Why it is OK to hire the second best at times

Many factors come into play while deciding on the next best option, say HR experts

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Picture this: As a hiring manager, you are relieved to have found the best candidate for the job. It took you hours to interview the person and now you are convinced that person will be perfect for the position. You make an offer based on your conversations. But then, the perfect candidate starts stalling or begins to consider the offer of a competitor who is paying more. What should you do? Do you stretch your budget or just begin the whole process again?

With the perfect candidate considering a higher-paying alternative, one needs to evaluate certain things. Does hiking the person’s salary to match the rival offer make business sense? Is the person that valuable to the business?

If I am paying a person more than the market, I will do a thorough ref-check to ensure his performance levels. I have to prove to internal people that I have a person with hot skills.

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, senior president – HR & CHRO, Bhilosa Group

While you evaluate your next plan of action, how about considering the second best option? The candidate who missed the position narrowly and had even reached the final round, can be the best bet.

Remember how Lara Dutta was crowned Miss India and Priyanka Chopra was the first runner-up? Chopra was the second best, but has certainly been ahead in terms of career, fame and success.

In the corporate world, what has to be kept in mind here is the difference between the skill level of number 1 and number 2. If it is slim, the second option should be considered, but if it is wide, one needs to ascertain if it is worthwhile to invest in training time for the position.

Human resource experts believe that while hires should be decided based on the value they bring to the table, that does not mean backups cannot be considered.

Ravi Kumar, head – people & culture, Roche Diabetes Care India, feels it is critical that organisations should connect talent to value. “And that calls for looking at compensation, based on specific capabilities that the employee brings to the table, rather than deciding on compensation based only on average market compa-ratios for the role. While this approach may create outliers in terms of salaries within similar roles, it will help differentiate talent with superlative capabilities leading to outstanding performance, which will impact the organisation as well as the customer,” opines Kumar.

He also believes that in the end, the focus should be on long-term sustainable performance, as well as talent that has demonstrated learning agility. This holds true for both hiring from internal as well as from external sources.

Organisations employ various systems and processes to deduce whether or not a person is suitable for a position. They identify certain unique positions and try to understand whether they are hot skills or not.

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, senior president – HR & CHRO, Bhilosa Group, says, “Various critical roles and hot skills are benchmarked to certain percentiles in the market. It is necessary to have a strategy in place, and be aware of the people that need to be benchmarked, and be in the know of the market-level compensation. Also, there is an internal parity there and where one benchmarks one’s compensation at.”

Mukherjee also adds that he will certainly take it as a given that the person is going to bring competencies and value to the table. “If I am paying a person more than the market, I will do a thorough ref-check to ensure his performance levels. I have to prove to internal people that I have a person with hot skills. I will also put him through certain psychometric tests and then hire the person not only considering the current role but two steps ahead.”

Talent should be connected to value. Compensation should be decided based on specific capabilities that the employee brings to the table, rather than on average market compa-ratios for the role.

Ravi Kumar, head – people & culture, Roche Diabetes Care India

Everything, however, depends on roles and levels. Mukherjee explains that when it is a senior recruitment, one needs to see a person in entirety. Even in case of the second best candidate, many factors have to be considered. “How close the person was to the best candidate in capabilities or whether the person has a different skill or whether the compensation is lower. Also, as an organisation, one always has backups. More critical the role, more are the backups. It is not as if the best person gets selected always and the worst person gets rejected. It’s all about the right fit.”

What about the skill gap? The number 2 definitely lacks a few skills, which led the organisation to choose the other candidate, right? In that case, Mukherjee advises that the question to be asked is, whether the person can be trained. “Does the person have more hunger for learning? If he does, then he is more trainable and scalable. Also the person needs to have the right attitude. So one hires for attitude and trains for skills,” Mukherjee points out.

The ideal option is always the right fit, but there are several aspects that need to be considered before deciding on how to lure the best person back. However, that does not mean the second best should not be considered.

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