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6 Strategies to Narrow Down Your Candidate Pool

Kristin Bachman
6 min read

There’s a fine line between having too few candidates to choose from and too many. On one hand, your search isn’t broad enough to reach the right candidates.

On the other, your ideal candidate is in the pool somewhere - you just have to sort through hundreds or thousands of other candidates in order to find them.

The second scenario is becoming increasingly common in today’s job market, with internet job boards and one-click applications making it easy for candidates to blast their resume out to hiring managers all over the country.

It isn’t great for job seekers -- generic applications are unlikely to stand out -- but it isn’t great for hiring managers either. Having too many candidates can make your work even harder, and make it less likely that you’ll find your ideal applicant.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some ways to narrow down your candidate pool -- without losing sight of the perfect hire.

Ways to narrow down your candidate pool and find the right hire

Essentially, narrowing down your candidate pool comes down to two things: attracting the right candidates, and weeding out those who don’t make the cut.

Some of the best hires are passive candidates, who aren’t actively looking for work. If they do start looking, they won’t be on the market long before they’re hired.

Your job is to get their attention and guide them through the hiring process before they move on to something else. Here are six effective ways to do it.

Use recruiting networks to build a solid candidate pool

First, turn to a recruiting network to build a pool of quality candidates from the start. Job boards can be suitable for situations when you need to hire a lot of candidates at once, but they’re unlikely to be much use if you’re searching for a very specific skill set.

Why? Because the most qualified candidates, particularly passive candidates, won’t be looking there. Even major networking sites like LinkedIn have lost some of their cachets, now that they’ve been overrun with junk mail and unsolicited messages.

With a recruiting network, you’ll have access to a more reliable pool of candidates. For example, Hunt Club has a network of over 5 million candidates, referred by over 10,000 experts. They can even do the work of shortlisting and vetting candidates for you.

Hunt Club’s proprietary technology ensures that your job opening is seen by the right people, including passive candidates who aren’t looking at mainstream job boards.

Whether you’re searching for your next executive hire or getting ready to scale up with dozens of new roles at once, a recruiting network makes it easy to develop a long-term strategy and get in touch with top talent before your competitors do.

Build a candidate profile and establish your network before you’re ready to hire, so you won’t be in such a rush when it comes time to fill the role.

In addition to providing you with access to a handpicked candidate pool, you can also use a recruiting network to narrow down your options even further.

Hunt Club starts by choosing the best 80 to 100 candidates from the pool, screening 25 to 40 of them, and providing you with a shortlist of five  to seven candidates to interview.

That way, you know that every candidate who walks in your door is a good fit for the role and is seriously interested in the position.

Keep the job description clear

The next strategy for narrowing down your pool of candidates is to make sure that your job listing is clear and accurate. Why is this important? After all, if you’re looking to hire a “unicorn ninja rockstar,” shouldn’t you say so?

The first reason is that your job listing needs to make it through the right filters. Unless you’re advertising on a niche job board, your listing will be one of the thousands, and your ideal candidates aren’t likely to sort through every post manually.

By using common job titles -- such as “Salesforce admin” or “product manager” -- you’ll ensure that your post is seen by people who are a good fit for the role. Most recruiting software won’t recognize unfamiliar job titles, so getting a direct match is important.

That said, don’t be vague, either. The responsibilities at your company may differ from other positions with similar titles, so use the rest of your post to elaborate on the role.

Be specific about what qualifications or credentials you require, what level of previous experience you’re looking for, and what it’s like to work at your company. Candidates who don’t match the profile can self-select out.

Be mindful, though, that it’s possible to take this too far. Searching for a candidate who “lives and breathes data 24/7” might scare away even a qualified applicant.

And the Harvard Business Review reports that women don’t apply for a role unless they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men apply when they meet 60%. So it’s important to make a distinction between your minimum requirements and your preferences.

If a college degree is required, say so; if not, highlight other skills or metrics by which you can assess a candidate’s qualifications.

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Have candidates answer questions in their initial application

Since a candidate’s self-assessment can be unreliable, there are further steps you can take to weed out under qualified candidates early on in the application process.

One simple method is to ask questions as part of the application. This can take the form of a brief skills assessment or even simple yes/no questions.

Some online job boards allow you to include screener questions when you post a job, and to filter the applications you receive based on these responses.

This ensures that every candidate who applies has put at least some time and thought into their application, and hasn’t just sent you a cookie-cutter resume.

This isn’t the place to go into too much detail, though. Asking every applicant to write an essay or take a 100-question test before they’ve even heard back from an HR manager is a surefire way to discourage people from applying.

Remember, the best candidates are in demand and may even have a job already. Don’t ask candidates to repeat information that’s already included on their resume, or to jump through too many hoops just to get past the first stage of the application.

Make it easy for them to provide the information you need upfront, and follow up with further questions if they seem like a promising candidate.

Know their salary requirements sooner rather than later

Next, get clear about salary expectations. Some HR managers provide a salary range in their job description or ask the candidate to state their desired salary upfront.

Other companies are going even further by sharing their salary information publicly and using formulas to ensure fair pay based on an employee’s role and seniority.

While this leaves less room for mismatched expectations, discussing pay can always be a touchy subject, especially once you’ve devoted time to an in-person interview.

Be upfront about salary expectations to ensure that you don’t waste time interviewing candidates who have unrealistic expectations, or who receive a level of compensation at their current job that you just can’t afford to match.

Do a phone screening

Before you go any further in the hiring process, schedule a phone screening to follow up with any candidates who stand out based on their resume and application.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is to make sure that the job seeker is still interested in the position, especially if a lot of time has passed since they applied.

You can use the phone screening to double-check basic details, such as when they’re available to start working for you or to discuss their desired hours or salary range.

The second is to get a sense of their personality. A candidate who submits a stand-out online application may turn out to be rude or argumentative on the phone.

Or, they may simply come across as less professional than you expected. Either way, you can narrow down your pool further based on these conversations.

A phone screening isn’t meant to replace an interview, and in many cases, it won’t be conducted by the same HR representative who handles in-person interviews.

If you’re filling multiple positions at once, you can outsource your phone screenings to a recruiting agency, or ask the candidate to record a video interview instead.

The main purpose is to find out how serious the candidate is about working for you, and to confirm that they would be a good culture fit for your company.

Be as tactical as possible when interviewing

The last way to narrow down your shortlist is to get really good at interviews! This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many teams struggle with this step.

Sometimes, a candidate looks so good on paper that you give them the benefit of the doubt and avoid asking difficult questions. Or, you may offer interviews to too many candidates and have trouble distinguishing them afterward.

You can avoid these situations by conducting better interviews. Start by assembling a team that can ask the right questions from the start.

Instead of restricting the interview to members of the HR team, including someone from the department that your new hire will be joining.

Create a worksheet by which the interview team can mark down their reactions to each candidate’s interview to easily compare them later.

Be sure to ask behavioral and situational questions to see how they would respond to specific scenarios and get a sense of how they process information.

Leave time for the candidate to ask questions too. This can give you some insight into how well they understand the position and how they picture themselves fitting into your company. A candidate who doesn't ask questions may not be serious about the job.

Finally, give each candidate a tour of the workplace to assess their soft skills and see how they conduct themselves around people at different seniority levels.

Get the right candidate pool with Hunt Club

All of these techniques can play a role in helping you find qualified candidates for your open positions. But these strategies will only go so far if you don’t have access to the right pool of candidates, to begin with.

Whether you need to fill a single role on your executive team, or you want to create a long-term strategy to fill multiple positions, Hunt Club's Talent Advisors are here to help guide your recruitment strategy.

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