How to Identify Great Candidates from a Mountain of Applications

It’s not unusual for employers to overcomplicate the process of reviewing job applications. After all, it’s exciting to see resumes pouring in from people who would like to work for you!

But sorting through the candidates can become time-consuming and labor-intensive if you allow yourself to get too caught up in each individual application. Instead, you should aim to keep this process simple, taking no more than 1 minute per candidate – ideally even less time. 

So how do you narrow down a mountain of applications to a shortlist of great candidates in such a short space of time?

Common Problems to Avoid

Reading between the lines

Don’t try to dissect the information or make assumptions based on what’s written in the resume. 

Instead, take note of exactly what is written there as well as what isn’t – i.e. any important requirements from your job posting.

Trying to find the perfect resume

Remember that you’re not hiring a candidate based on their resume – a resume will never tell you enough to determine if they are the perfect hire. 

Instead, you’re just using the resume to see if they make it to the next stage of the process. 

So don’t ask yourself whether this resume is your new team member. Ask “has this person got what is needed to advance to the next stage of the hiring process?”

Letting biases sway you

Sometimes, your own biases can get in the way of the decision-making process. But if you’re going to identify the very best candidate for your team, it’s important to be objective about every application you review. 

The three most common biases that affect hiring decisions are:

  • The resume “looks pretty” so they get an interview
  • They went to a good school so they must be a hard worker
  • They have XYZ in common with me so they’re a great fit for the team

To make sure this doesn’t happen in your own hiring process, take note of evidence to show that each candidate you put through meets the requirements from your job posting. Whether it’s qualifications or experience, make sure it’s not something you’ve assumed they have based on their school, hobbies, or font choice.

How to Review a Resume Quickly and Effectively

Create a criteria for candidates

Reviewing resumes actually begins before you open that first application. First, determine what’s important in a candidate that you can identify on the resume. 

We call this the “must-have” criteria. Normally, there should be three must-have criteria items for each job role you’re hiring for (with just a few exceptions). This keeps it straightforward and easy to identify when you’re reading lots of applications in one go. 

In most cases, you’re not looking for titles but skills and experiences. For example, have they worked in customer service roles? Have they led teams before? Do they have experience in your preferred industry?

Have a checklist for reviewing

When you’ve identified the criteria, you can create a checklist to use while reviewing the resumes. This will keep you on track and stop you from making any assumptions because candidates will either have it or they won’t – there’s no need to dig any deeper. 

If a candidate has all three – they get an interview. If a candidate has two items, they could be worthy of going in the maybe pile. If they have one or none, they don’t get an interview. 

This can feel like a tough call to make, but remember that even if the rest of the resume impresses you, if they don’t meet the must-have criteria they are not right for the role.

Narrow down the shortlist

Hopefully by now you’ll have been able to sort through your applications quickly and efficiently. But what if there are more candidates with the must-have criteria than you have time to interview? 

If you find yourself in this situation, we recommend creating an additional list of criteria: the nice-to-have criteria. 

A nice-to-have criteria is a list of items that can help boost a candidate above the others. They can be items that are highly important but might be hard to identify on most resumes OR items that you would love to see in a candidate but are not an absolute requirement of the position.

Here’s an example for if you’re hiring a sales professional: While sales experience might be a must-have for the position, sales experience in a certain industry might be a nice-to-have. 

When you know exactly what to look for and how to identify it on a resume, reviewing candidates is a breeze! No more analysis paralysis, just lots of pre-qualified interviewees who you can’t wait to meet!

Are you looking for help deciding on your must-have criteria?

If you’re ready to hire a new team member for your business who can succeed in the role, make you happy, and positively impact your bottom line, it’s vital to know the must-have criteria for sorting your applications effectively. 

Growing Your Team can help you determine what skill sets and qualities should be included in your must-have and nice-to-have criteria, and teach you how to quickly and easily identify these items on a resume. 

If this sounds like something that would be helpful, let’s set up a time to chat. Click here to book your free jump-start consultation

How to identify great candidates from a mountain of applications, Growing Your Team, Jamie Van Cuyk, Small Business hiring consulting