right person and then two come along at once.

So when that happens, what do we do to decide between the two, three, or more? How do we discern what puts one ahead of the rest? How do we know who the cream of the crop really is? (The answer for me will always be ‘The Cream of The Crop’ Macho Man Randy Savage. But for the sake of this blog, we’ll just assume he didn’t exist.)

Randy Savage; Macho Man, Cream Of The Crop, King of the Candidates.

Previous Responsibilities

So, it’s probably safe to assume that the candidates at the forefront of your vacancy have similar experiences in the past. At the very least, they’re likely to have similar job titles. If things look hard to gauge on face value, it’s time to delve deeper. When looking at their previous experience check in any responsibilities they had. Maybe they also managed some secondary duties on the side for the company; they might have covered different departments or been responsible for multiple roles. Smaller companies may delegate marketing and design duties to staff rather than have a specific department, for example.

These extra responsibilities showcase soft skills such as cooperation, role flexibility and versatility. It also shows what other duties they may be able to handle alongside their primary role. If your role is project based or creative based, maybe ask your candidates to present previous bodies of work – allowing you to compare the quality of work directly.

Culture Fit

It’s probably the most talked about thing of the past two years in recruitment (except maybe GDPR) – the rise of ‘culture fit’ and looking at attributes and personalities to the same degree as work experience. The way that a lot of people prioritise candidates no longer starts with ‘Is this person qualified?’ but rather ‘Can I work well with this person?’. After all, even if someone has the right experience for the job, they might not hold the same values as your company.

This is a double-edged sword, however. As easy as it can be to hire the person who fits the same template as the rest of your staff, why not try the person who has a different point of view? A hivemind can be unhealthy for your business, and fresh ideas might not be a bad thing.


Commitment to the role and company are two different animals. It’s important is measuring how reliable a candidate will be in the future – if you’re looking for a permanent hire, how long is the candidate looking to stay? Could this role be a stepping stone for them to move on to something else in time? Do they have a history of short employment and job hopping? These are all questions you should ask yourself when comparing candidates to spot possible unreliability.

Despite that, there are several things to take into consideration before making any rash decisions. Be sure not to confuse commitment with age – it’s not uncommon for younger workers and graduates to have shorter lengths of time in their roles as they build experience quickly to pursue a career. Equally so, it’s not unusual to see older candidates with more extensive periods of employment in each of their placements. There’re exceptions to every rule, and everyone is different. Because of that, the best course of action is to lay your cards out on the table – ask! There’s no need to be accusatory or imply negativity, but it’s okay to discuss ambitions, aspirations and future plans (as long as it’s professional and doesn’t cross into personal plans such as family or partnerships).

Eagerness and Interest

It’s easy to know how keen you are on each candidate but turn the tables for five minutes. Did they seem happy to be interviewing with you?

Regardless of experience, someone who doesn’t want to work for your company won’t be giving you 100%. When you interviewed them, were they excited? Smiling? Asking questions? If you found it easy to get a real dialogue going with the candidate without it feeling ingenuine or forced, you’re probably onto a winner.

Of course, once again, this goes both ways. To keep an atmosphere where candidates can show their excitement, you have to meet it with your own. How can anyone be excited to work for a place where their co-workers aren’t excited themselves? Everyone gets nervous when it comes to interviews. Nurture their enthusiasm – ask questions with a smile, meet their answers with responses that show you’ve listened. If they’re still not particularly responsive to you, it could be a red flag that their heart isn’t in it.

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