Why Candidate Selection is Just Like Stale Donuts

Experiencing Buyer's Remorse with Candidate Selection

We’ve all been there that moment when we like a candidate so much that it scares us into believing there might just be someone out there better, stronger, and more qualified.  And we’re taught to believe this.  We’re rewarded for waiting.  We kiss a lot of frogs but maybe just maybe, we end up waiting.  But sometimes hiring managers and recruiters spend an awful lot of time waiting until it’s too late.

Experiencing Buyer’s Remore with Candidate Selection

We’ve all experienced a phenomenon called “buyer’s remorse.”  It is that moment when you buy a product and throw down your cash on a large purchase that you wish you wouldn’t have made the commitment.  In most cases, I believe it is natural to feel that you could have found someone better, stronger and more qualified to fill that role.  Hiring and candidate selection is expensive and a lynchpin role in your organization. It can cost your organization in ways you cannot calculate or describe. The cost per hire includes recruiting costs like time spent interviewing a candidate as well as the cost to source and publish job postings on job boards or the use of a third party recruiter.  Heck, there’s a standardized forumla to cost per hire that HR, recruiters and business leaders are encouraged to use although the use and calculation of cost per hire varies greatly. I recommend adding factors and costs including the cost of onboarding a new candidate as well as lost productivity and sales from not having someone in a position.

And yet cultural norms tell us that we will be rewarded if we wait.  If we wait to find our one true love, everything in our life will be okay. The marshmellow experiment first tested in 1970 at Stanford University supports the importance of delayed gratification in decision-making among children.  Young test subjects were rewarded for exerting their self-control through delayed gratification with receiving an additional marshmellow if they waited to eat the marshmellow sitting in front of them for twenty minutes.

Companies in product cycles experience this every single day.  If we wait to launch our new product or service making sure it is just right, we believe we will be rewarded and that being first to market isn’t always the best.  Except that is not always the case.

In the candidate hiring and recruitment markets, being first to offer is rewarded as we spend our recruiting budgets sourcing, engaging and finding that candidate before anyone else especially in competitive hiring markets like San Francisco’s programming and development community or Oklahoma City because of it’s extremely low unemployment rate.  The war for talent is local. The war for talent is specific. If we fail to move to offer or interview that candidate in favor of being rewarded with the second marshmellow, we miss out on potentially a big, big opportunity.

Delayed Gratification Dilema in Your Recruitment Plan and Hiring

I was reminded of this fact this weekend as I watched the movie, The Five Year Engagement, where two characters wait for perfect timing to have the dream wedding and begin their lives.  The main female character happens to be a Psychology professor who works on a research project that is an adult version of the marshmellow experiment where day old stale donuts are placed in a room with subjects with the promise of new fresh donuts to arrive.

The premise is that those who made the decision to not to wait for the fresh donuts are emotionally damaged making bad decisions based on short term benefits of the tasty pastry.  Except that the psychology professor and her fiancé spend five years of their lives waiting for the moment when their theoretical fresh donuts would arrive. **spoiler alert**  It never happened.

Use of HR Technologies Drive Increased Candidate Quality

I think candidate selection is just like stale donuts. As much importance we place on science and human resource technologies in our hiring and selection process to help make the best decision it comes down to a choice and a risk.  Does this candidate have the best skills and qualifications to offer or is it worth the risk to standing around waiting?  Does this improved candidate exist or will I spend hours, days, months or even years waiting for someone when the opportunity has been standing in front of me.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Josh Tolan says

    This is a really great post. While it seems weird to compare great candidates to stale donuts, just like the donut experiment you don’t’ want to wait around in the hope the perfect candidate is about to come along. Sometimes the best candidates for the job will be the ones with room to grow into the position and the company at large. With the war for talent raging, it’s important to make quick hiring decisions and not to second-guess your choice. This is why more companies are using technological tools like social media and video interviewing to connect with candidates on a more personal level faster than in the traditional process. This way you’re not waiting around forever for the perfect candidate to come along and you scoop up talented candidates before your competition.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says

      Thanks, Josh. I agree it’s weird but in looking at all the psychology studies around this topic I thought it was appropriate and something that happens all too often by recruiters and hiring managers for different reasons.



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