How to Narrow Down Your Candidate Pool and Make the Right Hire


When hiring, getting a lot of applicants isn’t always a good thing. Some job seekers just blast resumes off for jobs they’re not entirely qualified for and hope for the best. The recruiting team then has to sort through them all to find the handful who have what it takes to do the job.

In an ideal world, professionals with the right background would be the only ones who apply. While that can seem like wishful thinking, there are a few steps you can take to attract talented candidates with just the right skills and experience and quickly and effectively find the best one for the job.

Start with a clear job description

Writing clear and concise job descriptions is the best way to deter unqualified candidates from applying. Short, vague job postings leave too much up to interpretation and can easily lead the wrong candidate to believe they’re right for the job.

Be clear about the specific skills, years of experience and education you want in your future employee. And beyond that, outline the long-term goals you need the hire to accomplish. This approach will not only prevent people who don’t have the right background from applying. It will also make professionals who are qualified think long and hard about the challenges the role presents.

Include questions on the online application

The right hiring software will allow you to create custom online applications to post on your company’s website. You can also include different types of questions on the application that help you efficiently filter out unsuitable candidates. For example, you can ask simple “yes” or “no” questions (i.e. “Do you have X skill?” or “Are you familiar with Y software?”) and remove candidates from contention who aren’t qualified.

Additionally, you can include open-ended questions that give you deeper insight into the applicant’s thought process and reason for applying. Think of these as mini cover letters where you can define what the candidate writes about. Unlike “yes” or “no” questions, there are no right answers to open-ended questions but they will likely lead you to a few standout applicants.

Phone screen prior to in-person interviews

In-person interviews are a big undertaking for both the candidate and the hiring team so it’s important for the recruiters to do a little work upfront before asking someone to come in.

A phone screening can be as simple as taking a half hour to talk with a candidate about their skills and work experience. Run through the points on the job description and ask the candidate to describe how their background aligns with each one.

Speaking with the candidate on the phone will also give you the opportunity to learn about their personality and passion for the role. If they seem qualified and excited about the job, ask them to come in for a formal interview.

Ask about salary requirements early on

Even if you find a great candidate, you won’t be able to hire them if they want to be paid more than your company can afford. You can avoid wasting their time and yours by addressing salary expectations early on.

You can steer clear of difficult conversations altogether by including the salary range on the job description. People will know not to apply if they need to be paid more.

If your company isn’t comfortable including salary details on the job description, you can ask about desired compensation as an application question. If that won’t fly, then it should certainly be discussed during the phone screening. Whatever your approach, it’s important to discuss compensation sooner than later.

Conduct smart interviews

By the time you reach the interview stage, you will have narrowed down your applicant pool to a few impressive candidates. But selecting the best one can be the hardest part of the entire hiring process.

It’s important to take a smart approach to interviews and make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to meet candidates face-to-face. Assemble an interview team of people who can assess interviewees from every angle. Walk them through the role requirements before they go into the room and consider giving them a rubric to complete afterward. This approach will ensure they judge candidates on criteria important to the role and don’t get caught up on minor details.

It’s also important to ask effective interview questions so you can understand a candidate’s skills, background and thought process. For example, situational questions help you learn what a candidate would do in a specific scenario (“What would you do if…?”). Behavioral questions, on the other hand, give you insight into what they’ve done in the past (“Tell me about a time when…?). Mix in a combination of both types of questions so you can form a complete opinion on every candidate.

Use candidate evaluation exercises

After the interview, you and your hiring team should have an idea of who you’re going to hire. However, it’s important to keep in mind that job interviews don’t always tell the whole story. Some people are able to talk themselves up while others struggle to articulate what they’re capable of accomplishing.

Before you make hire – or even eliminate an impressive candidate who didn’t interview well from contention – request they complete a test, exercise or sample project that helps you learn what they can really do. It will reveal who actually has the skills for the job and should help you make a final decision on who to hire.