How do you choose between two excellent candidates?

Much has been written about this topic – it’s a more common situation than you might think. And there are loads of ideas for how to go about it:

Toss a Coin? – Believe me, I’ve seen it.

There’s the Second Interview – “They can’t both be perfect every time? Can they?”

Or the ‘Fit’ Debate – “Come on Team, who’d you like the best?” (Team – Can you just make a decision for once in your Leadership career?”

Then there’s the Exam – “If you could just fill out this short, innovative questionnaire…” (Candidate – “Really, a test? Is this High School?”)

And the Test Run – “Why don’t you come in next week for a day and we’ll see how you go” (Candidate – “Sounds like slave labour to me”)

And last but not least, the Beer Test – “Could I imagine sitting down and having a beer and a laugh with this person, in a purely theoretical and non-confrontational way” (Really? What does your theoretical beer taste like?)

But guess what?

Although there may be no right answer for how to go about it, let me tell you this.

How about the Outside World Test?

Yes, you guessed it.

Leave your desk, stand up, go down the stairs and meet each candidate in a normal, human environment. You know, like a café, or a restaurant. In the park during lunchtime. At the airport business lounge. Even a bar, if you like the beer test…!

The point is, when you take away the context of Office – Interview – Formal – Take-a-seat – Workplace; when you knock down the walls and meet each candidate outside of that typical setting…you know what? One will beat the test, and the other will go to the back of the queue.

Reason is, your environment matters. It colours everything about you and those around you.

When a candidate meets you for an interview at your offices – and you can call it a meeting all you like, it’s still an interview – they are on guard. If they’re good, they have practiced their pitch in the mirror, checked and rechecked their attire, been to the hairdresser first. Polished their performance.

But when you meet that same candidate in an informal, human setting like the café, they let their hair down. It’s just different – and you can spot the change.

And in that letting down of the hair, some win and some lose.

Some let it down just a touch, exposing their bubbly, friendly personality and interests outside work, what they did last weekend, why they love the coffee at this place, how they fit with your body language and style. These people win.

Others, they go all the way. Like Rapunzel, they let down the hair so far and with such enthusiasm they accidentally fall out the castle window. Into the moat. Full of crocodiles.

And that’s the point.

I’ve had candidates turn up a bit early, and help themselves to a quick beer before I meet them – if only they were a bit quicker downing it (or if only they’d bought me one too!). I’ve had candidates speak the Queen’s English in an interview room, then morph into a wharfie downstairs in the café.

And I’ve had candidates shine too – “Great to see you again Alex, it’s my turn for the coffee-buying this time”.

Trust me, trust Rapunzel, and trust the Human setting.

Take those two impossible-to-choose-between candidates and meet them somewhere outside of your workplace, and one will be ‘green-light’, the other one red.

And to all you candidates out there…

Buy the coffee…

Ask if I’d like a beer…

And ALWAYS keep a lock of that hair neatly tied!