Dame Susan Devoy was the second choice for the role of Race Relations Commissioner, official documents show, but she received a glowing assessment from the panel who interviewed her for the job.
Justice Minister Judith Collins was accused of making a celebrity appointment when Dame Susan was hired in March, and some MPs questioned the candidate's lack of experience and previous comments on race issues.
Papers released under the Official Information Act showed that the search for a successor to Joris de Bres took nine months, with more than 25 expressions of interest and two rounds of applications.
Dame Susan, a former squash world champion, put her hand up for the job in the second round of applications in November.
The interview panel, made up of Defence Ministry chief Helene Quilter, NZ Post Group chief Brian Roche and Secretary for Justice Andrew Bridgman, said Dame Susan demonstrated good insight into the range of issues the commissioner would have to face.
They emphasised that she had a particular interest in Maori and Pacific Island unemployment, had good communication skills and was capable of making complex information accessible to a broad audience.
"Dame Susan satisfied the panel she would be a sensible and intelligent voice for race relations issues."
The panel also noted that she had governance experience, mature judgment and good media skills.
Members said either Dame Susan or another unnamed candidate - revealed to be former All Black Michael Jones - had the ability and mana to be commissioner, but Mr Jones was the stronger candidate because of his "greater immersion in a world in which race issues are ever present".
He decided to turn down the five-year post for family reasons.
After a call for expressions of interest in June, the Ministry of Justice received 24 applications. All of them were rejected despite the ministry finding that five met the criteria for appointment and eight more were considered "potentially suitable".