How to attract more of the best and fewer of the not so bright

Cheerful business meeting

Sifting through hundreds resumes of unqualified candidates is exhausting and a waste of time. Don’t you wish only five perfect people would apply to any position, and from there you had only to choose your favourite star candidate?

We can’t make that happen. But we can share some tips that will help you attract the best and brightest and narrow that pool down to find the perfect candidate. Here they are.

Be an attractive place to work. This seems obvious, but maybe it’s not. Look around you. Are your employees happy and engaged, or are they miserable and dying to leave? It’s no mystery why places like Google and Facebook attract the best and brightest. They offer unbelievable employee perks. Staff get free onsite haircuts, massages, lunches and pretty much everything they need to be happy. But, just because you can’t afford to provide all kinds of free stuff doesn’t mean you can’t be a great place to work. Little things like showing that you care, offering praise, making sure work is challenging, and creating a welcoming environment can go a long way.

Manage your employer brand. What do candidates know about your company as a workplace? How does your company culture come across online, on your careers page, on social media, through employee word of mouth? If you think the perception might not be great, take steps to change that. Streamline your mission statement and make sure your culture is in line with your message. Other suggestions, from, include promoting culture and rewards as well as your commitment to career development and training. And remember to treat all applicants with respect, and follow up after every interview to let them know whether they got the job or not. Take that time. If they are unhappy with their experience, rejected candidates will spread the message. I know I have.

Be specific and intentional in your job posting. A job posting should go: job title, description, qualifications. If you don’t know the specifics of all these things – like the exact title – don’t post until you do. In the description, list what the person will have to do. If you need three years of experience, specify that. You can even specify that those who do not have three years of experience need not apply – nicely (eg. “Those without three years of experience will not be considered. Good luck with your search”). But don’t be ridiculous. We’ve talked a lot about credential creep. Don’t demand six degrees and four spoken languages if the job doesn’t really require them. And know what you’re talking about. One thing we see is employers asking for five years of experience with a software that’s only been around for two. Nobody wants to work for those people.

Ask for more than a resume and/or cover letter. This is a great way to learn who is willing to put in an extra effort, and to eliminate those who don’t follow instructions or take them seriously. Ask for something specific to the position you’re filling. I once advertised for a writing position and asked for “three writing samples.” Those who did not submit exactly three samples – no more, no fewer – were not considered. The author of this LinkedIn post asks the candidates to answer a handful of short questions. Online retailer Zappos requires candidates to submit a video cover letter.

Give candidates an assignment. Once the pool is narrowed to two or three people, give them a test. When hiring editors, I give a proofreading test. And, when I once found myself competing against one other person for a magazine job, we were both given freelance assignments. We were paid for them.

According to Impact Hiring Solutions, “Every key position you plan on hiring should require a homework assignment. Some examples include, a sales presentation for all sales people, for financial positions consider giving them last year’s and this year’s budget and ask for their input, marketing positions ask for them to review your marketing programs or PR agreements, IT positions depending on the level can include coding examples all the way up to the capital spending on IT projects. The goal is to put them in the job before they come on board.”

Invent a test or case study, rather than ask candidates to do actual company work for free. The point is not to take advantage of people but to measure how well they would be able to do a job.

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