How Employers Choose From Among Many Great Candidates

A look at how hiring managers make hiring decisions in a job market like this.

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Alison Green
I wrote recently about the fact that lots of great job candidates are getting rejected these days because there are more good candidates than there are jobs available in this job market. When I have tons of great candidates and only one slot to fill, it's a certainty that lots are going to get rejected. My point was that job seekers shouldn't beat themselves up because it's (probably) not them—it's the market.

In response, a few people asked how employers do make a decision when they have so many great candidates to choose from. Is it random selection?

[See how to stay on an employer's radar after a job rejection.]

When hiring managers have the luxury of many outstanding candidates to pick from—such that any of them would seem likely to do an excellent job—here are the factors that usually help make the decision:

  • Among a group of great candidates, are any "more great" than others? I often find myself with many candidates I'd be happy to hire, but one in particular who stands out as the dream candidate. Maybe it's her experience, or writing, or industry knowledge. It's the kind of thing that doesn't reflect poorly on the other good candidates, but can make one person stand out as the one to hire in a strong group.
    • How is each candidate likely to get along with the manager? Is the manager's management style likely to be an especially good or bad fit with any of them?
      • How much does each candidate fit with the company's culture? Do any seem like they'd easily embrace the culture, and do any seem like they'd struggle to assimilate? Company culture matters because it's the invisible force that controls "how we do things here."
      • [See how to deal with job rejection.]

        • How much does each candidate seem to want this particular job? I'd rather have a candidate who's going to be excited to come to work and will stay a long time than one who sees it as "just business."
          • Who do we most want to work with? All other things being equal, maybe one candidate seems especially on our wavelength (and thus easy to work with), or especially likely to bring cheer into the office, or markedly equipped to handle the office's difficult personalities.
            • Does anyone bring a "bonus" that isn't a job requirement but that would help our work, such as fluency in another language or professional copy-editing skills?
            • Keep in mind, though, that in a job market like this one, with more great candidates than jobs, you can be fantastic and still lose out to someone else. It doesn’t say anything about you; it says something about math.

              Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.