How To Get More Qualified Job Applicants

Here's how to weed out the job applicants who don't deserve your time.
August 15, 2011

We are business owners in an interesting time. The economy has taken some hard hits, and while there’s a massive amount of people looking for work, it is still very difficult to find and attract talented people for your company. Here are some ways to make it easier for you to select the best employees for your business.

1. Make your career advertisement as specific as possible

It amazes me how many companies expect to find the perfect fit for their position when they only post a short, vague paragraph for their job listing. This is a recipe for capturing untargeted applications of people who are just looking for a paycheck and don’t care where they work.

Instead, post as much about the position as you possibly can. Reveal the good points as well as the negative ones. Talk about the skills needed, what a typical day is like, what kind of hours and anything about the job environment that might be helpful. If you scare people away with the negatives, then it means you scared the right people away. The people who do apply will be more aligned with your company’s vision. (For more: check out "How To Write A Standout Job Description.")

2. Make it harder to apply

If you look at most applications on or Craigslist, the instructions are very simple: “Send a cover letter and resume to (email address).”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. However, an issue that can come up in a tough job market is that you’ll have a tough time separating the wheat from the chafe.

Let’s say 500 people apply for the position you posted. Chances are that 300 of them will barely read the description and won’t even know what the job is about. Another 150 of them will understand what the position, but will be unqualified. And 30 of them will understand the position, be qualified, but not actually be truly interested in your company. This leaves 20 of them who will show up for interviews and could possibly be a fit for your company.

The problem is that that “Core 20” may not ever make it to your front door. While you’re filtering out the jokers in the stack of resumes, you can’t help but let a few good ones slip through the cracks. At the same time, you may let some of the wrong ones in for interviews.

The way to solve this is to make your initial application require greater concentration and personal investment than the other jobs someone may be applying for. Some companies choose to take care of this by including personality tests and extensive questions in an online application. This is fine, but it’s actually not necessary for most industries.

Instead, simply instruct the candidates to answer some specific questions in their cover letter. Even three to five can be enough. These can include questions like:

“What are your greatest strengths?”

“How would you handle a situation where (insert situation)?”

“What was the best thing about your past employer?”

The laziest applicants can’t be bothered with this, so they will just skip to another position to apply for. You can also just delete all e-mails from people who apply, but don’t follow the instructions. You don’t want to have a new employee who can’t get this right, do you?

Another idea is to require a video cover letter. Most people will have a smartphone, a digital camera, or webcam, so there should be some way for an applicant to record him or herself.

3. Get input from your employees

If you’re a CEO, the bigger your company is, the less in touch you are likely to be with the daily operations. Because of this, it’s good to share cover letters and resumes with team members. They will be able to spot subtleties that you will miss. For example, you may be hiring a Web developer, and some of the tech firms on a resume will be companies that your staff is familiar with. Showing the Web development resumes to your tech team will help you get perspective on who might be a hidden gem and what might be a red flag.

4. Look for people already with jobs

I’m probably not going to help the unemployment rate with this tip, but it has to be said. Your better applicants are going to be the ones who are already employed. In fact, your very best applicants will be the ones who are happily employed, but looking to grow professionally.

This is not to say that there aren’t many qualified, motivated workers who are jobless at this point; It is a tough time for a lot of talented people. However, this is where the real issue comes in.  Your unemployed applicants may be just as talented as your employed ones, but they are many times more needy. They have bills to pay, debts rising, and may even have difficulty putting food on the table for their kids. Because of this, an unemployed person will do what any responsible adult would do in that situation: accept a job that he or she doesn’t really want.

You’re not doing your company any favors by hiring someone who’s in desperate need of money. Even if they’re completely honest in their resume and interview, it remains that three months down the road, you could have a largely uninspired employee going through a daily grind so he can pay his mortgage. You don’t want that.

Like I said, there are a lot of great people who are without jobs at the moment, so don’t take this as a directive to only hire people who are already employed. It’s just something to look out for in your hiring process.

There’s a lot more to the process of picking the perfect fit for your company, and we’ll talk about this more in future articles. These guidelines should help you get started with your recruiting strategy.