Hiring the wrong person is costly.
According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, it takes a little over $4,000 on average to hire a single employee, and it takes about 42 days from start to finish.
So if you're unsure about how to hire between two candidates, it can be a weighty decision to make, especially if your business doesn't have a lot of margin for error.
Although difficult, needing to choose between two strong job applicants is overall a favorable circumstance to be in as an employer.
And with the right selection criteria, the chances are high that you'll gain an outstanding new hire.
Here's what to consider when picking between two great candidates.
3 strategies to avoid when hiring between two candidates
First, let's explore some common hiring tendencies that can lead you away from the best candidate in this situation.
1. Weighing personality too heavily
Depending on the interview format (in-person, video call or audio), candidates' personalities can be hard to judge in just a few meetings.
On top of that, everyone you interview is going to be somewhat nervous, and some people handle nerves better than others.
For these reasons, personality as a selection criterion can be misleading and usually isn't the best factor on which to base your final hiring decisions.
2. Over-emphasizing cultural fit
Along the same lines is the tendency to put too much emphasis on cultural fit.
Even if you're part of a family-owned business, and even if you have a distinct company culture, remember that your workplace is not a family.
Your workplace is really there to accomplish something - to sell a product or provide a service.
If you over-emphasize cultural fit when you're hiring, it's easy to forget the primary goal - to choose someone who will help your business to do its mission better and maybe even to stretch you a little bit.
3. Trying to duplicate a predecessor
If you're hiring to replace a high-performing employee, you may be convinced you need to find someone just like that person to fill in the gap.
But in reality, it's better to think down the road, asking:
What are we going to need in the future?
Is there something that we can gain from this one hire that is going to make a difference for us in the future?
Is there going to be something that this person can do that will push us to be a little bit better or take us further than we've been?
The best selection criteria
Now let's focus on how you should pick between two candidates who seem well qualified.
When both candidates match your job description impeccably, have the experience you're looking for and seem to have similar skill sets, you're going to need new selection criteria to narrow your decision all the way down.
This means you get to start looking at finer details - the little indicators that you wouldn't spend as much time considering with a less competitive candidate pool.
Here are some great additional hiring factors to consider.
1. Cultural add
An extension of cultural fit, the idea of cultural add looks at a candidate's ability to bring something new (maybe something that's currently lacking) to the table.
Would either candidate bring in a unique perspective or set of experiences that would help you expand your approach to your work? Does either have something you're missing?
2. Bonus skills
When both candidates have all the required technical skills, look for additional areas of expertise that would benefit your team.
Does one candidate offer one more skill that the other might not have that would be useful to you?
3. Soft skills
Are there certain soft skills beyond the role's must-haves that would potentially improve customer interactions or team dynamics? For example:
Does one candidate seem more motivated to succeed than the other? Is one more forward thinking? Which candidate would be able to come in and contribute more quickly or more independently? Did either candidate send a thank you note after your interview?
Backing up your choice
For every hire, and especially ones where the final decision is more nuanced than usual, it's important to take steps to minimize your employer liability.
Here are some best practices:
Ensure the hiring and interview process is the same for each candidate. Ask the same interview questions. For example, if you pose a question based on a hypothetical situation, make it identical for all candidates.
Keep detailed records. Have notes on the interview questions you asked and how candidates answered.
Don't ask questions about anything that could be used to discriminate against a candidate, including but not limited to age, race, citizenship, family status, religion, or gender identity.
Making the final decision
When you've finished evaluating your top candidates yourself, it's sometimes helpful to look to outside sources for confirmation.
Seek feedback from other people who've been involved in the hiring process (and who are fairly objective).
Use an assessment to evaluate skills, job aptitude or character.
Reach out to the candidates' references or review your notes again.
When you bring all this information together, it will all add up to a picture of who a candidate is and what your company would be like with him or her on the team.
One candidate will emerge as your top choice, and you'll be ready to extend a job offer.
However, there's an alternative solution to choosing between two strong candidates - if it's possible, hire both.
Two strong candidates are more powerful than one, so if you're growing and have the money, hiring both people is a great solution.
If you're committed to just hiring one candidate, remember this idea: 'break the tie, but not the bond.'
Maintaining a relationship with the other candidate makes it more natural for you to reconnect should another opportunity open up later.
For more tips on how to attract and hire the best people for the job, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to attract, recruit and hire top talent.