Is there such a thing as the perfect candidate?

Leora Baumgarten —  January 28, 2015 — Leave a comment

Your company needs to make a key hire. Your senior management says they want the perfect candidate for this role, and you are in charge of getting that candidate in the door for an interview. Now what?

A quick Google search for the phrase “is there a perfect candidate for the job” turned up several blogs, an article in the Harvard Business Review and a video from Monster, (and those are just the highlights). The resounding answer provided by these various sources, not surprisingly, was, “No! There is no such a thing as the perfect candidate,” and, “No! Don’t try to hire the perfect person.”

The way I see it, employees (and prospective employees) cannot be pre-ordered to spec and assembled from a skills and experience toolkit. People typically come complete — with a combination of talents and flaws. Regardless, we are still charged with hiring, and we want to get it right. We need to dig a little deeper to resolve the challenge of finding the perfect candidate.

Is there such a thing as the perfect candidate?

What does the President, CEO or Owner really mean when they say, “Just find me the perfect candidate”?

Does the C-suite expect that there is actually A PERFECT person for the job? Probably not. Senior management is savvy and likely realizes that the perfect person probably doesn’t exist. So what are they getting at?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Senior management wants to be presented with the best-qualified candidates and no one else.  Additionally, the CEO or President expects that someone else will handle the majority of the work need to find the best candidates.

  • Senior management wants someone better than the current employee. In this case, the recruiter or HR professional must seek to understand what exactly “better” means to the key decision makers.

  • Senior management doesn’t want to have to train the new employee. They need someone who can “hit the ground running.” The CEO is expressing an expectation that the new person will already have all of the skills, experience and work behaviors outlined in the job description.

Understanding the intent of senior management’s request for the perfect hire is the key to managing a successful recruiting process.

How can this challenge be handled to achieve the best outcome?

Typically, before a company hires, they have done some advanced planning – what my mom calls “leg work”. During this preparation phase, many of the issues that are raised here can be addressed. The goal of this process is to define the ideal or perfect candidate and to have a plan for attracting and identifying that person.

Making time to prepare, asking hard questions and exploring the duties, authorities, experience and behaviors needed for on-the-job success is worth the effort.  Of course, we should set the bar high, but the reality is, well, reality. Part of our preparation should include a reality check. When it comes to selecting real people, we might have to preference some of the items on our ideal list in order to hire the best available talent.

Consequently, when preparing to recruit, we need to clearly specify which items on the ideal list are the MOST important. When we meet a great candidate, we don’t end up holding out for an imaginary perfect person. Additionally, it is important to consider the consequence of looking for, or trying to hire a candidate who has competency in every area, but who lacks excellence in the primary area.   A candidate with broad competencies, who lacks specific excellence, is unlikely to be perfect.

Successful recruiting depends on our initial ability to define the ideal talent. Successful recruiting is equally dependent on our ability to transition to a world that is populated by real people, complete with strengths and weaknesses.  After all, I don’t want my company’s success to be based on the assumption that I can hire the women with the bullet proof bracelets, an invisible fighter jet and a magic lasso.  What about you?


  1. “Does the perfect candidate exist?”

  2. “Hiring Managers: don’t try to find the perfect employee”.

  3. The Harvard Business Review – “Don’t Hire the Perfect Candidate”

Leora Baumgarten


Leora is Vice President of NewHire and a pro when it comes to hiring & recruiting for SMBs. When not at the office, you can find her swimming in Lake Michigan or spending time with her family in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Connect with her on Google+.

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