Two Perfect Job Candidates? Here’s How to Choose

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Hiring is one of the most time consuming and agonizing responsibilities of the small business owner. We are often confronted with candidates with nearly identical categories of knowledge, skills and abilities.

How does the business owner pick just one? The one right person?

Brad Feld and Your Business Blogger have different approaches.

Brad Feld has about the best blog published for early stage companies. But I have a (rare) disagreement with him. The National Center for Women in Information Technology, NCWIT, appointed a male as the board chair. The gentleman, Brad reports, was the most qualified. And this may very well have been true.

But is competence the only criterion in hiring?
Equal Employment Opportunity

Over the years, I have been faced with this question. In two different companies, I hired a gay man and a woman, both with health concerns. In each hiring decision I had a short list of candidates who were nearly equal in track records and salary requirements.

In these two instances I hired the second best resume.

I hired not the best resume, but the best person.

Another smart Brad, Brad Reynolds, was Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under President Reagan. We once had a conversation about hiring practices. He gave me some sound advice:

When two identical candidates are being interviewed, choose the one who had to come over the roughest road to get to you.

How hard was it for the job seeker to conduct her job search? To get in my office? What hurdles? What hassles?

Group Rights vs. Individual Effort

We hear a lot of mis-information about treatment for different groups, different associations, anyone in plaid pants. But there are individuals who have had unusual life challenges and have had to negotiate a more difficult trail.

I would suggest that a woman should have been selected to chair the women’s organization, “to ensure that women are fully represented,” as claimed in their mission statement. A woman rather a man because, I would submit, she had a tougher row to hoe to get to the candidate pool then to the board. A woman would have been the best person.

The characteristics that drove her to get herself in front of the selection committee, would be the very qualities needed to make the organization a success.

This is not how a large company personnel department would make recommendations. In this small business hiring case study, Brad and I would have chosen different genders for the job.

The National Center for Women in Information Technology should have appointed a woman as chair.


Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.

7 Reactions
  1. I can’t agree with you. Not because I wouldn’t like to see such people suceeed, but because I think you’re putting social responsibility above the needs of the business. In small businesses especially, each hire is critical and you have the responsiblity to make the hire that is best for the business. The wrong hire can put your other employees out of work – is that responsible?

    To use the NCWIT example… what if the man hired actually does a more effective job than the other finalists? Aren’t more women helped by a more effective NCWIT? Yes, hiring a woman in that position makes superficial sense, but you’re actually helping fewer women if the man is more effective in the position. Of course, this is what makes hiring so stressful – you can’t actually know who will be better. It’s perfectly possible that the female finalist would outperform the man, of course. That, obviously, is the purpose of the hiring process – to find the best performer. If you can do social good at the same time, fine, but I think business performance has to come first, esp when the hire affects other people’s fortunes.

  2. I like the idea of hiring people who’ve had a thougher path to a position. Intuitively, I can see how they may work harder in the role than someone who worked less hard to be qualified.

    However, wouldn’t a man applying for the position at the head of a woman’s organization be the underdog in this case? This actually looks like the exception to your rule to me.

  3. If the two candidates on the job search or career search have identical knowledge, skills, and abilities, then the only thing left is personality, because that is never identical. How passionate is the person for the career or job they are looking for? That would be a deciding factor in how dedicated and loyal they are to their work, hence your business. A dedicated individual has a lot more energy to push your business than someone without, not to mention could add a lot of creative solutions. As far as choosing between woman or man, it should be whatever the position constitutes. A women being hired for a position would be good if the organization is directed towards womens products, only if she met the above criteria also. But she could also lead a man directed organization and add something totally different. A man could do the same vice versa. Its all about balance and how the chemistry works for the organization.

  4. The line from Brad Reynolds that you quoted; “When two identical candidates are being interviewed, chose the one who had to come over the roughest road to get to you”, really inspired me. If you contemplate what a person had to go through to get where he/she is, in front of you asking for a job, then you learn how determined he/she is. If he/she comes from a poor family, is a minority, etc. but is as qualified as the Ivy league graduate, hire that person. This potential employee will be the most hardworking and appreciative employee.
    I also agree that a woman should have been hired not just because of her background but because her hard work aligns with the organization’s mission.

  5. I think that it is quite important to take into account what isn’t on the resume, much like you have in both of the instances that you have described here. Hiring should be so much more than the best resume, as those can be tweaked and edited for every interview. However, life experiences cannot be changed, and the past remain unmovable. I agree with your hiring methods wholeheartedly and applaud you for looking past the paper and at the humanity that was sitting before you.

  6. I agree with not hiring the best resume but the best person. The best fit for your business is not always the smartest person or the person with the most experience. Hiring the best person ensures that they will be a good fit with the rest of the employees and that they will work hard. The smartest person could be detrimental to your business if they do not fit the culture. Intangible factors play a huge role in hiring new employees. A prospects ability to communicate and fit seamlessly into your business is more valuable then someone who has more achievements on paper because if they dont fit with the other employees then they are doing more harm than good for your business.