I am a tech lead with my own reports and I'm tasked with interviewing candidates for a position that will be a peer to my position. After my screening, I pass on qualified candidates to my boss, who's currently managing about 15 people.

My boss and I have already synchronized on requirements and what we're looking for in a candidate. However, the process is never perfect. I don't want to burden my boss with unqualified candidates.

What is generally an acceptable number of candidates to pass on to my boss?

  • 40
    It's not about 'acceotable percentages'. It's about getting rid of the junk and presenting only the most qualified candidates. If you got lucky that could be 100%. It could also be 0%.
    – user207421
    Jul 16, 2017 at 12:48
  • 58
    You know who can answer this ? Your boss ! Jul 16, 2017 at 15:50
  • You can have a situation where you judge that there is really only one candidate with an acceptable level of technical skill. If your boss is nontechnical, then it can create a difficult situation. They can feel like you're usurping their authority over hiring.
    – user14026
    Jul 16, 2017 at 16:33
  • @BenCrowell As long as they just pass on the facts, e.g. "I think that Candidate #10 is the only one of this bunch with the necessary technical skills", they should be good. It'd be usurping if they demand that the boss not consider the others, but pointing out that, in your opinion, only one is qualified should be appropriate.
    – Nat
    Jul 16, 2017 at 20:18
  • @Nat: You're describing how it should be if you have a nontechnical boss who doesn't feel threatened.
    – user14026
    Jul 17, 2017 at 0:14

4 Answers 4


I don't want to burden my boss with unqualified candidates.

Exactly. So pass to your boss all qualified candidates, and let him make the decision who to hire and who not.

If you're worried about giving him too many candidates (especially after you've already interviewed some of them and decided that many meet the requirements), you should reconvene with your boss and rediscuss the requirements — maybe you should set the bar higher. Similarly, if the process yields too few candidates for your liking, the bar should probably set lower.

Other than that, there's not much to tell here. We can't give you a definitive number; it largely depends on how easy/hard it is to get qualified people for that position.

Incidentally, this problem is related to the Secretary Problem in mathematics.

  • 27
    The secretary problem isn't actually relevant when hiring people in the real world. The core complication of the SP is that you can only evaluate one candidate at a time and have to give a definitive yes-or-no before evaluating the next candidate. In the real world you can interview multiple people and decide who to hire after comparing them all. But otherwise, +1.
    – Philipp
    Jul 16, 2017 at 9:57
  • 7
    The similarity is in the fact that you (at least in my line of work) do not know upfront how many qualified candidates you get, and the lead time of the process might as well be too long for the first candidate to wait. If you're in a situation where you do have that advantage, I agree it's not applicable at all (but still interesting to read).
    – Glorfindel
    Jul 16, 2017 at 10:32
  • @Philipp In the real world, you sometimes have the option of saying "nope, none of these are good enough, let's restart the process". In effect, each iteration of the interview process acts as a secretary interview. You don't know how good the secretary (the collective candidates of each iteration) are. There remain important differences, like the fact that you can hire a secretary (accept canadiates from a hiring iteration) and still repeat the process later, but the idea of using "what quality of canadidates you get" as part of the algorithm to figure out what your bar is holds.
    – Yakk
    Jul 17, 2017 at 14:20

You could give your boss a categorized selection:

  • No: People you would be strictly against
  • Maybe: People with flaws, but who could still be worth considering
  • Yes: People who fulfill all the requirements
  • Yes, please!: Your personal favorites who go beyond the requirements

If the "Yes, please" list is too short, your boss can look at the "Yes" list, and when that's still too short, they can look at the "Maybe" list.

We use a similar approach at our company: Each application stage rates every candidate on a scale from 1 to 10, according to a predefined set of criteria. The next stage can then select the cutoff rating to get the number of candidates they want.

  • 1
    I like the categorizing, but not the names of the categories. They shouldn't sound like you're making the decision for the boss. "Yes, please" is a request, not a recommendation. Names like "good" and "best" would convey your evaluations, but not a request to your boss for him to do something specific. Jul 17, 2017 at 11:02
  • 1
    @OlinLathrop, unsuitable, maybe, suitable, excellent? Jul 17, 2017 at 11:13
  • "People you would be strictly against" Would anyone ever want to see those though? I'd just mention "I [ rejected / plan to reject] X candidates outright for not meeting our baseline requirements [which were X, Y and proficency with Z]."
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 17, 2017 at 12:27
  • @OlinLathrop You'd be giving your boss your opinion on the relative strength of each of these candidates. That's not at all the same as telling him who to hire. If the OP is doing interviews and filtering people, he's by definition being asked for his judgement. What the OP thinks of each candidate is very valuable information and the whole point of the exercise is to bias him towards certain people to help save time. I think you're seeing an authority issue where there is none.
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 17, 2017 at 12:30
  • @Lili: I agree with what you're saying. Reporting back "I think these two are the top, and these next three would probably be OK" is exactly what he's supposed to do. "Hire this one" is not. "Yes, please" is more the latter than the former. Jul 17, 2017 at 13:41

What is generally an acceptable number of candidates to pass on to my boss?

There is no generally acceptable number of candidates.

You need to ask your boss how many candidates he wants to see. Just as you learned what the requirements for a candidate are by talking to him, you need to talk with him to learn the volume he wants:

  • Perhaps he wants to see every qualified candidate. Or perhaps that's far too many.

  • Perhaps he wants to see as many qualified candidates as he can in a week. Or perhaps he only has 3 days available.

  • Perhaps he wants to see only the "top three" and then he will choose among them.

You need to ask the only person who can answer your question without guessing - your boss.


What is generally an acceptable level of candidates to pass on to my boss (he currently manages about 15 people)?

It is not about the percentage (or fixed number), but rather about the quality of the candidates.

In my case, I like to use two criteria:

  • Does the candidate meet the absolute minimum for the role?

  • If so, then I provide an evaluation (with some sort of ranking, as in "borderline", "fair", "good", "very good", "outstanding").

The reason for the first is that you don't want to be forced to pass candidates that would be unable to do the job. If because of this no candidate goes to the next phase, then there is a problem in the recruiting pipeline (HR, external sourcing...)

The second then lets me do a honest evaluation, gives enough information for my manager to take a decision (possibly combining my feedback with others' evaluations), and, if necessary, provides my manager with a way of ranking the candidates (so, if he wishes, he can just take the top N from the list).

Other than that, I usually refuse to trim the list of candidates to a fixed number - as there is the risk of having me as the single person that filters out too many people.

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