When all candidates are equal, who gets picked?

Every so often I get lucky and I submit to an executive recruiting client candidates who are so good that the client cannot choose between them. Usually it’s between two, but, on occasion, there have been three.

Then I get the phone call. “Bruce, we can’t decide who to choose. What do you advise?”

This one is simple: The best employers know that they have to hire candidates with two qualities. First, the candidate has to be smarter than they are. Why? Because, assuming it’s not an entry level position, if the candidate is not as smart as the employer then the employer is going to have to micromanage which is a waste of time. If the candidate is as smart as the employer, the company will stagnate. But hiring candidates who are smarter than the employer means the employer’s company will grow and prosper.

Second, the candidate has to be liked. They have to be a cultural fit. So if the employer and his staff all feel comfortable hiring either candidate then it all comes down to likeability. So here is the question that always works:

Gather your team together. Don’t have any discussion. Give each person around the table a piece of paper. Ask them the following question: Which candidate would you prefer to be stuck in an elevator alone with for three hours? Have them write the name of the candidate they would prefer and count the votes. All things being equal, that’s the person you hire!


Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!