How to Pick Between Two Great Candidates

A group of coworkers looking on while a woman writes on the white board

Here’s a nice problem to have: You’re trying to fill a job, and you’ve interviewed two candidates. Both appear to be a good fit, so it’s a dead heat. It’s great knowing you’ll end up with a great hire, but how do you pick the winner?

Looking at your candidates from multiple angles and putting their abilities to the test can help you make a decision on who to hire.

Hire for culture add, not just culture fit

Your company culture comprises its working environment, mission, values and beliefs. It’s important that candidates feel at home and interact well with others on your team.

However, homogeneity among your workforce can lead to stagnation. Leaning too heavily on “culture fit” when hiring can lead to a lack of diversity and even bias.

It might be better to think about looking for “culture adds”: employees who contribute a diverse set of thoughts, values, traits and backgrounds.

Does either candidate bring fresh perspectives and unique experiences to your company? Is one of them from a group that’s currently underrepresented on your team and so could bring viewpoints you are not used to considering?

Culture adds can bring new energy that drives innovation while also making your workplace more welcoming for other mould-breaking candidates.

Soft skills compare candidates beyond the resume

When both of your candidates have the hard skills to perform the job, odds are that one candidate’s soft skills could set them apart. Skills such as communication, creativity and empathy are crucial to how employees function and interact.

Assessing soft skills such as these can be a good way to pick between two great candidates:


Weigh how well your candidates convey and receive information, including the way they write, speak, listen and respond. Does either candidate repeat back what they heard and avoid interrupting?


Creativity isn’t just about the arts — it’s about conceiving new ideas and considering multiple options. Ask candidates how they would deal with a complex problem at work. See if they offer more than one approach or suggest tactics your team didn’t consider.


Seeing things from another person’s point of view is a necessary and valuable skill. Ask about a touchy situation or conflict candidates had in the past. Were they able to see the problem from both sides and reach a solution?

Think about the future

Thinking about where you want your team to go in the future can also help differentiate between candidates; hire candidates who support growth, not those who reinforce the status quo.

Assess each candidate within the context of the other personalities on your team, its forecasted growth and the kinds of problems they’ll be solving. Can you envision one person making a more positive impact on your team’s future than the other? Do you foresee any potential stumbling blocks?

Let’s say you’re hiring for a marketing role in a medium-sized, growing company. Both candidates offer solid experience and relevant case studies. One of them is between jobs and uses their side business to test lead-generation tactics. The other works in digital marketing at a large corporation; writes and analyses blog content; and holds a digital marketing certification. Does one seem better prepared to meet the direction your company is headed?

Whatever the role, thinking about the future can help break the deadlock and help you pick between two great candidates.

Get good proof with double-blind tests

Have both candidates checked all the boxes? If you still don’t have a clear winner, administer a test or conduct an experiential interview. To reduce the chance for bias, share the results of these efforts with two colleagues who understand the assignment, but haven’t met the candidates or reviewed their applications.

Here are some examples of how you can see candidates’ skills in action:

  • For programmer candidates, present a specific objective and language, then ask them to deliver a piece of well-documented code.
  • For client-success candidates, put together a list of customer complaints and have them participate in mock service calls.
  • For copywriter candidates, assemble a realistic creative brief and ask them to write to it.

If possible, audition candidates during an experiential interview. Arrange to have each candidate spend a few hours working side by side with potential colleagues, then discuss the experience with the team.

Break the tie, not the bond

When you find yourself with two equally qualified candidates, these tactics can help you choose the front-runner. Whoever you choose, keep the other candidate in your pipeline.

The bonus of having two great candidates? If one doesn’t accept your offer or if another position opens up down the line—you’ve already got the right fit. You can’t go wrong!

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