Choose the Best Candidate, Not the Most Obvious One [680 words]

When you make a decision about your own career, you want to consider the most important factors and make the best choice. If you are a hiring manager, you must also make decisions about other people’s careers. Taking on this level of responsibility requires you to understand and guard against your own biases. After all, your objective is to choose the best candidate, not the most obvious one. This article provides some insights into making more informed hiring decisions.

Preparation Is Critical

If you’ve done your homework, you’ve already positioned yourself to make a good hiring decision. By carefully crafting and strategically distributing the job description for your posting, you have ensured that your slate of candidates is as diverse as possible. You’ve followed scoring criteria for evaluating resumes and conducting fair interviews. Now it’s time to for the hard work: making a hiring decision.

Choose the Best Candidate with Predetermined Criteria

You should already have a weighted scoring system for the job’s key qualifications. When all the interviews are complete, compare your scores with those of other interviewers. Be sure to talk about differences in the scores.  If someone has reservations about a particular applicant, dig into their concerns to find out why. Do those concerns reflect the limitations of the candidate or the biases of the interviewer? Be diligent in uncovering interviewers’ biases.

One way to check your process is to be very transparent with your applicants and with the existing team. If you can clearly state how your “winning” candidate scored relative to other applicants, you’ve probably done a good job. On the other hand, being unable (or afraid) to articulate what drove your decision is a sign that you made a biased hiring decision.

Break Scoring Ties with a Skills Assessment or Work Simulation

Even the best scoring criteria can result in ties or results that are “too close to call.” When you have two or more applicants that seem very similarly qualified, there are a number of ways to break the tie without relying on your gut.

  • Ask your finalists to complete a skills assessment or aptitude test.
  • Provide your finalists with a real-life problem that your team or company is facing.
  • Request a writing sample.
  • Schedule time for them to deliver a presentation or a similar indicator of how they would perform on the job.

Whichever method you use, ensure once again that your evaluation criteria are determined in advance. Then add the new data together with the original resume and interview scores. In other words, try to make your decision as objective as possible. That way, you can really drive to the best decision, not the candidate that you like the best.

Remember that Soft Skills Are “Teachable” Too

Many employers admit to secretly administering a “beer test” in interviews. The “beer test” is a measure of likability and is a direct expression of our affinity biases. If likability is important to you, make it factor in your criteria. Just don’t make it the only criteria, nor the most important one.  Remember that your goal is to choose the best candidate for the job, not the best candidate for you.

Keep in mind that soft skills, including likability, can be taught. Often, managers think that we can only teach technical skills. When we think this way, we’re really missing the boat. We may have people who are very technically capable but who lack some of the soft skills. But none of us was born knowing how to have empathy. We weren’t born knowing how to present to a room of people. And most of us weren’t born good listeners.

We had to learn those skills, too, at some point. Maybe we’ve turned them into strengths, or maybe we just grit our teeth and continue working on them. Regardless, we acquired them somehow. Challenge yourself and your leadership team with questions about how can you help the highest-scoring candidate improve the skills (whether technical or interpersonal) that they lack. That way, you’ll be sure to choose the best candidate from the applicant pool.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at

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4 responses to “Choose the Best Candidate, Not the Most Obvious One [680 words]”
  1. […] of hiring managers. They claim to want the best person. They claim to make decisions based on merit. And they claim to support their own inclusion policies. Despite these claims, they overlook the […]

  2. […] a role needs to be filled, someone has to find candidates for the job. Recruiters don’t work for free, nor should they! It’s not an insignificant amount […]

  3. […] Review job descriptions for bias, create a system for reviewing resumes, implement training for conducting interviews. Look in new places to be sure your talent pipeline isn’t artificially limited to exclude […]

  4. […] challenge other hiring managers to challenge their biases and find ways to give all applicants a fair chance. Had the hiring manager cited above done just then this blog post might not have happened. As it […]

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