Sterling Strand

Spoiled for Choice: How to Decide Between Two Great Candidates

At Sterling Strand, we fundamentally believe that a high-quality search should be complete once you have met 5-20 candidates (10-12 being the sweet spot). Of those, you move 4-6 through to the “face-to-face” stage and then choose a finalist and a backup candidate. What a result! You’ve followed your hiring process, and you’ve identified two great contenders for the role you need to fill. It sounds like a good problem to have but being spoiled for choice comes with its challenges, such as feeling paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong decision. We all know time kills all deals, so waiting too long to decide could result in losing one or both candidates. So how do you effectively make the right choice?


1) Back to The Basics: Establish the problems you need to solve

Whether you have worked with us before or are working with us right now, you know that we encourage you to evaluate candidates by using a structured interview process that we specifically tailor toward your job requirements. Suppose you find yourself in a situation where two candidates generally tick all the boxes. In that case, it is important to evaluate their skills based on your priority needs. For example, you need to hire a VP of Finance. Candidate 1 generally scored higher on all competencies, but Candidate 2 has more experience in the industry you’re operating in. You might decide that industry experience is more important than the required skills. On top of that, in situations of being able to pick between two candidates, evaluating their future potential for growth within your company should not be overlooked.


2) Emphasize The How: Determine values and/or cultural alignment

Next, consider the hard skills (e.g., content knowledge or technical abilities) required for a job and soft skills (e.g., emotional intelligence or problem-solving) that influence a candidate’s overall success within the organization. They determine how well an individual will connect with your team. It’s essential to test for soft skills using a structured interview process to understand if a candidate has successfully spent time in environments like yours or if they are specifically looking for the values and culture you have created. Maybe a candidate has chosen previous companies that were culturally different from yours — why is that and what do they want now? Next to testing for this in a structured interview, spending time with the candidates in a more personal setting (coffee chat, lunch break, dinner, etc.) can help you make an informed decision.


3) Candidates’ Enthusiasm: Consider their needs and wants

We continue to find ourselves in a competitive market for top talent, so hiring is always a two-way street. You must determine if you can actually get your finalist and/or backup candidate to join your company. Therefore, before you choose, you should consider which contender is more closable and excited about you from a role, scope, and compensation perspective. That matters because a) chasing a unicorn could mean you lose the other person in the meantime and end up with no options, and b) having someone join who is super jazzed about you will matter and they will go the extra mile when they arrive. Always ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you able to match up to candidates’ demands and needs? (think salary, location, level, etc.)
  • Are you losing out on either candidate if you don’t make an immediate offer?
  • Is the scope of the role on par with their expectations?

This is also a great time to utilize your search partner. Having a neutral party put your candidates on the spot often results in open and honest communication and thus leads to gaining more information and answers quickly.


4) Still Not Sure: Consult Others

You have asked yourself the questions above but choosing between two candidates still seems impossible. In this case, share your thought process with others. Talk it out with your trusted and objective colleagues, maybe do another debrief with those involved in the hiring process. and get their take on the matter. Another way would be to conduct references on each candidate before moving to the official offer stage.  Consulting others may reveal new information you hadn’t thought of before, which will help you make a decision.


So, where does this leave us? Overall, the great news is that when you are in a position to choose between two candidates, chances are pretty darn good that you end up with a fantastic hire, and considering the above will help you make the right choice.