Hiring is time-consuming, starting with the daunting task of screening resumes. Short of having a recruiter do this work for you, here are simple ways you can set up your search to put some of the work in the candidate’s court.

Being intentional and strategic about writing the job description, choosing where you post your job, and creating well-planned knockout questions at various stages of the process can narrow your field and save you a lot of time in the long run. These steps can also help you build a more high-quality and diverse candidate pool.

It All Starts With the Job Description

To reduce the number of unqualified applicants, craft a clear and targeted job description and post it where the candidates you seek are likely to be looking. For instance, posting on some sites will get you a ton of applicants because it is easy for people to apply to many jobs at once, but are they the type of candidates you want? Targeting niche job boards, is likely to attract fewer, yet better candidates.

Phase 1 Knockout Questions

The job description is also the first place you can include a couple questions to filter your applicant pool. First, include a statement like “Please only apply if…” Before you fill in that blank, consider both the soft and hard skills this position will require. Are you hiring for direct experience, or hiring for potential and willing to train someone? The latter is likely to attract a more diverse applicant base. 

Second, by including some specific instructions the applicant needs to follow in order to apply, you quickly disqualify people who do not pay attention to details or follow directions. It’s a test of sorts. This can be simple, like what information to include in a cover letter.

Leverage Technology

If your company uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), maximize its functionality to stay organized and make your job easier. If your company does not have one, but is hiring more than four or five people a year, an ATS may really help you stay organized, streamline your searches and keep track of candidates to revisit for future roles. An ATS can also improve your employer brand by providing a better candidate experience through automated communications for things like thanking them for applying or letting people know they are not moving to the next level in the process. 

There are many different ATS options, depending on what you want it to do for you. Some are more robust, like Taleo, while others, like Greenhouse, work more like a CRM. You can find systems that are affordable and fit your specific needs.

Phase 2 Knockout Questions

An ATS can also enable you to ask additional questions to elevate the candidates you want to move to the next level. Consider asking application questions that reveal deal breakers. For instance:

  • “Are you able to work from home productively?” 
  • “Are you able to travel X% of the time for this job?”
  • “Is your compensation expectation between $X and $Y?”
  • “Tell us a time when you…” and include a challenging scenario they are likely to face in this role.
  • “Do you have at least Z# years of experience with Y experience?”

You can also ask questions to vet for a cultural fit. For example:

  • “Tell us something you really liked about your previous place of employment?”
  • “What team-building activities have you enjoyed in the past and which ones do you not like?”

Assign Homework

If you still have a large number of applicants at this stage in the process, be creative about how candidates help you hone in on who really wants the job you are offering and who has the ability to do well in the job. 

Phase 3 Knockout Questions

One way to do this is to contact every potential candidate to congratulate them for getting to the next phase and ask them to provide you with more information. You could ask them to submit a video about why they want the job, or provide you with written answers to key questions about their approach to scenarios they’d likely face in the job. This will reveal a deeper layer of the candidates and make it more clear who you want to learn more about.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions. Get Curious.

Back in “normal” times (aka pre COVID-19), employment gaps, short stints in a job, and sudden career changes on a resume often raised red flags. However, such events will become more common in 2020 and beyond. Whether it’s a pandemic, a new baby or a sick parent who needs 24/7 care, resumes do not tell the whole story. 

Phase 4 Knockout Questions

At this stage, your candidate pool is smaller and you are more familiar with each of them. If you have specific questions about a particular candidate or group of candidates, you can ask questions via email before spending time in a phone interview. It is a good idea to ask questions from different angles so that you can get a big picture of the person behind their application. For example:

  • “What did achievement look like in your past job?”
  • “I see that you have a year gap of employment between company X and company Y.  Can you provide more commentary on that time?”
  • “I’m interested in your experience at company X; can you please provide more details about your role and a couple of projects you completed that you were most proud of?”
  • “How would you describe your leadership style?”

Depending on the volume of applicants you expect to receive for a job, you can adjust how many of these ideas you employ. If you expect to get a lot of applicants, you may want to use them all. With a smaller volume, you want the barrier to entry to be easier.

Either way, taking the time upfront to become clear about what you want, planning a strategic screening process and leveraging technology to help you will save you a lot of time in the long run. It will also help you find great employees who help you reach your business goals. Good luck!