Party systems in democratizing countries are often characterized by high levels of electoral volatility as parties fail to survive from one election to the next. We examine the nature of candidate recruitment in democratizing countries as a source of such volatility. We argue that new parties seek to become competitive by selecting for a particular type of candidate: one with the financial and social resources to compensate for a new party’s organizational weakness. This type of candidate selection encourages volatility because the very attributes that make such candidates desirable also enable them to easily defect between parties. We corroborate the argument’s microfoundations by analyzing survey and experimental data from winning and losing parliamentary candidates in Zambia. The results shed new light on how candidate recruitment dynamics can influence party system institutionalization. The survey reveals that candidates who are business owners with associational linkages are the most likely to be recruited by parties as well as the most likely to defect between parties. A conjoint analysis that presents candidates with profiles of hypothetical parties shows that candidates prefer parties that offer particularistic benefits at odds with the regularized procedures parties typically develop over time.