The Short List: How to Choose the Best Person for the Position

The Short List: How to Choose the Best Person for the Position
  • Opening Intro -

    The interviewing process can be a long one especially for senior-level job candidates and professionals that have unique skills.


It can take weeks to narrow the pool of candidates to a short list, representing three to five individuals that may be best suited for the job. The toughest work still lies ahead, part of the vetting process that can yield the right person if you take care to evaluate them. Here is how you can find that candidate.

Provide an Assignment

You need to see if your short-list candidates can do the job. The only way to determine that is to assign a particular task that they must complete.

Two things will be revealed here:

1) The individual’s willingness to take the unusual step of completing the assignment, and

2) Whether the candidate excels at the task at hand.

An unwilling individual will tell you a lot: they are not the person you can count on when needed. For those that accept and complete the assignment you will be in a better position to separate the best from the rest.

Assignment Considerations

The type of assignment you offer must correlate to the job at hand. For instance, if you are hiring a baker, you can require candidates to bake a birthday cake using an original recipe. The finished work will be evaluated for presentation, taste and originality.

If the position is for an accountant, you can ask candidates to evaluate a company’s annual reports for the past three years with an eye to spotting certain trends. This might be your chief competitor or it could be your own company. Have each person present a written report based on their findings.

Assignments should closely relate to the task the individual will be performing. It should give you and your management team a clearer understanding of this person’s abilities. You want to gauge this individual’s competence and ability to work with your team.

A Day on the Job

Those candidates that excel at their assignments will rise to the top of your short list. The remaining people are not the best fit for the position, therefore inform the runner-ups of your decision before turning your attention to the top candidates.

You can rank the remaining candidates and offer the top performer the position. However, you can make that offer contingent upon this individual successfully completing a day on the job. That day would have this person work with your team, providing an opportunity for further evaluation of the individual’s skills and qualifications.

The Offer

Following the completion of the day on the job, meet with your team to determine this person’s fit for the job. If your team agrees that he or she would be a welcome addition, then extend your offer.

Make your offer quickly, keeping in mind a few things that will help you land your best prospect.

First, candidates generally will not leave a job unless the new offer provides a salary increase of at least 10 percent.

Second, explain your compensation package including the base salary, fringe benefits and any bonus plan.

Third, get a commitment. You need to know within 24 hours if this person accepts your offer. If not, you will need to reevaluate your other best candidates.

Legal Considerations

Prepare to compensate the individual for spending her day on the job. It is not just good business practice, but it may be a legal requirement. Check with your state’s department of labor to determine the proper guidelines.

Short-listing your candidates alone does not reveal the best person for the job. It takes some extra steps including handling a sample assignment and working a day on the job to find the right fit. The extra work will be worth it and enable you to avoid costly turnover.

See AlsoWhat Staffing Do You Need to Start a Business?


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Categories: Small Business

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".