Why the Right Hire Doesn’t Need to Be the Perfect Candidate

Light up sign with Nobody is Perfect on in in colorful letters.

How to know if a job candidate is the right fit, even if they don’t check all the boxes

As a hiring manager, your first step in creating a job description is likely to sit down and think about what the “perfect” candidate looks like. Years of experience in a particular industry, expertise level, the skills they bring to the table. How closely a candidate meets all of these requirements is the yardstick used for determining their fit for the role, and the one who gets the closest wins.

Everyone lives happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Those perfect candidates aren’t often the best choice in the long run. 

Simple reason why the perfect candidate isn’t always the right hire for your organization

While this might seem like a shocking claim, there’s a pretty simple explanation. Once they’re hired, the “perfect candidate” oftentimes doesn’t stay with your company for very long. And we all know the damage turnover can cause, both financially and culturally. 

If you can’t retain your new hires, it’s time to redefine what “perfect” means. Here’s a look at the two most common wishlist items when it comes to recruiting, and why they should actually be considered negatives. 

Wishlist: The “perfect” candidate’s skillset checks all the boxes

Yes: hiring managers need new employees to be able to hit the ground running, especially if the role had been vacant for an extended period of time. That means having the right skills, including proficiency of certain programs or technology tools. 

Yet it’s just as important that new employees are engaged and committed to the role. That means ensuring that they’re getting what they need – near and long term – out of the position. Number one on that list? Professional growth. 

What to look for instead: must-have skills and capacity to learn and grow

Countless studies find that career development outranked compensation as the most important factor when considering a new job. If a candidate has already perfected all the skills necessary for a role, what’s left to learn? If they find themselves just doing the same, unchallenging work they were doing at their last job, you’re at risk of them becoming disengaged or worse, looking externally for new opportunities.

How to shift from perfect skill set to professional growth mindset?

Make a short list of your must-have skills, and invest in training for the rest. Evaluate candidates on soft skills like proactiveness, ability to learn quickly and problem solving skills. After a few months, you’ll have the best of both worlds – a great, qualified employee and one who’s committed to your organization for helping them get to the next level.

Wishlist: The candidate has exact industry and corporate experience

As a hiring manager, you want a proven candidate. But if your perfect candidate isn’t getting much of a change of scenery by joining your organization, you risk losing their attention and interest pretty quickly. Think about it. No one wants to live inside the movie, Groundhog Day. Top candidates are looking for a change and new professional challenges.

What to look for instead: Transferrable experience and willingness to learn

Recruiting candidates from outside your industry or equivalent corporate environment can help them break out of the box they’re in and help your company do the same. Even considering employees who are ready to grow from a contributor type of role to a management position could be the missing piece in their career and for your team.

Plus, attracting talent from outside your industry brings fresh ideas and perspectives. And for industries that lag in bright ideas and innovation, recruiting people new to the scene can help give you a competitive advantage.

It’s time to consider experience outside your organization as an asset

Someone from a start-up environment could bring fresh ideas to your team, or an individual from a large corporation could bring with them best practices for scaling your processes, for example. A new hire with a different perspective is more valuable than someone who’s spent years looking through the same lens as you. The “perfect” fit only happens when the needs of hiring managers and new employees are both being met. I know from more than 20 years of experience that it can require a big mindset shift to look at recruiting in this way, but it’s worth it.

Improve how you think about and measure quality of hire

Quality of hire is how well a candidate matches what you were looking for in the person who fills a position, does a job and becomes a member of your team. As you can see here, it’s about more than whether they check the right boxes. Quality of hire measures the value that new team member brings to your team, what they contribute to your culture and how much their work adds to your business’ bottom line.

Learn 5 ways to measure and improve quality of hire — so you can start hiring more of the right-fit candidates.