Choosing between two high quality candidates – a recruitment dilemma

by Freya Lucas

August 07

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

In some parts of the country, early childhood education and care (ECEC) recruitment is highly competitive, with far more positions than applicants. In other areas, or for certain roles, employers may have the luxury of choice, finding themselves in the enviable position of having two equally qualified, equally suitable applicants for a role. As an employer, what are some of the best ways to ensure the best applicant is chosen to move forward? 

 

In this piece, The Sector Editor Freya Lucas, along with representatives from the broader ECEC sector, explores some of the elements involved in making what is sometimes a very complex and nuanced decision. 

 

Contact references – explicit and implicit 

 

Having discussions with previous employers, particularly those who had supervision of the applicants, may assist in making a decision. An employer may also consider learning more about the candidate from publicly available information – for example, if a candidate has an active LinkedIn profile, has written opinion pieces for organisations such as Early Childhood Australia (ECA), or has contributed to social media discussions in the ECEC space. 

 

Considering what values, priorities, persona and contribution a candidate has made to the ECEC sector may also support in making a final decision. Questions on which theories or philosophies drive their practice, or asking questions derived from the ECA code of ethics may assist here. 

 

Tests and trials 

 

While there may be some value in asking each of your applicants to undertake personality typing testing, or asking them deeper situational analysis questions, in the world of ECEC the most beneficial way of getting an indication of the applicant’s suitability is seeing how they interact with co-workers, parents, and children ‘on the job’.

 

Even if the role is more administrative in nature – such as an assistant director position – interaction with families, children and professionals within the centre will be an important component of any role within the ECEC sector. 

 

Providing a trial shift within a role can give valuable insights into the suitability of a candidate for a role, and provide the employer with an opportunity to review ‘on the job’ performance. 

 

An important component of this option is the feedback provided by those working with each potential employee, as well as from the children. Whilst this feedback may not be the deciding factor, reflecting on the feelings of the working community as a whole may assist in making a decision. 

 

Location, location, location 

 

If all meetings have taken place in the centre or service, consider meeting somewhere else. Taking each of the candidates out for coffee, meeting at a ‘sister site’ (if applicable), or perhaps, if the decision is a significant one, attend a professional development event, inviting the two candidates of choice along, and then using follow up discussions to support you in making your choice. 

 

One of the advantages of considering candidates in a less formal setting is that people will typically ‘let down their guard’ and reveal more of their personality. This can either be an advantage or a determinant to their success, however, it may make the hiring decision easier. 

 

Position of best fit 

 

Hiring someone to fill a role is not always about considering how they will fit with the role, but also how they will fit within the broader considerations of the philosophy of the centre or service, and, if applicable, the broader context of the approved provider, and their mission, vision and values. 

 

Summing up this ethos, Sheela Edwards, Founder and CEO of Aurora Early Education, says the Aurora recruitment philosophy is simple: Recruit to Pedagogy, not just ratios.

 

Loretta Davis of Handprints ELC says “Fundamentally, our choices of staffing often come back to service philosophy and values. When we focus recruitment strategies around service philosophy and values, we build a comprehensive team of staff who have a compatible sense of purpose and drive, which helps a service to thrive. A service philosophy is powerful in that way, that it can bring a group of like-minded people together.

 

Likewise, Michelle Walsh of Hourglass Consultancy says that considering how an applicant will fit, not only with their immediate manager and their team, but with the organisation as a whole is important. “Will they truly align with the management styles and decision making of the CEO and higher management or departments? This has become such a consideration these days and it is usually what has people turning over, so I work to ensure they fit with that,” Ms Walsh says.  

 

She says that part of the role of a leader hiring new candidates is to think carefully about the alignment of their values with that of the broader organisation: “I don’t want to set people up for failure by hiring them for roles where they will become increasingly frustrated or have their values brought to question. That’s my role as a leader.”

 

Future focus 

 

An important factor in deciding which of two candidates is most likely a better fit for a team is to think about both their future ambitions, and the future direction of the team as a whole. Are either of the candidates seeking promotion in the next five years? Considering further studies? 


Asking these types of questions, within the bounds of workplace law, can support managers in making hiring decisions. 

 

Assuming, as most do on hiring, that your ideal candidate will remain with the organisation for the foreseeable future, considering what roles may grow, change, or require filling in the future can assist in moving one of the candidates ahead of another. For example, if a centre is planning on opening another site in the next twelve months, a candidate who has leadership and mentoring qualities may be of use to build a new team. 

 

Alternatively, if occupancy is an issue for a service, a candidate who has had limited experience in working with children, but who has a pleasant demeanour, relevant qualifications and clearances, and experience in marketing and social media may be an asset to the broader service as a whole, by increasing occupancy through implementing marketing ideas and social media promotion. 

it always comes back to philosophy and fit. Which of these educators is the best fit for our team? Who brings the skills, attributes or personality that compliments our existing team? Whose philosophy aligns with that of the service? If all else fails – ask each candidate to come in for a paid trial and observe their practice.” Nicole Halton, Inspired EC

Self promotion 

 

Asking candidates directly why you should choose them can give insight into their motivations for choosing to pursue this position. A strong candidate will have the capacity to sell themselves, and outline the skills they may bring to the team.


This is also an opportunity for the employer to be transparent about the bounds of the role, the salary package, contractual obligations, and the culture of the service and approved provider. 

 

After these discussions, it may be that one candidate is more likely to accept the offer than another, or that one would like more benefits or salary packaging elements than you are able to offer. 

 

The Big Picture 

 

Sheela Edwards, Founder and CEO of Aurora Early Education, offered the following broad considerations to provide guidance to other leaders as they undertake the process of selecting candidates for any vacancies arising: 

 

  • Use a strength based approach to recruitment

 

  • Do not compromise on organisational standards

 

  • Spell out expectations in the context of Exceeding standards

 

  • Communicate zero tolerances 

 

  • Use organisation pillars as filters to guide our decision making process

 

  • Give clear feedback for improvements 

 

  • Right person for the right reason

 

  • Use Employee Referral 

 

Porque no las dos? Why not have both? 

 

Sometimes there is an opportunity to make a space for both promising candidates. 

 

As Ms Walsh says Honestly I would try to make a role for both. Usually I am managing in spaces where we have had the positions at other centres or change-overs that I knew I would need to fill soon.”  

 

Regardless of the outcome, or if there is opportunity to accommodate both candidates, it is important to keep both candidates in the loop during the process of recruitment, especially if the process is lengthy. 

 

Failures in communication can lead to one, or both, candidates becoming frustrated by the process, and seeking other opportunities. Looping back to the unsuccessful candidate, and providing reasons for your decisions is also a helpful way of closing the loop. 

 

For more information about Handprints ELC, visit the website. To learn more about the consultancy services offered by Michelle Walsh, email michellewalshconsultancy@outlook.com. Further information about Aurora Early Education can be accessed here, with information about Inspired EC available here

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