How to Choose between Two Great Job Candidates

Finding great job candidates is hard. With the unemployment rate consistently dropping and the number of new job openings skyrocketing, it seems like everybody has their sights on finding the hottest talent in the job market.

However, there is such a thing as a good problem to have. Imagine finding not one, but TWO excellent candidates for a job! At first, you’re thrilled, but then you realize – you’ll have to make a call and choose one of the two.

Choosing between two candidates can be extremely difficult, even for an experienced HR professional, let alone a startup CEO without an HR background. Here are some great ways to assess which of the two great candidates you should hire.

Figure out who wants you more

At the end of the day, your candidates want a new place to work, as much as you need a new workforce. However, not everyone will have the same desire and eagerness to work for you – and this is a factor you should include in your decision.

Candidates who are already employed and just looking to make a change will probably be less motivated to start working than those who desperately need a job. This will show in their application, correspondence and the interview. However, don’t make any rash decisions - there are different signs that show which candidate is more passionate to get a job.

Since you’re at the evaluation stage, you probably had at least one or two interviews with both candidates. Here are some of the things to look back to:

-        Who asked more questions?

-        Who seemed more engaged during the interview?

-        Who informed themselves better about your company?

-        Who was quicker to catch up after the interview?

With these questions, you can estimate the more enthusiastic of the two candidates and give them the upper hand.

If all else fails, there’s the simplest test in the book – ask the candidates why you should hire them. They will reveal their motivations to get the job, as well as sell themselves and show what they bring to the table.

Finally, don’t forget to trust your instinct, as your gut can probably tell you which of the two wants the job more.

Look at the long-term plan

The hire that you take on is an investment that pays off in months and years to come. It’s more than settling for whoever comes along to fill the vacancy and you should consider your future company needs when bringing on a new team member.

Look at which of the two candidates brings a wider set of skills and more expertise. I’ve had to hire a few writers in the past, and this was one of my main guidelines. If I had to choose between a writer that can write and a writer that can write, do keyword research, optimize articles for SEO and post them on WordPress, I would always choose the latter one.

Perhaps you fall into a different category and you believe that a jack of all trades is a master of none. In that case, simply go for the candidate that does one thing exceptionally well and don’t look back.

It’s not just about the skills at the moment they apply – a candidate that has a wide skill set shows a penchant for learning and mastering their field of expertise (and beyond). Looking at the long term, they’re the better choice because they’ll work on themselves and grow with your company.

Take a look back

When choosing between two candidates for the future of your company, it’s good practice to look back at their previous performance. Since you’re left with the best of the best, devote some time and do a proper reference check for each. If you’re not doing any reference checks, you’re missing out, as eight out of ten HR professionals check references in some form.

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First, take a look at their work history. Do they have a habit of job hopping, i.e. changing jobs very frequently? Job hopping could be a sign that the candidate has poor performance (or some other problems) and they get fired from their job frequently. It could also mean that they change positions for a pay raise, which is a fairly common practice.

Similarly, take notice of any large employment gaps, taking more than several months. They could occur because of health and other personal problems, but the candidate may be withholding information about a workplace as well.

Finally, do ring up some previous employers and ask around about the candidates’ performance. Often times, you will get valuable insights that you won’t be able to gather any other way.

Do a test

Skills tests are usually used at the beginning or in the middle of the interview process. In this particular case, having two great candidates to choose from means they already showed a required skill-set and a significant knowledge about the role. So, why do the test?

Skills test can be used to go deeper into candidates’ knowledge and asses their experience on specific requirements. For example, a short test covering only one significant part of the job can help figure out which candidate can bring more value. Additionally, you can test the secondary skills needed for the job to measure whose scope is wider. Or, you can simply do a test about soft skills and a cultural fit with your company.

At the end of the day, that last thing you need is spending too much time deciding. A test gives you a simple way to make a decision by measuring what you’re interested in and having a clear result which candidate is better.

Have a trial period

At Toggl (and Hundred5), the hiring process is very streamlined so that we ensure we get the best person for the job. One part of the hiring process is a paid trial period for each candidate before they join our team as full-time employees.

Once we nail down our best candidates and we’re left with a handful, we put them to the most realistic test there is – actually working with us. For about 3-5 days, potential employees work alongside the team so they get to know us and we get to know them, as we did with our SEO manager.

It can happen that a candidate seems promising on paper, even their interview is fantastic, but in the end, their actual job performance is lackluster. Trial periods are just the thing to prevent this from happening. However, there are several things to keep in mind.

-       The trial period should be paid (work is more meaningful)

-    Provide candidates with just enough info (not too much to disclose sensitive information, enough to get the job done)

-        Be flexible about the time (they may be still working in another position)

By having candidates stick around for a few days and attend team meetings, you’ll be able to assess their actual performance in the workplace. As an added bonus, you can see how well they fit into your team and company culture. Speaking of which…

Test for company culture fit

Depending on the company, culture may not be the highest on the list of priorities when taking on someone new, but when choosing between two candidates, it just might be the deciding element. Unfortunately, culture is not that easy to assess.

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One way to do it is to invite both candidates (ideally not at the same time) for lunch and see how they behave in a more informal setting. In interviews, there’s a lot of pressure on candidates and they may put on a façade to show themselves in their best light. This is why you need to see their behavior outside of the office and see if they could fit into your team culture.

A great startup I worked for has a practice of inviting every solid candidate for an interview during office hours and introducing them to the rest of the team. As I first came in, I could get a sense of the atmosphere, the people that work there, the environment – all of the things that the job ad doesn’t state.

Likewise, they could get a chance to see what I was like as well. Later on, we hired more people during my time there, and each of them came in to meet us. The boss asked everyone in the office about their gut feeling about the new candidate, and most of us had similar opinions.

As an added bonus, asking your current employees what they think about someone who’s about to join the team will make them realize that you trust their judgment and value their opinions.

Trust your gut feeling

There’s one thing you cannot measure – your own personal feeling about a candidate. Even the best recruiters out there use a mix of rational evidence and their own sixth sense to find the best person for the job.

If you’re a startup CEO, you probably don’t have the same experience, but do consider what your gut is telling you. On the other hand, try not to be too biased because of something you have in common with the candidate, such as the same university, living in the same part of town, having similar hobbies etc.

Hire both candidates

Let’s face the truth – how often does it happen to find one great candidate, let alone two of them? Seize the opportunity and hire both candidates, because you may not have a chance to find a great employee like that any time soon.

There’s a tiny issue of budget though. If you’re strapped for cash at the moment, you may not have the financial capabilities to hire both of them at the same time. However, your business needs may change very quickly and rapid growth may force you to look for new staff – and you’ll be sorry you missed out on someone great because you couldn’t afford it at the time.

Let them choose

Before you make a decision, realize that there are two sides to the hiring process. Just as you may have preferences for one candidate, they might not have a preference for you. Present the candidate with an offer, including the salary, vacation, health insurance and all other benefits. One of the candidates may not like the offer, or they’re simply shooting for a better salary, which will make your job easier.


In the end, if you’re choosing between two great candidates, consider it a great opportunity and not a problem. Whatever happens, you’ll get a great employee on your team. Just make sure to keep the hiring process quick and streamlined, because great talent doesn’t stay in the job market for very long, and if you wait too long to make a decision, you may end up losing both candidates.



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