How does a leader pick the right person when all candidates appear to be equally qualified?
This is a common question posed to leaders; but it’s one that has no answer.
The question is flawed; it’s based on an incorrect assumption.
It assumes that two candidates can be equally qualified.
The fact is that no two individuals are “equally qualified”; no two people possess identical capabilities in terms of creating value for the organization.
The question assumes identical academic achievements in the same discipline (never happens); equal experience (never happens), equal skills (never happens) and equal potential (never happens).
If a leader can’t choose because they are unable to see the the differences in individuals , they’re failing in their role.
If they do not have the insight necessary to break down common stereotypes in people, they are unlikely to be able to develop amazingly successful teams.
For those leaders who have difficulty seeing the differences in people these are the necessary actions to take.
Usher yourself out
Leave and seek another opportunity if you can’t see the difference in people. Because if you stay you are likely to make bad people decisions and rob your organization.
The right thing to do is own up to your leadership deficiency and leave.
Ask more detailed questions of the candidates
Ask questions that probe their DNA. I was hiring a VP Marketing and the candidate had a history of Greek dancing. I asked why it mattered to the marketing leadership position and how they would apply the dancing skill to the position he was applying for.
His answer was threaded with skills like creativity, spontaneity and risk taking which were helpful in painting a picture of what he was all about.
You can’t discover differences in people if you don’t probe in detail how their skills and experience could be applied specifically to the job in question.
Insist that they ask you the top 3 questions on their mind as a candidate
This will tell you what they think is important (and how well they prepared for the interview) and how well they can focus on the few things that are truly important.
I would frame the question this way: “If I make my decision to hire you based on 3 questions you feel are vital to ask me, what would they be?”
This question separates the ramblers from those that can pinpoint their interests in a few words — good to know; the crowd has difficulty doing this.
Test their understanding of your company
Ask tough questions on your products and services, main competitors, strategic partnerships and financial performance to see if they have done their homework.
I would ask each person to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on how well they think they understood our organization and the priorities it had — amazing how you can spot the bullshit.
Truly committed candidates will have thoroughly researched your organization and will standout from others you are interviewing.
Ask them “If you were to be hit by a bus and killed what would you be remembered for?”
And ask for a one word answer. What THEY define as their special redeeming value is critical information to test whether their is a fit between the candidate and the values of the organization.
Ask “What do you mean?” questions based on their one word reply to bring out what they specifically mean answer. Most replies tend to be high level and vague — “I think I will be remembered for my generosity” which tells you little about the actions they would take (and the values they live) to be generous.
Have more than one person engaged in the interview
It could be a peer but it could also be a high potential junior level manager who would gain from the experience of sitting in.
I used to invite who I considered high potential employees to sit in on candidate interview for positions more senior than theirs.
They were blown away by the trust I gave them; they returned my trust with creative questions that reflected a more inclusive view of what the organization deemed important.
Ask them what they learned from their grandmother
Grandmothers have amazing life smarts that are unmatched by most others and represent an amazing source of mentorship.
Discover what your candidates have learned about life that can be traced back to an old soul who has forgotten more life lessons than most of us will ever learn.
Individuals who can see the wisdom in experience have much to offer, and will show themselves as different from their “equals”.
Recruiting top talent is an incredibly tough job. Don’t make it even more difficult by assuming any two candidates are equally qualified.
Your job as leader is to discover their differences and select the one whose unique attributes exactly match the needs of the organization.
If you don’t see the inequality between candidates, look closer; dig deeper.