Why You Should Stop Comparing Candidates When Hiring 

If you are a leader, you’ve got a challenging job. 

Leaders do many things, but making decisions is one of the most important. 

Of all the decisions leaders make, people-related choices are the most challenging. 

If you lead a church, company, organization, or team, staffing decisions are part of the job. Unfortunately, it just comes with the territory.

Of all the tough people decisions, hiring and firing are certainly toward the top. Let’s consider an element of interviewing and hiring that is rarely regarded but could be the secret to identifying your best next hire.

We’ll call it the Personnel Comparison Trap.

The Personnel Comparison Trap can infiltrate our interview and hiring processes any time we consider more than one candidate for a position. And we should always consider more than one candidate for any role; therefore, this trap is somewhat omnipresent.

Let’s pretend you have a job opening and are evaluating two candidates. The trap goes something like this:

“I like Sam because he is more charismatic than Kevin. But I like Kevin because he might personally relate better to the team. But Kevin doesn’t have as much experience as Sam, but what he lacks in experience, he seems to make up for in intellect. Of course, Sam’s no slouch, though. He’s smart and willing to learn…”

Have you been there before? Two candidates that could both probably excel in the role. Both people appear to be solid choices. Both candidates have their drawbacks. And the choice is unclear. 

Personal Experience:

I’ve watched scenarios like this play out many times during interview processes. Nearly every time I was in a position to hire a new staff member, two candidates rose to the top of our list. I always liked them both and could see either succeeding in the role. As our executive team would discuss each candidate, inevitably, we would compare one candidate to the other, weighing the pros and cons of each against the other. Each person became the benchmark for the other.

During one of these hiring debates, a leadership team member spoke up, saying, “You know, we don’t have to hire either of them.”

That statement stopped me in my comparison trap tracks because he was right.

So basic, but so incredibly insightful. I was living in the comparison trap. I was deciding who to hire by comparing the candidates against each other rather than evaluating each candidate individually against the role and team needs.

Our conversation shifted on that fundamental idea, and our evaluation of each candidate moved in tandem. Then, and only then, was I able to see each person as an individual outside of the trap. This freed our team to select the eventual hire for their specific talent and abilities against what we needed in the position at that exact moment. The job and skills necessary for the role were the final benchmarks, not the other candidate.

Avoiding the Personnel Comparison Trap in any interview process can be nearly impossible. By nature, leaders compare because any evaluation requires a benchmark, and a hiring decision is an evaluative process. In hiring, our default benchmark accidentally can become the other candidate. We compare one’s skills, strengths, and experiences to another’s. We evaluate a candidate’s resume against the other candidate’s credentials. We analyze one’s personality to the other. And through the process of comparison, we arrive at our hiring (or even firing, maybe for another post) conclusion.

But we don’t have to allow the candidate comparison trap to rule our decision-making. There is a better way.

Critical Learning for People Decisions:

When you encounter the hiring process, keep these things in mind to avoid the Personnel Comparison Trap:

1. Interview candidates in isolation. Each potential hire is a person, so we need to treat them individually. 

2. Prioritize evaluating candidates against the job description and their fit for the organization. We want to hire the best person for the job, not the best person available for the job.

3. Coach interviewers to consider each person individually. Their feedback is critical in the process, but tainted feedback leads to a contaminated process.

4. Never allow the Personnel Comparison Trap to eliminate or force a hiring decision unnecessarily. The hiring process should be painfully slow. Always wait till you find the right person, not just the best person you’ve seen thus far.

Have you ever made a hiring mistake due to the Personnel Comparison Trap? What else should we learn from our mistakes? I’d love to hear your feedback. And I’d love to know how you overcome this hiring process temptation.

How can I help?

Think of me as your CSO (Chief Strategy Officer). Partnering with ministry and marketplace leaders from innovation through implementation is why I created Transformation Solutions. I’m dedicating my time to helping leaders like you discover potential problems, design strategic solutions, and deliver the preferable future. That includes you.

Go right now to mytransformationsolutions.com and sign up for a free, 15-minute conversation to decide if working together works for you.

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2 Responses

  1. What?!? I think I might be the best person for the job!!! Haha! Just kiddin’ around. Make so much sense. I know that in my past, I have been in interviews and the employer was so desperate to fill the position they would hire me. One place I worked I had no idea what I was doing and it caused him a lot of hardship. I finally went in to talk to him about it and luckily he was so gracious and understanding and admitted that he may have jumped the gun.

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