Are Assumptions Limiting Your Candidate Search?

Have you ever experienced a time when your selection committee had difficulty getting past a certain bias they were experiencing in their decision making? It certainly makes for interesting discussion. Part of the challenge is that we are all graduates of our personal experience which we then internalize and establish emotional views of how life should unfold. These so called “assumptions” are very difficult to remove and so we are challenged to move forward.


For instance, many people make the assumption that one university is better than another. Therefore, a candidate from the preferred university might be perceived as a better choice than another. In other instances, I have seen selection committee’s struggle with appraising a candidate who has moved through several jobs in their career. In the view of some individuals, a candidate moving every 2.5 years is obviously not very stable while for others, a tenure of longer than five years might mean the candidate is not very open to change.

At the same time, individuals often jump to conclusions based on very little fact. This comes into play when selection committee members make inaccurate judgements based on age, manner of speech, dress, body language and/or occupation. One such situation arose when a young entrepreneur determined that he was best suited for employment in a large corporation. Yes, he got interviews, but was never offered a job. Finally, the young man had an opportunity to meet with one of the selection committee members and learned that his motives were not trusted. People believed that once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. In other words, they were afraid he wouldn’t stay. Too bad, they missed out on a superb candidate. Thankfully, I was able to present him to a client who appreciated the skills that he would contribute.

Making assumptions is essentially an “energy block” that lets past experience seep into one’s thinking and thus prevents good decisions. It prevents a full exploration of a situation and, in terms of a candidate search, a full and comprehensive examination of the job requirements and ideal candidate credentials is essential. Assumptions and a rush to judgement have no place in this important process.

One inaccurate assumption made about candidate selection is that the interview is the key to finding a successful candidate. Not so! In fact, there are a number of process steps that must be taken far before a candidate is invited to an interview. It is these steps that make the search successful.

As a search professional, my first job is to help clients establish a selection committee that represents key decision makers who know and understand the organization and the job role. I then facilitate in-depth discussions to identify, question and validate the competencies and character traits of an ideal candidate for their organization. Throughout each round of discussions, committee members are asked to explain the rationale for their recommendations. Through this process, we tease out any assumptions that appear to exist and work to overcome them.

Once discussions are complete, the committee is confident they have explored both negative and positive past experiences and a rational decision is then made. Not only that, the discussion experience enables committee members to learn more about each other, how their experiences have impacted the way they think which in turn helps to develop teamwork at the senior leadership level.

Once the critical elements of an ideal candidate are identified, the search professional undertakes several in-depth research steps to locate and identify potential candidates and flow them through a stringent assessment process. Candidates are compared and contrasted against the criteria and against each other. Psychometric assessments are used to learn more about the candidates and to confirm earlier findings. No assumptions allowed! Then and only then are finalist candidates proposed to the committee for interview.

Without the effective guidance of a search professional in the candidate selection process, selection committee members might be allowing inaccurate assumptions to interfere in good decision making.