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Selecting the Best Candidate

Tips for Evaluating Candidates

At each stage of the hiring process, the candidate pool gets smaller. From dozens of resumes, you might interview five or six applicants. From there, you have to choose who you’ll test and hire. But where should you start? Consider these three areas when narrowing the field of candidates:

Education and Skills
Beyond a general overview of degrees or schools, a candidate’s education can indicate a willingness to learn new talents or a strong interest in a current field. While assessing candidates by their education or skills is helpful for all positions, it’s especially critical for entry-level roles – where candidates may not have a lot of experience – or technical positions, where highly specific knowledge is required. You may want to put less weight on these qualifications for higher level positions that require a significant amount of experience and where education may be outdated.
For mid-level or managerial positions, experience is a must. After all, there’s no real substitute for on-the-job knowledge or training, which employees in higher roles can help pass on to their direct reports or other team members. Be careful when using experience to evaluate candidates for entry-level jobs, however. Many recent college graduates complain about the experience catch-22: To get experience in entry-level positions, they need to already have experience within the industry. Instead of looking for direct experience, try to evaluate entry-level candidates by transferable and soft skills. Also, keep in mind that not all experience is good experience. People can get stuck in their ways or, worse, take on bad habits from toxic workplaces.
Proponents of “hiring for fit” – which is largely based on an applicant’s personality – argue that you can always train employees on new skills, but you can’t train people to have a good attitude. There’s some weight to this argument since, with the right attitude, people are open to learning new skills and taking on extra tasks. Personality can be hard to accurately read, however. Some people get nervous during interviews while others put on extra charm to win the job. You can help calm candidates’ nerves by engaging in lighthearted small talk during the interview. By thoroughly checking references, you may be able to hear from previous employers about how applicants really act.

When evaluating candidates by these three factors, consider what the position truly calls for. Review the job requirements and rank them against your priorities. For example, if you’re hiring for an IT position, an applicant with a top-notch education and five years of experience may be better than one who is less skilled but has a friendly demeanor. When looking for a customer service representative, a candidate who has a great personality and previous experience may be better than one with a higher education level. Applicants with strong, recent educational qualifications and can-do attitudes may be a better fit for entry-level marketing positions than those with previous experience at high-stress agencies.

Informing Unsuccessful Applicants

It’s easy to extend a job offer to the candidate you decide to hire – but it’s not so easy to reject the applicants who didn’t get the position. While it can be hard to deliver bad news, it’s important to reach out to unsuccessful applicants and let them know they’re no longer in consideration for the job. Otherwise, candidates may form a bad impression about your business and spread negative feedback among other jobseekers or through social media. Depending on the type of candidate, here are some ways to make the rejection easier.

Candidates who applied but didn’t interview

For candidates who applied but were not interviewed, you can send rejection letters before you’ve even started interviewing. You can send a standard form letter (although be sure to personalize it with the candidate’s name and the position applied for) to let them know they are no longer in consideration for the job. Letters should be straightforward and state that, after careful consideration, the candidate was not selected for an interview. Make sure to thank candidates for their interest and time, and wish them luck on their job search.

Candidates who interviewed

Once you’ve interviewed an applicant and met with him or her, you may want to deliver the news in a more personal way than a form letter, especially if the candidate has gone through multiple rounds of interviews. You should still send interviewed candidates a letter, but you may want to preface it with a brief phone call to let them hear the news first. The letter you send to these applicants should be more personalized than your standard rejection form letter, but it should be along the same lines: a straightforward rejection and thanks for their time and interest. If you think any applicants would be a good fit for other positions within your company, encourage them to apply again in the future or for another open position.

For candidates who explicitly ask for feedback, you may want to include this in the letter, too – but be careful: It’s okay to offer some insight as to why you opted for another candidate, but make sure your wording is completely free from any phrases that could be seen as discriminatory. For example, saying you decided to hire someone fresh out of college with less experience may be seen as age discrimination.

Internal candidates

Since they already work for you, internal candidates deserve a more personal rejection, too, regardless of whether or not they were interviewed. You should always meet with internal candidates in person to discuss why they weren’t selected. Rather than focusing on negative or critical feedback, offer guidance on how they can better position themselves for the role in the future. Give them action items – like taking on a specific task or enrolling in a training program – instead of vague directions so they can see how progression is possible.

Guidelines and pointers

No matter which kind of candidate you’re rejecting, it’s important to be direct and tell them, in a straightforward manner, that they’re no longer in consideration for the role. If you try to sugarcoat or sidestep the actual rejection, you may be creating false hope. Similarly, if candidates aren’t a good fit for your company or the role, don’t invite them to reapply at your company or tell them you’ll keep their application materials on file. Thank them for their time and interest, but don’t encourage them if you know they’re not a good match.

While you are rejecting candidates, you may want to avoid using the words “rejection” or “rejecting” when speaking to applicants. These words have a negative connotation, and people tend to take rejection personally. Instead, use other phrases, such as “We will not be proceeding with your job application,” or “We are declining your job application.”

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Shanna Wall, Esq.
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