June 25, 2018

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What Is a Good Candidate?

Hiring managers often complain about how difficult it is to find good candidates. They blame talent shortages in the marketplace, the ineffectiveness of recruiters or staffing departments, and the failure of companies to offer attractive compensation packages that will entice high-quality individuals. While all these reasons are valid, there's another one that often gets overlooked: Employers never actually define what they mean by "good."

Candidates are not simply good or bad; they are good or bad for certain jobs. Determining whether a candidate is good for a job requires creating a "success profile," which details the key characteristics that will influence successful job performance. Without a clear candidate success profile, recruiters don't know what candidates to look for, and hiring managers don't know how to evaluate candidates once they've been found. This can turn recruiting into a costly process of trial and error, with high levels of new-candidate turnover caused by the company repeatedly sourcing and hiring the wrong people.

Defining "Good"

One of the ways recruiters can add significant value to the hiring process is simply by providing hiring managers with a structured set of terms and phrases for defining what characteristics candidates need to do the job effectively.

Minimum Qualifications

Minimum qualifications are specific requirements candidates must meet. Candidates who do not have them cannot be hired no matter how strong their other skills and abilities may be. Minimum qualifications usually include things such as legally required certifications (e.g., CPA, citizenship) or willingness to accept certain working conditions (e.g., location, salary, travel, work schedules). Having a well-defined list of minimum qualifications makes it much easier for recruiters to screen candidates using automated prescreening questions, such as those provided by many job boards.

Technical Skills

Technical skills and experience reflect specific things a candidate must know or be able to do to carry out the job's core functions. These are the kinds of things you typically find on resumes and learn in school. The focus here is on what a person knows rather than on how he uses it. For example, a list of technical skills and experience for a financial manager position might include things like P&L experience and knowledge of tax law but would not include soft skills like interpersonal style.

When defining technical skills and experience, try to avoid using time to define levels of expertise (e.g., "10 years of management experience"). Someone having done something for a long time is no guarantee that he is good at it. In addition, good candidates often rapidly master new jobs and quickly move on to higher-level positions. This rapid progress limits their total experience in any one position. Instead of searching for an HR manager with 10 years of experience, you might search for an HR manager who has conducted union negotiations, implemented training programs, overseen recruiting teams, supported line managers in two or more different functional areas, etc.


Competencies describe work styles, behaviors and capabilities that distinguish between exceptional candidates and merely qualified candidates. Technical skills and experience focus on what candidates know; competencies focus on how they use it. Listed below are some competencies that are frequently associated with superior job performance. When preparing to staff a position, ask the hiring manager to pick one competency from each of the three lists that will best distinguish between average and exceptional candidates.

Action Oriented Competencies

  • Driving results
  • Following procedures
  • Taking decisive action
  • Dealing with change
  • Managing stress
  • Planning and organizing

Interpersonal Competencies

  • Setting direction
  • Building relationships
  • Displaying ethical behavior
  • Influencing others
  • Communicating information
  • Working across cultures

Intellectual Competencies

  • Thinking commercially
  • Interpreting complex information
  • Applying technical knowledge
  • Analyzing problems
  • Thinking creatively
  • Developing strategies

By talking with hiring managers about a position's minimum qualifications, technical skills and experience, competencies and selling points, recruiters can create success profiles that will be of tremendous value for sourcing and screening good candidates. Using a well-structured approach, recruiters can cover all these topics in a one to two-hour conversation, which will ultimately save far more time than that in the long run.

- Steven T. Hunt, Ph.D.
Dr. Hunt is a strategic human resources consultant specializing in technology enabled methods for hiring, developing, and retaining high performing talent. Dr. Hunt has helped clients implement a variety of web and non-web based staffing processes including applicant tracking and pre-screening systems, employee reliability and customer service measures, predictors of culture fit and retention, interactive job simulations, and assessments of leadership potential. He can be contacted via e-mail at or via phone at 503-925-0401. Copyright