Waiting for the “Perfect” Candidate

I received a call from a recruiter-colleague yesterday, bemoaning a hiring manager who was waiting for the “perfect” candidate. “I've sent her 5 great candidates, but none of them are perfect. Doesn't she have to fill this position?”

Well, maybe not right away. And, maybe it's not just technical skills that make a candidate a perfect or imperfect fit. (You and I both know it's not!)

And, at some point, it's time to hire a candidate who is good enough. Otherwise, you have to change which projects in the project portfolio you can staff, or how the people work on projects. (See Hiring The Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets & Science Of Hiring Technical People for more details)

But how long can you wait? How long should you wait? In this economy, chances are good that you can find good candidates relatively quickly. If you are a hiring manager who's had an open position for several months and you haven't found the right person, make sure you review your job analysis. Maybe what you thought you needed has evolved. Iterate on your job description–maybe it's not working for you, helping you filter in the right people and filter out the ones who aren't quite right.

The problem is that waiting does cost you capacity. Only you can know how long you can wait for the perfect candidate. And remember, the “perfect” candidate does not exist. You can hire people who are very close.

5 Replies to “Waiting for the “Perfect” Candidate”

  1. Great Points, Johanna!

    One little thing I might add: If you find yourself really struggling for candidates, I mean really struggling, look at the job description again. You might be paying far too little.

    The thing is, most of the best people — not all, but most — they already have a job they are not in danger of losing. So they expect a /premium/ over the current gig, better benefits, etc.

    Yes, you might be able to find that ‘perfect’ candidate. Odds are, you’re going to pay for it too.

  2. Hi,

    Apart from what Mathew Heusser said (you will have to pay for perfection) I would add another view.
    Fredmund Malik has described it in a book about management “Fuehren, Leisten Leben”.

    (Sorry, I have no idea whether it has been translated.)
    In this book he compares a manager with a surgeon. Each one should be characterized by a long list of attributes, capabilities and properties. Unfortunately, more surgeons are needed that people that would fit perfectly. He claims that the same goes for managers.
    Therefore the quest for the ideal candidate might run in the same problem. There might not be enough people that fit in the desired image.
    For me perfection – apart from some inevitable social skills is composed of the following:
    experience (unless I am really willing to educate my own people)
    ability to learn fast (which is a compound property including a certain degree of intelligence)
    Some basic knowledge about the field of interest (so (s)he can start right away to be productive)
    And I would ask what (s)he wants to become in five years from now. (That type of longetivity might be only a touch of European flavour:)


  3. There is normally non-objective criteria in selecting the candidate, apart from the objectivity as written in the job description, which is not written. Sometimes it is known but inappropriate to be written and sometimes it’s unknown.

    If this non-objective criteria is unknown, then the hiring manager should shop around a bit till she finds what she wants.

    I always believe that managers can’t tolerate a candidate who doesn’t meet this criteria.


  4. It sounds like thinking of a fixed scope project for a wicked problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem). Maybe Agile ideas should be applied here. Iterate with a good enough candidate?

    Also, like often in role playing, people play their part too seriously. There are many psychological experiments showing common people inflicting pain to others just hiding behind the role they are playing. In other words, do we have a perfect recruiter to start with? a perfect company? During the recruitment process people are holding candidates to standards they could not hold themselves.

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