Best Way to Make a Decision on Picking the Right Candidate after Interviews

After all you have been through—both as interviewer and as interviewee—it would be nice if you could plug the infor­mation you gathered from the interview into a computer, press a button, and wait for the correct decision. But no such luck. Worse, not only can’t you get the right answer from a computer, no expert can give it to you either.

Principles of Decision Making

What I can do, however, is suggest ten principles that may help you arrive at a sensible decision.

Right Candidate Best Way to Make a Decision on Picking the Right Candidate after Interviews

  • Know your criteria for hiring, or for choosing a posi­tion and apply them, using all information available to you. All of that preparatory work is necessary not only for conducting a good interview, but also for making a sound deci­sion. Once you’ve gathered the information you need, you must match it to your criteria.
  • Be sure to use all information available, not only what you hear in the interview. For example, an interviewee should observe how employees greet and treat one another during the course of an inter­view day because that may reveal a good deal about the working environment. Similarly, as an inter­viewer, you may learn quite a lot about a candidate’s personal skills from how courteous he is to your secretary or the receptionist, and a good deal about an interviewee’s common sense or judgment from what he bills on an expense-reimbursement form or chooses to charge at the hotel where you put him up.
  • Identify the most important criteria for you. No candidate or job will have everything. Unless you have established some priority to your criteria, you will have difficulty making your decision. Often this is more of a problem for the interviewee than for the interviewer. Most interviewees have not had many job experiences, which makes it difficult to rank your job criteria.

It’s a bit like how I felt when I was buying my first house. I had lived in apartments all my life. Now I was trying to compare a house that had a powder room on the first floor to another that was two blocks closer to the train. Without experience, it’s not easy to judge the relative importance of those two criteria.

  • Evaluate the ease of acquiring (or the difficulty of changing) the characteristic in question.   An inter­viewee who has not picked up the jargon of the trade yet, but who has all of the required job skills, may pick up that jargon quite quickly. But a candi­date whose resume has two typographical errors is probably not well suited for a proofreader position.

To return to the analogy of buying a house, it would be far easier to add a powder room than it would be to move the house closer to the train. On the other hand, it may be easier to adjust to a longer walk to the train (or to find a substitute) than it would be to have no powder room. Well, nobody said decision making was easy.

  • Consider the extent to which the characteristic is lack­ing. For example, if salary is important, does the job you are considering pay only marginally below what you had hoped, or significantly below that goal? If you are looking for a candidate who is articu­late, ask if the interviewee is merely marginally below that standard or totally unable to communicate?
  • Consider the impact of the lack of that characteris­tic. For an employer, to what extent will the defi­ciency impede the candidate performing the key functions of the job? Are there other ways of com­pensating for this deficiency, perhaps by shifting cer­tain responsibilities to another employee?

For the employee, will this deficiency make you miserable on the job, or be only a minor annoyance? Is it a problem you will confront daily, or only once or twice a year?

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Distinguish between a short-term and a long-term problem. A candidate, for example, would be foolish to let a job decision be affected by an unsatis­factory physical office environment if he knew the employer was moving to new and improved offices within six months.

  • Take into account how strong the other characteristics of the candidate or the other aspects of the job are. You may be far more willing to tolerate long hours in a job that pays extremely well or involves interesting work than you would in a position that pays only modestly and does not provide much of a challenge. Similarly, an employer who encounters a candidate with extraordinary technical skills may put up with a few rough edges in the candidate’s personality.
  • Do not lose sight of the standards you are applying. It is easy for an employer to extend offers to candidates because they are “as good as” or “just about as good as” some other marginal candidate to whom they have already extended an offer. This least com­mon denominator approach inevitably leads to a devaluation and erosion of your standards, resulting eventually in hiring people who are ill-suited for the position.

At the same time, employers should be aware of the natural tendency to become conservative about extending offers. Though passing up a potentially good candidate may be a less expensive mistake than hiring one who turns out not to be qualified, if you always make the safe decision, you’re bound to pass up a lot of good people (and a disproportionate number of those passed up are likely to be minori­ties).

  • Consider the opinions of others, but consider also the others whose opinions you are considering. An employer may gather comments from eight or ten different employees who have interviewed the candi­date. Some of those people may be extremely hard graders, others may like virtually everyone they see. Some of those people may be inclined to be turned off or overly impressed by a single characteristic of the candidate. (Old Joe, who loves anybody who went to Harvard. Or Heather, who thinks all football players are brain-dead.) It’s extremely important that you be aware of those predilections in putting the opinions of others into the hopper and arriving at your decision.

Likewise, candidates may seek the advice of oth­ers in making their decisions. If you do, make sure the values and priorities of the people whose opin­ions you are seeking comport with your own (or if they do not, take those differences into consider­ation). Make sure you learn whether the opinions you get are based upon firsthand experience or are two or three people removed. If you are talking to somebody with firsthand experience, make sure his views are not colored by his having been dismissed by or not having been extended an offer by the company. Also, make sure that whatever views you obtain are not out-of-date. Companies, like people, change.

  • Don’t be too soft. As an interviewer or an inter­viewee, you are likely to run into situations in which you genuinely like the person on the other side of the table. Great. But don’t let that unduly color your decision.

An employer is not doing a favor to a candidate who is not qualified for the position by extending her an offer because she likes her. Conversely, an interviewee may find it hard to turn down an inter­viewer who he genuinely likes and who has been very solicitous of his needs during the recruitment process. Indeed, interviewees often mistakenly think they are breaking the interviewer’s heart by turning him down.

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When I was interviewing, I got many letters like the following:

Dear Mr. Williams:

I would like to thank you for taking time to interview with me at the University of-and for your generous invitation for a second interview in Chicago. I am honored that a firm with your distinction and clientele would even be interested in me. Unfortunately, I will be unable to accept your invitation for a visit to Chicago. I assure you that my decision is in no way a reflection of my high respect for you or your firm. In large part, my decision is the result of a number of previous commitments to interview with other firms.

The fellow who wrote this letter thought I’d be devastated by his news. But typically, by the time a candidate’s letter arrives it is tough to place just who the heck the person was. Though that may be tough for an interviewee to swallow, it should help you to put things into perspective.

Where you have formed a particularly strong rela­tionship with an interviewer or interviewee, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining contact with that person, as a friend. Just don’t let the fact that you like the other person lead you to make a poor job or hiring decision.

  • Avoid making decisions when the pressure is on. Some of the worst hiring decisions are made in extremis. I have seen many employers make expen­sive hiring mistakes because they were in such imme­diate need of somebody to fill a slot that they hired the first person to come along. Plan in advance to avoid those crunches. And, if they occur despite your best efforts, involve some dispassionate people in the decision-making process, people who are not feeling the pressure to hire because the person is not being hired into their area.

For interviewees, the pressure is often self­-imposed. Don’t place false pressure on yourself to make a decision. You have enough legitimate pres­sure, sometimes imposed by employers who set unreasonably short deadlines for you to accept their offer. Often you can negotiate an extension of that deadline, if you have a real need for more time. And, if you are unable to extend the deadline, con­sider seriously whether you want to work for that employer, anyway. If a company places that sort of pressure on you even before you have come to work, what will it be like after you have arrived?

Finally—decide. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for applying sound judgment, and just deciding. Once you have all the information, agonizing over your decision for too long a period will only serve to alienate the other person.

As a hiring partner, almost every hiring season there was at least one candidate who I hoped would turn down our offer. By the time the decision date arrived, this candidate had called repeatedly, visited the firm several additional times, and seemed completely incapable of making a deci­sion. I was convinced we had make an error in extending an offer to the candidate.

Right Candidate 2 Best Way to Make a Decision on Picking the Right Candidate after InterviewsThe same holds true for interviewees confronted with employers who are incapable of making a decision. The message to the interviewee is that she is dealing either with an indecisive company or one that is not interested in her, or both.

Remember that almost every decision you make is a compromise. Focus on making the best available choice, not a perfect one. Then decide.

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