Call or cull? Six ways to sort the wheat from the chaff in your next stack of job applications

Recruiting great staff to your organisation should be a pleasure. But when you are short on time and faced with a pile of applications to sort through, the process of selecting only a few to interview can seem overwhelming.

Here are six easy ways to reduce the size of your pile of applications, and make your short-listing process simpler and more effective at picking the right candidates to bring to the interview table.

The cover letter

Job savvy applicants will use the covering letter as an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of and interest in your organisation and explain how their skills and experience meet the requirements of the position they have applied for.

But beyond just their skills, the applicant should also highlight WHY they want to work for your not-for-profit through identifying with your mission, values or even the community that your organisation works with.

The cover letter should address the key selection criteria and focus on meeting your needs rather than stating their wants.

The following list can be used as a checklist to sort your applications into three groups: 1) tell me more now; 2) I’ll get back to you; and 3) thanks but no thanks.

  1. That’s not my name. If an applicant has addressed their covering letter to a person you have never heard of, got the name of your organisation wrong or referenced the wrong job title you would be wise to ask a few questions about their competency. Small errors can be forgiven, but if attention to detail is one of your key selection criteria, best to give this applicant a miss.
  2. Spelling and punctuation. Are you requiring the applicant to correspond with clients or stakeholders, record clear case notes or write reports? If so you will want to check that the style of their correspondence matches the way you wish your organisation to be represented. 

Spelling mistakes, a lack of punctuation or over punctuation comes off as unprofessional and lacking care; not the best first impression that a candidate can provide to you or later on your behalf.
  3. General statements versus addressing the key selection criteria. If part of your application process requires prospective employees to address the key selection criteria, those that don’t should immediately be culled. 

Great applicants will detail how they have done the job using examples from their past working or volunteering history rather than how they would do the job. Terms such as “I relate well to a diverse range of people” or “I’m a strong team player” have no meaning without examples and often those that don’t provide concrete examples don’t have them to provide. 

Keeping in mind that past performance is the strongest indicator of future performance, look for examples that demonstrate the candidate will work in such a way that fits with the culture of your organisation.

The resume

Next head to the resumes. It may sometimes feel like a resume evaluation is a waste of time, but a resume can provide a wealth of information about an applicant if you consider the following points:

  1. Mind the gap. Does the applicant have gaps between jobs without explanation or a lack of dates relating to previous positions? While this may not necessarily be a reason to cull, it is worth raising if you decide to interview the applicant. Smart applicants will note reasons for gaps on their resume.
  2. Jump around. How long has the applicant spent in each of his/her previous roles? Has the applicant held many roles at the same level over a variety of organisations in a short time frame? This may indicate that the applicant is not passing their probation period or is not enjoying the positions they have been working in.
  3. Moving up. Can the applicant demonstrate a promotion in a previous role, a period of acting at a higher level or a time when they were assigned additional duties beyond the scope of their own role. If another organisation has developed an employee, chances are the employee was worth developing.

Within the community sector and the NFP sector more broadly, investing time into hiring decisions can seem insignificant in comparison to the important work the organisation is conducting; however getting it right the first time can save you a huge amount of time and significant additional costs later.

Using a systematic approach to reviewing applications and quickly focusing to the high-quality ones will help ensure that you spend your valuable time interviewing the applicants who are the right fit not only for the role but also for your organisation.

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