Tips on Narrowing the Applicant Pool

Tips on Narrowing the Applicant Pool

You have posted a vacant position and now have a stack of applicant materials. Where do you start? Often, it can be a daunting task to go through so much material. Below we provide some helpful tips to make the process easier and even more legally defensible.

First, make sure to begin with the job description of the position. This description will provide an objective basis for your decisions. A good job description defines what the essential job functions are and, therefore, what skills and abilities will be needed to be successful in the position. These important requirements should have also been listed in the advertisement(s).

Next, consider creating a chart to help keep organized and to provide an easy comparison among the candidates. Below is an example:








Yrs of Experience


Technical Competencies / Skills


Interpersonal / Interactional Skills


Within your chart, begin by listing the names of all the candidates. Then, use the job description and job ad to determine what the minimum requirements of the job are. This way, you can rate each candidate in terms of how well they meet each factor.

Before you begin ranking, it may be beneficial to look all application materials over without looking at any applicant names. Search through the materials to get a sense of what the average of each factor is. This way, you have a rough idea what you would give a “5”, for example.

Some helpful tips:

  1. Give points only when there’s direct evidence of the requirement. Don’t assume or make inferences of a skill that may not be there.
  2. Take note of red flags. For example, if there are large gaps in employment, vague dates, or typos, make a note of these.
  3. If there is no evidence of a requirement, write “no evidence” or a zero.


Other Items to Consider


Be consistent. For example, if one person is eliminated for typos, application errors, or a poorly written cover letter, then everyone with errors or poor letters must be eliminated from consideration.


Student employment and/or volunteer experience does not count as professional experience unless allowed for in the advertised requirements.


Do not make assumptions about people’s income levels, and what may appear to be excessive qualifications for the job. "Overqualified" is not a valid reason.


A candidate’s location is also not a valid reason for disqualifying him/her. Positions are now considered to be posted world-wide because of internet access. While a department may not want to spend money on travel to bring in candidates, it is not a reason to not consider a candidate.


Consider conducting phone screens.  If you did telephone screens to gather more information from candidates and a candidate did not present themselves well, then note this in the “Other Comments” section when preparing the Pre-Interview Report.

If you did telephone screens and a candidate told you he/she was no longer interested after hearing more about the position, then select “Applicant Withdrew” when completing the “Pre-Interview Action Code” for the candidate.


Create a pool of second tier candidates.  If you have identified a candidate that meets the stated requirements but does not rank as high as those you would like to interview, consider him/her for a second tier.  Should it be necessary to return to your applicant pool to identify more interviewees, you could make a selection from the small number of applicants whom you have considered second tier.  This can be noted in the “Other Comments” section when preparing the Pre-Interview Report.


By doing these things, you can make the process easier and also protect yourself further from potential liability. If an individual files a discrimination complaint in the hiring process, you will have additional documentation that your decisions were based on job relevant criteria.