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Determine the Best Candidate

Determine the Best Candidate

It's an excruciating situation for managers: You're down to a few equally qualified candidates for one key position. How do you make an informed choice? The pain can be mitigated by knowing what questions to ask and how to assess each candidate's answers.

"Well-thought-out, scripted questions, written specifically for each job and asked to each and every candidate, are critical to every interview," says Lissa Weimelt, principal of The Hiring Experts, a retained executive search company. "Managers need to predetermine key success factors — not skills or experience — needed in the job or company."

These strategies will help you get the information you need to make the right decision.

Identifying Success Factors

According to Weimelt, success factors include a candidate's character traits, habits, motivators, teamwork skills, reaction to failure or success, and ability to manage stress or change. She urges managers to listen carefully for clues to the candidate's approach to each one. At the end of the candidate's answer, ask yourself: What did I learn about her that translates to success in our company?

It's also helpful to understand candidates' weaknesses. Can they be coached to improve? Also, determine their motivation for job hunting. Are they running from something or to new opportunities?

Questions to Differentiate Candidates

Corporate consultant Curtis Crawford, founder, president and CEO of XCEO and author of Corporate Rise: The X Principles of Extreme Personal Leadership, recommends asking these questions to help reveal key differences among candidates:

  • Considering we have three reasonably similar and extremely well-qualified candidates for this position, what are the significant attributes you believe you offer that should substantially differentiate you from the others? Why should we select you as the next XCEO employee?
  • Do you believe there is a significant difference between invention and innovation? If so, please share your perspective.
  • How do you describe your long-term career aspirations, and what do you expect from this company in your pursuit?
  • Do you believe that XCEO should place a higher value on managers who have consistently produced outstanding financial results or those who consistently demonstrate the ability to develop successful employees?

Questions to Aid Decision Making

Crawford says the following questions are useful when making tough hiring decisions:

  • Which is most important to you: money, power or prestige? If none of the above, what motivates you to perform at your highest capability?
  • Since we are not the current leader in our industry, if you had an opportunity to work for either us or our main competitor, which company would you choose? Why?
  • What motivates you to pursue and ultimately achieve outstanding results, and what do you consider the best reward for great work?
  • Are role models important to you? If so, do you have any professional or personal role models who inspire you to achieve greatness? Are you comfortable sharing them with me, or would you prefer to keep it personal?
  • What is the one word you believe best describes your style?

Questions that Surprise Candidates — and Prompt Revealing Answers

Management consultant Regina Barr, owner of Red Ladder, suggests looking for the "flinch factor": Ask questions that may surprise the candidate, and take note of not only the answers but also body language and the reaction to a pressure situation. Consider these examples:

  • Tell me about one of your biggest failures. What did you learn from the experience?
  • Tell me about something you did that you regret. Why did you do it, and what did you learn from it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to conform to a policy you disagreed with. Describe that experience and your response to it.

Marni Hockenberg, principal of The Hiring Experts, cautions that "some managers dig to find the reason not to hire a qualified candidate. If you look long enough, reasonable doubt exists in any candidate." Having a structured interview process will help you identify someone who is a good fit and get your next good employee on board more quickly.