June 22, 2021

What To Do When You Love a Candidate, but They Don’t Fit Your Job Opening


As soon as Jared stepped into your office to interview for a software engineering job, you had a good feeling about him. He was confident but not arrogant. He was a self-starter, intelligent, and detail-oriented. On paper, he looked promising and in person, even more so. You wanted him to be The One.

And yet, he fell a bit short in a few key areas. You may have to turn him down, or at least keep interviewing candidates, even though he could be a great long-term fit with the company.

We feel your pain. Often, an exceptional candidate interviews well, but because their experience is not a perfect match for the position, the company neglects to make the offer.

As a hiring manager, you’re usually under a tight deadline to find the perfect fit. You don’t have time to onboard someone who is going to need a lot of ramp-up time. It’s ideal when you can plug a round peg candidate into a round hole job. But sometimes, a square peg candidate comes in. So what do you do? It’s more efficient to dismiss that candidate, but could it be better to find or mold a square hole that the candidate could fit in?

Consider if it’s worth digging deeper to see if the candidate has long-term potential with the company. Here are some areas to explore.

Are your hiring requirements unreasonable?

When you reject a candidate, it’s critical to think about why you made that decision.

It may be as simple as the candidate not meeting the qualifications. Candidates rarely meet every requirement 100%. And if they do, they are often expensive to hire. And then, they may not be interested–because the best candidates want to learn new things, or grow with a new company, not just do the same thing they are already doing. So you must prioritize the criteria. Look at the job description–does it correctly define the needs? Are there additional capabilities you’re looking for that might not be stated, such as the ability to collaborate or work under pressure?

If a candidate doesn’t meet the necessary criteria, can they learn those skills on the job? Programming languages, programming skills, specific technical products or tools, sales techniques, team building, and public speaking skills can be taught. On the other hand, it’s hard to teach someone skills to help them become more motivated, intuitive, or creative. If the candidate already has those abilities, it may be worthwhile to help them gain more teachable ones. This is especially true if it takes a long time to find someone who checks all of the boxes.

Does the candidate have skills that can transfer from the old job to the prospective one? Jason Hayes of Recruiting Daily gives this example: “A few months ago, we were hiring a client relationship manager. While our job ad specified that the ideal candidate should have five years of experience in sales or account management, we ended up hiring a former school principal. Although she had no direct sales experience, her attributes lined up perfectly with what we were looking for in this role: exceptional relationship building and communication skills, outstanding attention to detail, and a strong work ethic (to name a few).”

Don’t automatically overlook candidates because they lack every skill on your checklist–especially when they have comparable experience. Your candidate will still be able to get up to speed quickly, and with their diverse background, they can bring a fresh, innovative perspective to the team.

Final thoughts on what to do when candidates don’t fit your job opening:

Breaking up with an ideal candidate is difficult, but if you’ve thoroughly explored the options and know that the timing or fit isn’t right, parting ways respectfully enables you to make a better hire for the job and still stay on good terms with the candidate in the future.

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