The hiring process in my company consists of the HR shortlisting candidates based on some policies, and then the manager selects the top candidates from among them to be invited for interviews.

Sometimes only a few people apply or HR shortlists only a few candidates from among those who apply. Hence, the manager is faced with choosing from a very narrow pool of candidates. It is possible that none of the shortlisted candidates has the right mix of skills and experience required for the job.

However, if nobody is hired, the whole process (advertising for the position, etc.) has to be repeated, and can take up to a year. There is no guarantee that the scenario will not repeat.

Hence, the manager has to choose between:

  1. Do not hire anyone since none of the candidates quite cut it in terms of the desired skill set, OR
  2. Hire the candidate who is the closest fit among the available candidates.

Opinions seem to vary from hiring for potential rather than experience to a bad candidate might indeed be worse than no candidate.

I imagine hiring a candidate with less than the desired level of qualification would mean having to rethink the job role, which would typically result in the position not adding as much value as expected. Is this a fairly typical outcome of a hiring process, and the key lies in the manager's ability to bring the less qualified hire up to speed and/or redefine the role to match the skills the candidate does possess?

What factors should a hiring manager consider when deciding between filling the position with a less qualified candidate or continuing to wait for a qualified candidate?

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    Doesn't the link you provided already answer your question? Of course it might make sense for some given situation with some candidate and some position, but if you're asking whether doing this ever makes sense, that's probably too broad for a question. Aug 27, 2017 at 17:45
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    The mathematically-inclined will enjoy reading about the Secretary Problem. If you know that there will be n candidates to choose from, then it can be shown that one ought to reject the first n/e candidates, and then hire the first candidate who is better than all those before. Applying that reasoning to A.O.'s question: can you expect that you will eventually find ~3x as many applicants? If so, wait it out. If not -- best to take the sure shot with the most-qualified candidate seen. Aug 29, 2017 at 17:17
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    @MaskedMan Thank you for the edits, which make good sense.
    – A.S
    Aug 29, 2017 at 18:12
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    @Greg The real life scenario offers a lot more leeway than the strict conditions imposed in the secretary problem. In particular, you don't need to interview candidates sequentially (the selection process can run in parallel for multiple candidates), and you can go back to a previous candidate (you don't have to make a decision right after the interview, you can keep candidates "on hold" for a week or so until you have had a chance to complete at least the first interview with every candidate). Nonetheless, that is a good starting point if you want to tackle the problem mathematically.
    – Masked Man
    Aug 31, 2017 at 6:11

5 Answers 5


I'm prepared to not sit on the fence with this one: it's better to permanently hire no-one, than permanently hire the wrong person. However, the crucial word there is "permanently" - if none of the candidates I'm presented with are the right option for my company long term, then I'm not going to hire them and have to deal with the damage they do to the company. Having to fire a permanent member of staff means that a) they've already done damage to the company (or I wouldn't be firing them) and b) continues to do damage in terms of team morale, if nothing else because they're back without having the number of staff they need.

None of that means that if I have a pressing need, I'm not prepared to look at other solutions to the problem: if I can't find someone I want to hire for a permanent role, then I'll look at contractors or short-term contracts (maybe even with some of the people I rejected for a permanent role). Similarly, if I'm looking to hire a permanent member of staff because the company has room to grow, but I'm not getting the candidates I want to hire, then I need to raise this with the hierarchy in my company: maybe I'm not offering the right salary and/or benefits, maybe I've just written an awful job spec and I need to have another go at it.


Is it better hire someone rather than no one?

As is often the case - it depends.

If you are capable of training a new employee up, so that they can reasonably quickly fill the open role, then it may be best to hire someone if the need is great.

When you do this, you are using up the budget, and you need to be capable of hiring folks that can grow into the role. That can be done, but isn't always easy.

But if the role truly needs the required background and it's not reasonable to train someone up quickly, or if the need for filling the position isn't urgent, then it may make more sense to not hire someone until you have the right one.

That might leave budget available for when the right individual comes along. But it's harder to justify a new hire if you live without one for long enough.

If this is a recurring problem, then it would make sense to determine why the pool of candidates is so small, and work to enlarge that pool. Perhaps loosening some of the requirements would help. Perhaps looking in a wider geographical area would make sense. Perhaps HR needs better training to source the right kinds of candidates in the right quantity. Etc, etc.

Or it might make sense to increase your capacity to grow less-qualified applications into the role. Better training, etc. could be of help.


My first action in a case like this is to get the rejected resumes from HR. More often than not, I find they have rejected people who would do well in the position.

As for whether to hire or not it depends on the position and several other factors. Some jobs are easier to learn on the the job than others. In this case pick the best general candidate you have and teach them. Or do one more round of advertising. It should not take more than two weeks as everything is already written.

Are the candidates close to what you want but not perfect, then hiring one makes sense especially if you need the person immediately for some reason.

If the candidates are far off what you want, then you need to look at your hiring process. Are your salary expectations too low for the excellent candidates? Is the wording in the ad incorrect thus attracting people who are not qualified. Is HR filtering incorrectly and rejecting good candidates while sending on bad ones? Does your company have a bad reputation?


From the point of the manager: The person's salary isn't his problem. If hiring the person costs $80,000 a year and they produce $40,000 worth of value a year for the manager's team, then the manager is up $40,000 and should hire the person. It's not a positive for the company. But that's not the team manager's problem. That's probably a problem for someone two levels higher up in the company, to fix their broken hiring process.

So the manager's decision is: Will this person be of positive value to my team? If the team absolutely needs someone who can do X and hasn't anyone, and the new candidate can't do X either, then it doesn't look good. On the other hand, you may have someone already on your team who could learn X but hasn't got the time, and the new person could take off workload from that person, who then learns to do X and fixes your problem.

Of course there will be people whose value is less than zero. If they are disruptive, make mistakes that take more time fixing than the person contributes, then you better go without.

For political reasons, and quite brutal: In a rigid company, it may happen that at some point the manager is told "we have to save money, someone from your team needs to be let go". And the manager will be told that whether they added a useless sixth person to a five person team or not. In that situation, having hired a not very good person would mean the manager can keep their original team intact. I know that's nasty and brutal but will be reality in some places. If you are the guy hired in that situation, take advantage of the situation and learn, learn, learn.

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    I think your last point is actually very important - for many organizations, having more "reports" is actually a sign of prestige. So by choosing to hire a smaller, more elite team, you may actually lower your perceived influence (regardless of how much your team gets done). Particularly in fields where it is difficult to track value-add.
    – enderland
    Aug 28, 2017 at 14:53
  • Maybe I missing something, but why would you pay 80k for something only producing 40k? Aug 28, 2017 at 15:08
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    @JuanCarlosOropeza: There's no candidate worth $42,000. The manager and his team get $40,000 worth. The company pays $80,000 worth. It's a good deal for the manager. Not for the company, but organisations can be irrational when individuals are rational.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 28, 2017 at 16:34

Of course it depends on the details of the situation.

I've been in many companies where management says, "We need someone who can hit the ground running." (I've heard that exact phrase a lot.) "We can't afford to hire someone who will take 3 months to learn the required skills. We need someone who already has the required skills."

But often it's difficult to find such a person. And so I often say, If we could hire someone today and take 3 months teaching them the required skills, or spend 6 months looking for someone who already has the required skills, which strategy gets us a qualified person more quickly?

Of course I wouldn't hire someone who will be a negative to the team. I mean someone who will break more things than he fixes, etc. Or someone whose contribution will be so small that he's not worth the cost of the paperclips that he'll consume.

I'd much rather hire someone today who I know can learn what he needs to know in a couple of months than to hold on to the hope that maybe any day now a better candidate will come along.

Sadly, in real life we can't definitively say what any candidate's real skill level is. I've interviewed people who sounded very knowledgeable but who turned out to just have mastered the buzzwords. People can have impressive resumes but it turns out they have major personality flaws that make them useless -- they refuse to do assigned tasks if they don't sound like they're fun enough, or they create conflict with other team members, etc.

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