The Perfect Candidate Doesn't Exist - And That's Perfectly Okay

You have an open position, and it beckons. The siren song of possibility becomes too much to endure. Pretty soon, you have a list of "needed" experience and qualifications for the job that looks more like a letter to Santa Claus.

Caught up in the dream, you believe this perfect candidate exists somewhere. You embark on a quest to find your ideal new hire - and no matter how often you're dashed against the rocks of reality, you keep searching.

But what if you knew the perfect candidate doesn't exist?

What you've created on paper isn't a person. Meanwhile, you may have overlooked several candidates who have the passion, curiosity and adaptability to grow into the role - because they're missing some specific bit experience your wish list touted as "essential."

Coming Back to Earth: What to Do When Your Perfect Candidate Doesn't Exist

First: don't throw out the list!

While your wish list may not match any flesh-and-blood candidate precisely, it does accurately reflect an ideal - the place every candidate should (a) strive to be; and (b) demonstrate the necessary abilities and motivation to achieve. It's a good end point, just not a good starting point.

Hang onto this list, but set it aside for a moment.

Finding Clarity: "Needs" vs. "Wants" in the Hiring Process

Next: it's time to start a second list.

Your wish list reached for the stars, but this second list needs to stay firmly on the ground. In this list, write down the position's regular daily job duties; the tasks this person needs to do from day to day.

Then, for each task, note the specific experience, education, abilities or traits required to do the task competently. Remember to distinguish between "competent" and "perfect." Add the skills required for a candidate to work toward "ideal" status, such as curiosity, self-driven learning and a willingness to seek out and apply feedback.

If this list of skills and traits ends up being much shorter than the first one, it's likely because you're beginning to zero in on those traits that are needed for the position, rather than those that are merely wanted.

But don't write that job posting just yet!

Separating "Good" From "Good Enough": Defining the What and Who of Top Candidates

So the perfect candidate doesn't exist - but outstanding candidates do. How do you attract them to your hiring process?

Start by answering the "What"s:

What specific accomplishments does this position need to achieve? For each point, try to craft SMART goals - goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based. Top candidates want to know exactly what they're expected to achieve.

What specific day-to-day job tasks move the person who does them closer to one or more of these goals? Take note of these tasks - you'll want to list them in the final job description.

What skills are required to complete each of those tasks? Here's where both your "ideal" and "real" lists come in. Note which traits - from technical knowledge to "soft skills" like communication or team building - are essential to complete a particular task.

Use the "What" to Find the "Who"

By now, you've probably got a much clearer view of the specific skills, experience, and education that a candidate will need to succeed in this position. Start by basing a job posting on this information - but don't toss your lists when you're done.

Once your job posting is available and candidates start applying, you'll want to use the same set of criteria to evaluate candidates. Here's how.

  1. Assign every criterion a value between 1 and 10. "10" criteria are 100 percent essential - you won't hire any candidate who doesn't meet them. The rest receive values based on their relative importance.
  2. Add up the numbers to determine the maximum possible score.
  3. Decide what minimum score you will accept.

Then, use this rubric to evaluate candidates at both the resume and interview stages. Any candidate who doesn't reach the minimum gets eliminated; remaining candidates can be compared on the basis of their scores.

By creating a rubric and measuring each candidate according to the same set of criteria, you make it easier to compare candidates who may otherwise differ greatly in when, where, and how they developed their essential skill sets. You create a set of notes you can use to discuss candidates with a fresh mind, days after their interview. And you build a "paper trail" that can help protect your organization against any claims of hiring discrimination or wrongdoing.