I subscribe to a range of HR news websites. They all have some form of weekly or daily ezine that I peruse to a greater or lesser degree depending upon what other commitments I have.
Last week one of these ezine articles caught my eye with the headline Forget the best: why you should hire the mediocre candidate. The article quoted a research paper (unreferenced and undated) from three European academics. This research purported to show that the candidate, after being told that they were the lesser qualified candidate, worked much harder than the candidate who was told they were the best person for the job, because the ‘lesser' candidate felt indebted to the hiring manager.
It's this sort of sloppy headline that spreads bad ideas. The word ‘mediocre' is inappropriately used by the sub-editor (or whoever wrote the article's heading). The writer of the article doesn't use ‘mediocre', they use the expressions ‘most qualified' and ‘least ability' to contrast the two categories of candidates.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines mediocre as ‘indifferent; ordinary'.
Who in their right mind, knowingly, hires a mediocre candidate?
I doubt any employer wants to hire such a candidate. What the headline writer fails to recognise is that just because a candidate is assessed as the least qualified candidate, that doesn't necessarily make them mediocre.
Hiring decisions are frequently made where the motivation and behavioural competencies of a candidate are regarded as more important factors than qualifications and experience. As any professional recruiter will know; just because a candidate has a greater level of capability than other candidates being considered for the position, they aren't necessarily the best choice for the job.
The best candidate for the job is always a combination of skills, competencies, motivation, availability and remuneration.
Or as George Anders says in his brilliant book The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else (Portfolio/Penguin, 2011) - ‘compromise on experience; don't compromise on character'.