You have three candidates, and all have serious red flags, but you have to hire one. What do you do?

This question came to me from a long time, friend, "John." He's struggling to fill a position and has only three qualified applicants. All three applicants came up with issues in their background checks, which makes him hesitant to extend an offer. He asked me how to choose a candidate when no candidate is perfect.

This situation comes up often. You can spend years searching for the perfect candidate, but most likely, you'll be in a situation like my friend and need to hire someone now. He can't really expand his search for the following reasons:

  1. The position is in a rural area, so there are limited applicants.
  2. The position requires a professional degree with licensing, so he can't hire just a smart person and train them.
  3. He doesn't have the budget to pay for candidate relocation.
  4. It cannot be done remotely.
  5. The position must be filled, as it is critical.

If you're in this situation, here's what you need to do. 

Write everything out

John was having trouble sleeping because he couldn't stop thinking about the difficult choice he had before him. So, we laid it out. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate?

Candidate A:

  • Strength: Experienced senior candidate.
  • Weakness: Socially awkward, with a history of inappropriate behavior. The position requires sensitive human interaction.

Candidate B:

  • Strength: Experienced senior candidate
  • Weakness: Job hopping, wants a salary over the budgeted amount, and has a bad reputation with some clients.

Candidate C:

  • Strength: Smart and a quick learner. The background check revealed no obvious issues.
  • Weakness: Junior. Would need intensive training; the position really needs someone senior.

Talk through your list.

John and I talked through all of these issues, and we pulled in another person with expertise in this field.

Was coaching a socially awkward employee something that John wanted to do? Yes, he felt he could do it, but it would not be easy. And what if it wasn't something training could fix? After all, this was a senior, experienced candidate who had a history of offending people. But would Candidate B's bad reputation come back to haunt him? Was it just office gossip or were those problems real? Plus, Candidate B wanted a higher salary than the budget would allow.

And what about Candidate C? Bright, but inexperienced. John didn't feel capable of training Candidate C on his own, so he evaluated what his current staff could do. Would they be willing to help train this person?

After much agonizing, John decided to offer the position to Candidate C. He's not 100 percent sure the decision is the right one, but after looking at the issues in black and white, he feels this is the best option.

Make the offer and hope for the best.

There wasn't an ideal candidate, but John goes into the offer phase with his eyes wide open. He knows what risks he's taking on and what extra work will be likely. While he would have liked to bring in someone more senior, he recognizes that by training and developing the less-experienced candidate he can create the perfect person for the job. (Hopefully!) His other staff members are willing to step up and help as well.

Sometimes you just need to pick the best you can out of the options you have. Sometimes, it's just the "good enough" candidate that you have to take. And that's OK. It is better to have an employee who can do the job with the right help than to keep the position vacant.