How to Effectively Screen Applicants

screen applicants

If you’re looking to expand your team, the goal should be to find the best talent as quickly as possible. Don’t let a cumbersome application process hold you up from extending an offer to your top candidate. When your company implements a process to effectively screen applicants, you save hours of manual review of unqualified job applications.

What is an Applicant?

An applicant is a job seeker in the very early stage of the hiring process. They are the people reading your job description and clicking “apply.” Unlike a candidate, an applicant may or may not be qualified for the position. The sooner you find out which category they fall into, the better.

To save your team time, it’s important to have a specific sorting and filtering process in place to disqualify any applicants who don’t meet the minimum job requirements. An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can help you automate this.

Putting a process into place will save your team a significant amount of time when screening applicants.

Who’s Applying?

To put it simply, anyone and everyone. Without knockout questions in place to help effectively screen applicants, there’s no telling who might apply to your job ad.

Job boards have made it easy for people to apply to dozens of jobs with just a few clicks of a button. Most websites allow them to upload their resume once and then auto-populate the fields in as many job applications as they select.

It’s hard to believe someone would apply to a job without reading the posting; however, it happens all the time! Recently, a job posting titled “Don’t apply for this job!” received 15 applications within four days. When people are desperate for a job, they’re willing to apply for anything without so much as a glance at the actual position description.

Finding the Right People

Your goal is to attract and hire the top talent in your industry. This means you need to screen applicants from the very beginning. The first step in doing this is getting rid of the people who are applying blindly.

Follow these three tips to effectively screen applicants before they get to the interview stage of your hiring process.

1. Write a good job description.

You need to use the right wording in your job description if you want to attract the right people to your team. The following are a few questions to ask yourself when writing your job description.

  • Who’s the right person?
  • What’s your culture like?
  • What’s it like to work for the manager?
  • Why should they apply?
  • How do you assess your team?

It’s important to address each of these questions in your job descriptions. The best job descriptions will attract the right people. They also do double duty in turning away the people that won’t fit with your company.

Uploading your job description to an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) will help you automate the screening process. Once you have an effective job description and process in place, the ATS can take it from there.

2. Utilize knockout questions.

Knockout questions are an excellent way for you to screen applicants. If you’re using an ATS, this can be set up to automatically occur, saving your team time. A few common knockout question categories include:

  • Behavior. This type of question is usually open-ended. While you can ask questions about their behavior in a past job, this isn’t always an indicator of their future response. Asking a question that’s completely unrelated to the position can give you unique insight into how they respond naturally. For example, “Describe a time when you had to be the life of the party” is a question for which they can’t Google an answer. The response should be an accurate representation of who they are and can offer you a lot of insight before moving them to the interview stage.
  • Culture. Asking knockout questions about culture will help you hire the right person for your company. Make sure your questions tie into each of your company’s core values. For example, if transparency is a value, you could create a scenario and then offer three options for how they would respond. Choosing the transparent response would be the only option that would move them to the next round in the hiring process.
  • Experience. If job experience is important, use questions to screen applicants and disqualify those who don’t meet your minimum requirements. You could ask about their years of experience in a particular role – field, leadership, etc. You could also ask about their experience managing a team of a particular size. For instance, if you’re looking for a foreman who’s managed 30 people, you want to disqualify people who have only managed five or fewer.

An ATS will allow you to automatically screen applicants using knockout questions that have a list of answers from which to choose. Questions with open-ended answers will require someone from your team to manually review and screen each application. Creating a list of acceptable responses for the open-ended questions can help save time and maintain consistency while you screen applicants.

3. Identify keywords.

It takes time to become an efficient application screener. If the person reviewing applications only helps occasionally, you can make the process easier by providing them a list of keywords to watch for in an applicant’s cover letter or resume.

Depending on the position, the keywords will vary. For example, if you’re hiring for an ironworker position that requires a few years of experience, they should absolutely have “ironwork” in their cover letter and resume. A quick scan with no results will allow you to disqualify the applicant. Similarly, if you’re looking for a foreman with experience, but the resume only includes labor-intense positions and no leadership, it’s probably not the right person for the role.

Implement Your Process to Screen Applicants

Attracting the right people to your job descriptions will save your company time and money. Once you begin to effectively screen applicants, you’ll be on the path to hiring the right people for your team.