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How To Identify The Best Candidates For Your New Role

Jen Morris
Jen Morris April 27, 2022
identify the best candidates

The Challenges Of Identifying The Best Candidates

Though the specifics of recruitment vary across industries, roles and levels of seniority, there is a particular challenge that exists across the board - how to spot the most promising talent in what is often an extensive and diverse applicant pool.

Most selection methods focus on technical skills, qualifications and work experience (all critical, of course), but tend to neglect key factors that show the added value a candidate can bring. Factors like their ability to integrate within your company culture, and their potential for future growth.

This article offers 10 recruitment techniques for building in-depth applicant profiles and identifying the best candidates, whatever role you're hiring for.

Why Is Choosing The Best Candidates Important?

identifying the best candidates

Recruitment is an expensive process, particularly when it goes wrong. In fact, overall costs associated with an unsuccessful hire are estimated to be three times that of the job-related salary.

If that in itself isn't reason enough to get it right, here are some equally persuasive stats from the other side of the equation.

A study by McKinsey & Company found that high performers employed in medium complexity jobs are 85% more productive than average performers at the same level. For roles of very high complexity, the increase in productivity between average and high performers jumps to a staggering 800%.

For another perspective, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation's Recruitment and Recovery study state that with the right talent in the right jobs, UK productivity could increase by as much as £7.7 billion.

Based on those figures, the importance of finding the best candidates for your next role becomes abundantly clear, so here are some actionable ideas to incorporate into the selection process.

Ten Ways To Strategically Identify The Best Candidates For Your New Role

1. Attract Top Quality Talent

To choose between the best of the best, you need to attract them in the first place, so start with your sourcing efforts. A job seeker - particularly a talented one - will start forming an opinion on your company from their very first interaction with it, typically your careers page or job ad.

That opinion will evolve throughout the recruitment process, and if it's a poor one, they may drop out of the process or turn down any offer made. So, to ensure you attract quality applicants, and keep them engaged, put substantial thought into the candidate experience.

2. Ask Deal-Breaker Questions Early

Every role will have essential prerequisites. These could be skill-related, like fluency in a certain language for example, or they could relate to the demands of the job, such as occasional weekend work or travel.

Whatever they are, address these non-negotiables as early as possible, ideally through screening questions within an application form. The last thing you want is to invest time and effort into a candidate only to find they can't, or won't, meet your essential requirements.

3. Use Pre-Employment Tests To Screen

One of the biggest challenges recruiters face is predicting future performance.

An applicant's background can tell you what they've achieved to date, but it gives little indication of their capacity to learn and grow in their role with you. There are also some skills that are impossible to assess unless practically demonstrated.

Pre-employment tests help meet this challenge. They exist to measure soft skills like time management and teamwork, hard skills such as programming and languages, and behavioural traits that dictate an employee's effectiveness in the workplace. Of particular use are aptitude tests, like verbal or logical reasoning.

Aptitude measures a candidate's natural abilities in critical thinking and problem solving - skills that separate average employees from outstanding ones.

4. Evaluate Work Ethic And Attitude With A Written Task

identifying the best candidates

The best candidates won't just have the right skills and abilities. They'll also have the right approach. One way to test this is by asking them to complete a written exercise that explores their work ethic. For example, you may ask them to write 500 words on what they hope to achieve in their first three months of employment with you.

You can learn a lot about how a candidate thinks, and the type of attitude they're likely to bring to the role by having them complete such a task. Whilst it's impractical to read through essays from every applicant, this is a good technique for shortlisting candidates that have come out top in pre-interview screening.

5. Use Multiple Interviewers

Whether you employ a panel or have an applicant attend multiple interviews, it's important to gather different perspectives on their suitability. This helps eliminate any unconscious bias, and promotes constructive debate about the strengths and weaknesses of each interviewee.

It's not just the interviewer's opinions you should look to gather either. Check in with anyone that had an interaction with your interviewees to see how they came across outside of the interview setting. These objective first impressions can be very insightful.

6. Observe The Questions They Ask

choosing the best candidates

Any decent candidate will have prepared a set of questions to ask at their interview, but it's the nature of these questions that will prove most revealing. Look for signs that they've done more than just researched the company and come up with a generic few.

A strong candidate will inquire with enthusiasm. They'll ask about the challenges that lie ahead for the company, how they can contribute to meeting them, and what development opportunities exist.

7. Identify Their Why

A candidate's personal interests might not seem relevant to the job, but in finding something they're passionate about - and discussing it further - you can learn a lot about what makes them tick, and what motivates them to succeed.

This 'why' is what they'll bring into the workplace. It can tell you how willing they are to learn new skills, meet new people and take on complex challenges. It can highlight key strengths that may not have come across from other lines of questioning, and it will offer a good indication of the energy and commitment they give to the things they care about.

8. Host An Assessment Day

To get a better idea of how a candidate will perform in real-world work scenarios, replicate them with an assessment day. Here you can incorporate all sorts of activities - group tasks, solo presentations, role-play exercises - all of which give you a chance to observe your remaining talent pool in action.

From their ability to work as part of a team to their leadership potential, an assessment day will show you much more of a candidate's true potential than you'll take from applications and interviews alone.

9. Review Any Portfolios Or Project Work

There are certain roles for which candidates can actually showcase their talent. Either through portfolios, like for design or copywriting roles, or through project work, like for UX design or software development for example. If the role you're hiring for can indeed be demonstrated in this way, be sure to request and review examples from your shortlisted candidates.

If they're a strong applicant, they'll give their work context with a bit of background, or by highlighting a particular challenge. This means you'll get both a snapshot of their skills and their approach to a given task.

10. Give Them A Complex Problem To Solve

Having candidates complete a problem-solving task as part of their interview shows you two key things - how they approach a complex challenge, and how they cope under stress.

It's not really the solution they land on that's important, but the processes they apply and how adaptable they are when faced with something they're not readily prepared for. If you still have a number of high calibre candidates to choose between, this is a great way to identify those with the most competitive edge.

Jen Morris
Jen Morris April 27, 2022

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