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A tale of two candidates, their strengths and weaknesses

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Posted: Saturday, November 10, 2012 11:28 pm | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — “Which one would you choose?”

The question I did not want to hear, because I couldn’t ethically answer it, came from a hiring manager who was agonizing over two finalists for a marketing position.

After six weeks of discussing, searching, interviewing, assessing, more interviewing and checking references, we had reviewed more than 400 resumes, gone through two separate groups of candidates (about 24 combined) driven down to six semi-finalists, now we had two candidates remaining. Yet after all the interviews and conversations, the hiring manager struggled to choose.

The final draw came down to experience vs. excitement. Candidate No. 1 had worked as a graphic designer for about three years, which was an important skill the marketing director needed. However, she didn’t seem enthusiastic about the other aspects of marketing such as social media, lead generation, branding and so on. There were elements of these marketing abilities in her design work, but were they a natural biproduct of good design, or purposefully placed elements? Were they there at the direction of her clients, or because she understood the bigger picture of her design?

Candidate No. 2 had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and had interned with three organizations where she got to experience marketing efforts in a variety of methods. She had a minor in writing and her sample work was impressive. She seemed to be a great idea generator, had a creative spirit about her, and was engaging with the rest of the marketing team during the interview process. The marketing director had identified all these skills during the profile planning stage at the beginning of the search, but the graphic design skills of candidate No. 2 were a little lacking. Not that they were bad, but they definitely needed refining and improvement.

On the other hand, candidate No. 1 had an affinity for the company’s products and had experience with them. She would definitely be able to jump into the position much quicker, and because she had strong design experience, she would be able to contribute immediately as a graphic designer.

Yet candidate No. 2, even though she didn’t have any experience with the product, had many complementary experiences, meaning they fit the same vein as the product. She also had a lifestyle that was a fit with the culture.

I did not mention that candidate No. 1 was referred to the marketing director by her boss. It turns out that the operations director knew the boyfriend of candidate No. 1, and after learning that she had graphic design background, referred her to the marketing director. Not that the operations manager knew the candidate well at all, nor was he involved in the interview process, but the marketing director certainly felt some pressure to favor her.

The marketing director had a limited budget. Candidate No. 2, being fresh out of school, was happy to get a start in the industry and really wasn’t concerned with the pay. In fact, the marketing director could even hold the compensation back a little, not to take advantage of the candidate, but to give a raise later as a reward and a retention strategy, without exceeding her budget.

Have you ever been in this situation? Two good individuals with different strengths and the pressure to fill the position. Either candidate potentially can fit the position, but neither possesses 100 percent of the skills needed. With deadlines approaching, the pressure and need to fill the position can be overwhelming.

So how did I respond to the marketing director’s question? I reminded her of the job profile we had created at the beginning of the search: What skills, experiences, qualities and characteristics did she need in this person? Had any of that changed, and why? Since she had come up even on skills and experience, what about the differences in qualities and characteristics?

Once she realized the skills that were lacking could be learned and that experience would continue to come with time, she was able to focus on how both candidates aligned with the department’s culture and style and could fit easily with the rest of the team. How would you decide? I’d be interested to hear how you have handled this situation in your company, what decision you made and how it worked out.

Mike Calvin is an employment consultant with 1st Fruits Consulting and helps organizations with their hiring needs including full life-cycle recruiting, candidate sourcing, selection process, interviewing and assessments, and win-win negotiating. Based in North Pole, Mike can be contacted by email at This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical College Department of Applied Business.

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