Key Differentiators That Separate Good vs. Great Candidates

It’s easy to spot a bad apple in the produce section: Look for brown spots.

But how do you spot a “bad apple” during the hiring process?

When you’re screening resumes and interviewing candidates, it’s important to remember that job seekers always put their best foot forward. As a result, it can be tough to know who merely “looks good on paper” or interviews well – and who will ultimately succeed on the job.

Separating the “good” from the “great.”

At PrideStaff, we understand the challenges businesses face when identifying the best candidates for their job openings. With job seekers presenting their best selves during the hiring process, it can be difficult to distinguish between those who simply “look good on paper” and candidates who truly possess the qualities and potential to excel in the role.

As a leading nationwide staffing agency, it’s our job to make every aspect of staffing your business simpler and more successful. Below​,​ we share some of our recruiters’ favorite tips to hire smarter – by knowing how these candidate differentiators can help you distinguish adequate candidates from stellar ones:

Distinguishing Tactic #1: Give them a problem to solve.

A real-world exercise provides insight into how a candidate responds to a problem. The exercise shows you how the individual uses soft and hard skills to address a problem while providing a glimpse of how they handle adversity.

A good candidate will attempt to solve the problem to the best of their abilities.

A great candidate will go above and beyond by:

  • Asking relevant questions to fill in the missing information​.​
  • Explaining their thought process behind the solution they developed​.​
  • Admitting that they don’t have enough information to provide a solution – and then explaining how they’d go about getting the answers they need. Great candidates have a keen awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses; they’re humble enough to admit when they don’t have all the answers.

Distinguishing Tactic #2: Ask for proof.

During the hiring process, you’ll ask questions to determine whether the candidate has the requisite job skills, soft skills, background, and experience for the available role.

A good candidate will explain their skills and experience as they relate to the available job.

A great candidate will move beyond reviewing their background and:

  • Back​s​ up their claims with evidence (i.e., measurable results and KPIs about their job performance)​​
  • Share​s​ anecdotes that illustrate their abilities in action​​
  • ​​Is​​​ forthcoming about areas in which they lack skills or experience – and demonstrate​s​ a willingness to bridge the gap​​

Distinguishing Tactic #3: Passion and Enthusiasm

Look for candidates who express excitement for the opportunity and a strong desire to contribute meaningfully to ​your​​​ organization’s success. Ask, “What excites you most about our industry and our company’s mission, and how do you envision contributing to our success?”

A good candidate may show enthusiasm for the role.

A great candidate demonstrates a genuine passion for the industry​, company​​​ mission​, and:​​​

  • Articulate​s​ their excitement for the role and the company’s mission​​
  • Display​s​ a strong desire to contribute and make a difference​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #4: Cultural Fit

Notice in the interview if they understand the mission and vision of the organizations where they have worked. When looking for a new job, they seek companies whose values align with theirs.

Talent acquisition is about finding the best people for your organization, not just those who are generally well-qualified. Determine whether they are the right fit by asking how their values align with your company’s and how they would contribute to our positive work environment.

A good candidate possesses the necessary skills to succeed on the job.

A great candidate aligns with the company’s culture​, ​​​values​, and:​​​

  • Demonstrate​s​ an understanding of the company’s mission and vision​.​
  • Showcase​s​ their alignment with the organization’s values and culture​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #5: Leadership Potential

Even if someone has yet to hold a leadership position, it doesn’t mean they are not a natural leader. Ask them to provide an example of a time when they took on a leadership role or demonstrated leadership qualities in a previous position or how they inspired and motivated others.

A good candidate performs well in their current role but may not reach out to mentor others.

A great candidate may have taken on leadership responsibilities in previous positions, inspiring and motivating colleagues.​ They also:​

  • Excel in their current roles and responsibilities​.​
  • Exhibit leadership qualities and inspire others​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #6: Problem-Solving Under Pressure

Observe how candidates handle unexpected challenges during the interview process. Ask questions that go beyond eliciting an answer but also allow you to see their thinking process.

A good candidate handles most routine challenges well.

A great candidate will remain composed, think critically, and demonstrate resilience in unpredictable situations.​ They will also:​

  • Stay composed and think critically in challenging situations​.​
  • Demonstrate resilience and adaptability in handling unexpected challenges​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #7: Adaptability and Flexibility

Ask the candidate to share an example of a time when they had to quickly learn a new skill or adapt to a change in their work environment.

A good candidate is open to change.

A great candidate willingly embraces change, learns new skills, ​​pivots when needed, ​and:​​​

  • Embrace​s​ change and ​is open​​​​​ to learning new skills​.​
  • Demonstrate​s​ flexibility in adapting to evolving circumstances​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #8: Emotional Intelligence

Interpersonal skills are essential for a collaborative work environment. Observe how they behave in the interview. Are they listening actively? Do they display empathy and pick up on non-verbal clues? Ask them to describe a situation where they effectively managed a challenging interpersonal relationship with a colleague or client.

A good candidate communicates effectively.

A great candidate demonstrates strong emotional intelligence and effectively navigates interpersonal relationships​. They also:​

  • Exhibit emotional intelligence in interpersonal interactions​.​
  • Show empathy and active listening skills in communication​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #9: Long-Term Vision

If you’re hiring for retention, you’ll look for candidates who think beyond the next payday. Not everyone has a five-year plan, but you can ask where they see themselves contributing to the growth and success of ​y​our company in the next five years beyond the immediate responsibilities of the role.

A good candidate focuses on immediate job requirements.

A great candidate shows a long-term vision for their role and its impact on the organization’s growth and success.​ They also:​

  • Demonstrate a long-term vision for their role and contributions​.​
  • Show how their potential impact aligns with the company’s growth​

Distinguishing Tactic #10: Continuous Learners

Professional development is vital for staying relevant in today’s business environment. Continuous learners actively seek skill expansion and stay updated with industry trends. Ask candidates to share how they keep their skills up-to-date and how they expand their knowledge in their field.

A good candidate is content with current skills.

A great candidate has a thirst for knowledge and is committed to continuous learning.

  • Pursue continuous learning and skill expansion opportunities​.​
  • Stay updated with industry trends and advancements​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #11: Creative and Innovative Thinking

Look for candidates who bring fresh ideas and will contribute to keeping the company innovative and ahead of the competition. Share that innovative problem-solving is highly valued in the organization. Hire those who seem excited, not intimidated.

A good candidate can solve the problems that are presented.

A great candidate exhibits creative problem-solving skills and innovative thinking. Exhibit creative problem-solving skills in unique ways.

  • Contribute fresh ideas to promote innovation within the organization​.​

Distinguishing Tactic #12: Strong Work Ethic

Look for clues every step of the way. Are they on time and well-prepared for the interview? Are their answers thoughtful and relevant to the organization? Reliability and dedication are crucial traits for success in any role. Ask for an example of when they went above and beyond to deliver exceptional results and take pride in their work.

A good candidate fulfills responsibilities as required.

A great candidate takes pride in their work, demonstrating reliability and consistently exceeding expectations.

  • Demonstrate strong work ethics and dedication to their responsibilities​.​
  • Consistently exceed expectations and take pride in their work​.​

Hire Smarter and More Accurately with PrideStaff

At PrideStaff, we believe that sourcing the best available talent is not only about qualifications and experience; it’s also about assessing a candidate’s problem-solving abilities, adaptability, and potential for growth. By incorporating these distinguishing tactics into your talent acquisition process, you can identify and secure the candidates who will truly thrive in your organization.

Refine your talent acquisition process to attract candidates who not only possess the necessary skills but also have the potential to make a significant impact on your organization’s growth and success.

As a trusted staffing agency, we are here to support you in finding and hiring top-tier talent that aligns with your company’s vision and values.

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you source and retain exceptional candidates for your business. 

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Avoid Making These Mistakes When Hiring Employees

Not seeing enough great candidates lately?

We can help. To find out how, contact your local PrideStaff office today.