How to better understand your applicant pool

Your applicant pool is about to fill up with a lot of fish. Nearly three in 10 young adults — ages 16 to 24 — in the U.S. were not in school or working as of June 2020, and the overall unemployment rate as of July 1 was 11.1 percent. That’s a lot of people who will be submitting resumes for jobs you post. To make good hires, you’ll need to understand your applicant pool.

What, exactly, is an applicant pool? It’s basically everyone who applies for a job opening. Once you receive their applications, you’ll start removing unqualified candidates — or those who wouldn’t be a good organizational fit — from the pool until you have a list short enough to move to the next step.

One of the most important things you’ll want to know about your applicant pool is whether you’re attracting the right kind of fish. To do that, evaluate what kinds of candidates are applying as well as where the best candidates come from. Here’s how to get a better understanding of your applicant pool.

Review the resumes you get

You might receive a lot of applications for an open position, but the candidates may not be viable. As you sift through resumes, take note of how many candidates don’t seem to have the qualifications or experience you need. If you’re not using an applicant tracking system (ATS), you’re likely doing this by hand, but it’s still a worthwhile exercise.

This could indicate that you need to change the wording of the posts on job boards. If you’re discarding a lot of resumes because the applicants don’t have at least two years of experience with a particular type of software, you need to make that requirement absolutely clear in the posting. You’ll still get resumes from folks who want to try and slip through anyway, but you won’t get as many.

Look back to move forward

A great way to better understand your applicant pool is to take a look at your employees — and not just the superstars. Ask the following questions as you look at the type of talent you’ve already attracted:

  • What kind of words did we use in the job description?
  • Which job boards did we post the opening to?
  • Who applied — and from what job board?
  • How long did the interview and hiring process take?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you discover what worked and what didn’t as you’re weeding through resumes for open positions. For example, you might learn that your company hired the superstar in marketing in just two weeks, which might suggest that if you speed up the interview and offer process, you could snap up the best talent.

Jump in and swim

Sometimes, to understand your applicant pool, you need to dive in. Start by going to a job board that you post on frequently and type in a phrase that a likely candidate might — such as “marketing assistant” or “social media manager” — to see what pops up. If your ad is buried, that’s an indicator that you’re not reaching as many candidates as you should, including the best ones.

Next, take a look at what your competitors are doing for similar positions. If they’re able to hire and retain great employees, it might be worth it to take a page from their playbooks to attract those candidates to your applicant pool.

Read your job ad as if you were interested in the position. What stands out to you? Ask yourself if the wording would entice you to apply for the job or if there’s something in there that would put you off.

Finally, apply for the position — or have someone else do it and report back on the candidate experience. This is the best way to get an unvarnished opinion of the process from the candidate’s point of view, and it will help you understand what applicants are going through when they submit their resumes.

Hire smarter and faster

Ultimately, understanding your applicant pool and the candidate experience can help you attract better talent — and save time during the hiring process. You’ll spend less time sifting through resumes that aren’t relevant to the position and be able to devote more time to meeting with candidates.

In the end, this will mean hiring top talent much faster — and not only filling the open position but also ensuring that you’ll have a superstar in your organization for the long haul.

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