How Do You Filter Applicants?

More qualified applicants, less work, fewer interviews.

By Mark Riffey

Earlier today I was speaking with a friend who is looking for work. He mentioned something about interviewers asking for salary requirements. Personally, I always found that question lazy and a little aggravating. Not because of the question itself, but because there are better ways to ask that that yield a more complete answer. The salary requirements question rarely needs to be asked.

Most of the time, the person asking the question is filling out a form someone had asked them to complete about an applicant. The person asking the question often has no say in the decision. They’re simply filling out a form someone asked them to complete – and the answer is sometimes used later to either filter applicants or lowball them.

What’s your budget?

Some candidates will have been coached to respond that they’re confident they can arrive at a fair compensation that works for both parties if the discussion gets to that point. Others have learned to reply with “What’s your budget?” – which the questioner doesn’t always know because they are simply processing a form.

The question is also used to weed people out of the interviewing process early on – applicant filtering that the ad should already have done. In most cases, the candidate and the potential employer are not terribly far apart since both of them know the role’s compensation range in their local market – unless neither of them have been paying attention. In remote employment situations, these things can get a little more complex.

Good applicants don’t typically come sauntering into an interview expecting 40% more than your position is budgeted for unless your ad misrepresented the position, or the applicant is clueless.

Anybody who has a few minutes to search around can find out exactly what the pay range is for that role is based on location. This information is easy to find and everyone on both sides knows it. Result: This tap dance between what’s your budget and what are your salary requirements is mostly a waste of time.

Filter manually if you must

If you haven’t used your ad to filter applicants, there’s still a good answer to the budget question that helps everyone. Something like “Our budget is in the range of $LOW to $HIGH. People without experience ABC or qualifications XYZ typically start between $LOW and $MIDDLE. People with ABC and XYZ typically get an offer in a range of $MIDDLE and $HIGH.”

You’ve told them what your offer amount decision process involves. They now know how they fit those parameters and already know what their financial situation is. It’s a good time to ask them if they are still interested.

Sure, some will say that you’ve given them a sliver of an advantage by telling them what your range is. Horse biscuits. Again, unless they’re completely oblivious to the existence of the internet, they already know the range. At this point, it’s on the candidate to look elsewhere, and both of you to consider if there are other openings they’re qualified for – including positions with variable compensation.

Let your ad do the filtering

The process used to filter applicants should always start with the ad. Folks get worried that no one will apply (since when?) if their ad is too specific. Clearly, some companies go the other direction asking for things the position clearly doesn’t require. Software companies in particular are bad about that.

Regardless of what business you’re in, the ad’s reason for existence is to get qualified applicants to self-select – either in or out. Your ad should speak specifics to culture, your budget, workload, etc. You don’t want to interview 100 people when you know there might be 12 qualified people nearby with the right skills and experience. No one has time for that.

Where this ends if you aren’t careful: The lack of solid help wanted ad writing is one reason why corporate America ended up with all these resume scanner programs and websites that scan for keywords and throw out qualified candidates whose resume didn’t happen have the exact keywords needed to pass through the filter.

Resume scanners and websites can’t filter for culture, fit, and other “soft” qualities of an applicant, but a great help wanted ad can – and do so legally. Let the companies who must deal with thousands of resumes suffer through that while you home in on the right folks easily.

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.