Recruiting and maintaining your workforce can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of owning a business. While you may have lots of great prospects, it’s certain that some applicants will be a better fit for your company than others, and sifting through them all is often a daunting task.
It turns out that the key to efficient hiring is filtering—creating a series of progressive hoops that every applicant must jump through in order to get to the next stage. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that you build silly little mindless tasks into your interview process. What I’m sharing with you are ways to weed out unsuitable applicants. By the end of the process, you may be left with the best applicants to invite in for a traditional, face-to-face sit down.
1. Run Long, Detailed Ads
Short ads attract everyone. Your goal in this step is to filter out any applicants who aren’t really jazzed about the position. You want to load them up with tons of relevant and specific information about the responsibilities, unusual duties and high expectation you have for successful applicants. Make sure you focus on the ugly parts of the job, too. Given that it’s a buyer’s market, you can afford to be choosy with applicants, especially if they’re ones who don’t seem willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work. You don’t want to hire a new member of your staff only to hear them complain: “I didn’t know that was part of the job.”
Near the end of my long and detailed ad, I always include the following: “If you reply to this ad, you must include the sentence ‘I am a meticulous reader’ in the subject line.” Why? Because few applicants read carefully enough to include it. You can even use your email filtering options to screen out the applications that don’t have your sentence in the subject line.
2. Ask for a Video Cover Letter
I never make this step a requirement, but it’s a great way to start sifting through the applications you’re actually going to read. Technology is no longer a barrier to this requirement; most people own or can borrow a laptop with a webcam, and that—plus a little time and thought—is all a prospective employee needs for this step. I ask that applicants start with their name and the title of the position they’re applying for.
There are two things I look for when watching the videos. First, how prepared are the candidates? You can tell how much research they've done if, for example, they mispronounce your name. (I’ve had that happen a time or two … or a hundred.) Second, did the candidate send you his or her first take or did they take their time to get it right? Whether you’re hiring for an administrative assistant or a sales manager, polished professionalism matters, and I give the nod to the people who take the time to send me a good quality video in which they introduce themselves and their unique skills.
3. Conduct Phone Interviews
I never give applicants what they expect in a phone interview. Sure, you can ask the typical questions like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” but smart applicants prep for those questions.
I prefer a behavioral approach that lets me dig into their habits and tendencies. One of my favorite lines of questioning is to ask about their best and worst teachers in high school. Now, there’s no right or wrong answer to these questions, but what I’m trying to gauge is their relationship with authority. If they rave about a teacher who let them do whatever they wanted, and slam an instructor who was strict and demanding, well, you’ve just uncovered something very interesting about that applicant. You need to know ahead of time what attributes the position requires and weed out the folks who don’t fit the bill.
4. Schedule Referrals
This step is the last before scheduling a face-to-face interview, and it’s pure magic. I look at my schedule during the phone interview and let the applicant know at exactly what time in the next day or two that I’ll be contacting their references. I then ask the applicant to schedule the call with the reference for me. This step accomplishes two goals: One, it acts as the final test of the applicant to see if he or she does what I asked; and two, if they have followed instructions, then the reference has set aside time to talk to me and the call goes much more quickly.
Now I know that setting up this process and getting comfortable with it takes more than a few minutes, but once you’ve gotten these steps down, you’ll be prepared to list a job, weed out unsuitable candidates and get to the face-to-face stage in no time. You can assemble your list of rock stars for the more time-consuming in-person interviews, and you’ll have your pick of top applicants.
Read more articles on hiring and firing.
This article was originally published on July 28, 2014.