Four steps to help hiring managers decide between two strong applicants.

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Hiring is rarely easy — and it’s particularly difficult once you have narrowed the choice to two strong candidates. How do you make the decision between two apparently equal applicants? Consider the four takeaways of the following case study.

Melody interviewed 10 people for a marketing assistant position, and two of the candidates stood head and shoulders above the rest — Matt and Alicia.

Matt, a current employee of the firm, had worked there two years as an administrative assistant and compiled a solid record. He was conscientious, had all the necessary qualifications and was taking marketing courses at night.

On the other hand, Matt didn’t seem particularly creative. He seemed to lack the personality and sparkle that would make it easy for him to advance to a professional marketing position.

The other candidate, Alicia, made a strong first impression. She dressed smartly, thought well on her feet and seemed to have the intelligence and personality to advance. Alicia also seemed very motivated and had a two-year communications degree. On the downside, Alicia had changed jobs frequently and lived in several different cities.

Matt was the safer approach; things would run smoothly and he has a proven record of dependability. But Alicia’s intelligence and liveliness could be a real asset to the job.

What would you do?

Melody turned to trusted colleagues and mentors for advice. They said she first needed to get comfortable with the fact that no choice is 100 percent safe. She could not remove all the risk from the situation. It’s always possible to make a hiring mistake, but it’s also possible to avoid making a careless mistake. Here are some strategies that helped Melody.

Reassess the requirements for the position. Ask yourself: What are the most important tasks the person who has this job must accomplish? Perhaps the qualities that Melody found attractive in Alicia are not really required to do the job well. Sometimes an applicant’s attractive personality can lead us to overlook the more necessary qualifications that aren’t there.

Gather more information. Many hiring failures occur because the manager lacked important information that may have been perfectly accessible, but the decision-maker didn’t ask for it. Be sure to talk to references, follow up on claims in résumés, and check with current and previous supervisors for everyone, not just for the candidates whose work histories are new to you.

Spend more time with the finalists. Invite them to tour the workplace with you. Set up an informal lunch with their prospective co-workers. Seeing the candidates in different situations will allow you to evaluate the consistency and appropriateness of their behavior — setting the solid performers apart from those who are merely good in interviews.

Make a decision and commit to its success. Once you make a reasonable effort to avoid a careless hiring mistake, you owe it to the candidates to make a swift decision.

If both candidates still look strong, chances are that either of them could succeed in the position. And remember, whether either will succeed may depend as much on their skills as on the quality of your leadership and management skills.

In this case, after listening to all this advice and thinking the situation over, Melody realized that her fear of failure had been interfering with her ability to make a good decision — one based on the facts about the two candidates, not on fears about what her bosses might think.

After rethinking the job, gathering more information, and spending more time with the two finalists, she concluded that Matt was the better choice — not just “safer” but actually more qualified and suited to the work.