How to Find Qualified Candidates in a Sea of Applicants

Line of job applicants waiting for interview

When unemployment levels are high, employers undoubtedly enjoy a “buyer’s market,” but may receive too many applicants who are not right for the position. When unemployment is low, it can be difficult to find qualified candidates altogether. Either way, you need a strategy for attracting and selecting qualified candidates — those who meet all of the technical and non-technical requirements to successfully perform in their position.

Below you’ll find ideas for advertising your open position and sifting through resumes, including strategies for writing the job description and weeding out unqualified applicants.

Create a Well-Defined Job Posting

First, employers should create job descriptions designed to discourage unqualified candidates and keep the number of resumes manageable, says Leigh Inskeep, president of RaveResumes. “Preparation and thought need to go into making the job description specific,” she says. “That’s what people are going to read when they decide they want to apply. The more detailed you are with your requirements, the better pool of candidates you’re likely to receive.”

Ron Fry, author of Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Best People, agrees. He describes vague job descriptions as the biggest problem with how many employers, particularly smaller companies, tend to approach announcing a job opening. “Larger companies are used to saying, ‘You must have X, Y and Z.’ They set out exact job requirements and they don’t deviate,” he says.

“But entrepreneurs and people who have less experience hiring might say, ‘Well, I kind of want this, and I want that, and maybe this other thing.’ Then someone charming comes along who doesn’t meet the requirements, and they’re suddenly finding a new spot for the charmer without filling the opening they have.”

Fry says that the operative term is “discipline” — set down precisely what you’re looking for and don’t deviate. “If they have to know Excel, they have to know Excel, period,” he says. This can help simplify the resume and interview process.

Inskeep also recommends making the job description even more explicit by including a short list of filtering “yes or no” questions, such as:

  • Do you have [X] number of years’ experience? (yes or no)
  • Do you have [X] certification? (yes or no)
  • Do you have a college degree? (yes or no)

By setting up these filters,” she says, “you tend to generate a better, smaller pool of candidates, which will mean less time spent prescreening later.”

Sort Through Resumes Strategically

Even after narrowing your pool, you’re still likely to be knee-deep in applicants. One recommended strategy for weeding out the chaff and finding qualified candidates is to skim your resume stack for the following red flags:

  • Spelling and grammatical errors
  • Lack of relevant experience
  • Long or involved descriptions

Another traditional resume red flag that can be downgraded to “pink” status is lengthy employment gaps. Especially when unemployment is high, says Renee Bucklin, founder of the Rhode Island-based Bucklin Human & Administration Services, long stretches between jobs should not be an instant disqualifier.

Otherwise, she suggests scanning resumes for job-specific keywords. Refer back to that carefully thought-out, comprehensive job description you wrote, she says, and then prioritize more important keywords or phrases to help divide that big stack into separate “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe” piles.

Employers looking to automate this process may want to consider semantic search applications, which use combinations of terms and meanings to highlight resumes that include words specifically related to your identified search terms.

Narrow Your List and Read Cover Letters

Fry also reminds employers not to ignore cover letters, which he says can indicate glimmers from great candidates who might otherwise go unnoticed. “If you get a cover letter where the person clearly knows your industry, knows your competitors, and refers to things about your company that show they’ve taken the time to do their homework, that’s a big plus,” he says. “If I see a cover letter like that, I set it aside and it’s in on the first round just because of that.”

Whatever methods you use, a first pass should be focused and speedy, Fry says, and within a couple of hours should rule out between 70-80 percent of the applicants. Fry suggests that you take more time to find qualified candidates during your second pass of reviewing resumes.

In fact, he notes that during this process some employers may even want to narrow their job description prerequisites. “In this environment I would take every requirement you have and add a little to it,” he explains. “If you said applicants need to have three years of experience, look for those with four years or more. And start eliminating people — at least initially — who only have three.”

Exercise Discipline

Whether you’re just writing up your job description, making the last cuts from the resume pile, or going through the actual interviews, Fry says that to find qualified candidates, the untrained hirer’s mantra should remain the same.

“The less experienced you are, the more disciplined you need to be,” he says. “Because the people who aren’t used to buzzing through resumes and take forever just to narrow a pile of 500 down to 200, those are the same people who spend an hour-and-a-half during interviews telling candidates about themselves, how great they are, how great the company is and never ask a question. And then they wonder why they can never hire anyone.”

Need to Find Qualified Candidates Quickly?

Writing an accurate job description and sorting through resumes strategically are crucial when you need qualified candidates. But ensuring you hire the right person for the job entails so much more which is why we’re ready to bring our experience to the table. Speed up your hiring process with us today by posting your next job for free.