Most of us have been there at least once: you’ve applied for the position, gone through the interview process and are pretty sure you nailed it. Maybe you’ve even been told it’s down to you and one other candidate. But in the end, someone else gets the job, and you’re left disappointed and wondering what happened. Why did they choose the other person over you? What was it that tipped the scales?

It turns out there’s a good chance they were more enthusiastic.

A Workopolis survey of over 300 hiring managers found that enthusiasm was by far the most popular tipping factor when it came down to choosing one candidate over another. This was followed in a distant second place by fit with the company culture – a write-in response.

We asked the question, “If it comes down to two job candidates with equal skills and work experience, which of the following is the factor that will move you to hire one over the other?” Nearly half of respondents (45.37%) said they would choose the more enthusiastic candidate.

Here are the results. Completing the sentence, “I would choose the candidate…”

    who seems more enthusiastic: 45.37%
    who seems like they would fit better with the company culture: 13.4%
    with the better sense of humour: 11.82%
    with whom I have the most in common: 7.03%
    with the most education: 5.75%
    who is already employed: 3.83%
    who needs the job more: 3.51%
    who is better dressed: 0.96%
    with the better online presence: 0.32%
    other (write in): 13%

Note that “fit with the company culture” was not a response we included. But we obviously should have. The remaining write-in responses included choosing the candidate “who I like best,” “who is the most diverse,” “with the best attitude,” “who is the most genuine,” “who is more emotionally stable,” and a surprising number of variations on “with better skills” or “experience,” proving that not everyone reads the question.

We didn’t ask about industry, so it’s also worth noting that this is a general question. While an online presence might not have ranked very highly here, people in marketing or content, for example, will put more weight there (my boss said he would choose the candidate with the better online presence). A joke shop might want the candidate with the sense of humour.

The takeaway here is very obvious: be enthusiastic for the role, and show it. Let the hiring manager know that you want the job. As we have discussed in the past, you even have to say that out loud.

Also, do as much research as you possibly can into the company culture, and, if you are introduced to people, be sure to show an interest and to engage them in conversation.

We also asked for some comments. Here are some of the responses we received:

“I have such a small team (me and the other person) that I need someone with whom I have something in common with, as we need to be able to connect at a certain level in order to get projects and other initiatives done.”

“You cannot teach culture or fit, but you can teach skill and processes. If a candidate has amazing experience and multiple years in a role you would like, but they would not be able to fit into the culture or work with their team, they will not work out. However, if a candidate would fit in perfectly, and has the ability to learn/the basic skills required this candidate is best because you can teach them what you need them to be able to do. Fit is key in the recruitment process.”

“I have found that passionate, enthusiastic candidates (who also meet/exceed other qualifications) perform better.”

“I wanted to say hire the more enthusiastic person but I’ve seen people turn enthusiasm on and off like a light switch. In my experience, hiring the person who needs the job more is likely to land you a thankful and hopefully, more loyal and dedicated employee.”

“When interviewing two candidates, both of equal qualification, I took them for a site tour and introduced them to other workers. I noticed that one candidate made a point of asking questions to the existing staff and found them looking for common ground; the other candidate enjoyed the tour acknowledged the existing staff – but didn’t say a word to them. At that point it was obvious to me which candidate would make the better team player.”

“You can’t train someone to have a positive disposition or enthusiastic outlook. So as long as there’s some demonstration of competency in prior roles, then attitude matters most.”

“When two candidates are equally qualified, but one is more enthusiastic about the role (has done their research on the role/company, is eager for THIS job – not just ANY job), I think that it is a better job fit and that they will be less likely to leave our organization.”

“You assume that someone most enthusiastic about the opportunity will put more energy into the job.”

“You can’t buy enthusiasm or even train for it. I once hired a man with no trade experience for a highly skilled position. His eager, go-getter, enthusiastic personality was natural and he was a perfect fit for the job. He became our top producer in no time. I had someone with the trade experience but found them too laid back for a role with a lot of customer interaction.”

“Two candidates who were neck and neck, and no decision could be made. One sent a heartfelt thank you – that’s the candidate who won us over. Another situation – two candidates neck and neck, then we called references: one had more glowing references than we had ever seen – that is the winning candidate.”