How to deal with too many applicants for every role

The job losses resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have turned the job market on its head. (Rawpixel pic)

For the best part of a decade, strong economic conditions have resulted in extremely low unemployment and the demand for candidates has outstripped supply.

However, in March this year that dynamic was reversed. Not in one industry, not in one role type, and not in one geography – but right across the board.

The market has shifted under our feet and now every role has too many job applicants. The war for talent is over, at least for now. Instead, we are seeing the emergence of the war for jobs.

The situation of the past decade, with many jobs for few applicants, has reversed.

The recruiting game has changed

There are two variables that determine the quality of a new hire, excluding the impact of the company itself, after that person starts working in the role.

The first is the available talent pool – that is the quality of people the company is able to attract. The second is the selection process – how good the company is at choosing the right person.

In the last decade most of the focus has been on candidate attraction and that has come at the expense of candidate selection.

The reasons are well known “I don’t want to add friction to the process”. “We are dealing with passive candidates so we cannot ask them to take an assessment.” “These people can get a job anywhere, why would they jump through hoops?”. But now the talent pool has multiplied overnight.

The attraction problem has disappeared because fewer companies are hiring and many, many more people are applying for jobs. So now it is all about candidate selection, and it turns out that having too many job applicants is not an easy problem to solve.

The traditional hiring process, which consists of screening résumés and conducting job interviews, is ineffective in screening a candidate’s performance and it cannot cope with a high volume of applicants.

There are two reasons companies stop screening résumés – they do not believe them or there are too many to screen and there is simply no time.

Résumés contain a list of claims about past experience, which does not predict future experience. Even if it did, it turns out candidates lie on résumés more often than not. Finally, résumés have been proven to perpetuate inequality.

It has been found that more often than not, applicants lie on their résumés. (Rawpixel pic)

Résumés do not mean much

Most recruiters implicitly know that résumés do not mean much. Résumés are only used as a way of narrowing down the list of applicants because not everyone can be interviewed. The result is a shortlist of the wrong people.

But now, even that is not realistic because most roles are attracting too many applicants, leaving the résumé believers with three choices:

  • Spend a crazy amount of time reading résumés. Sounds painful.
  • Screen most applicants out arbitrarily. Terrible for candidates and unlikely to result in good hiring outcomes.
  • Replace résumés with something else.

High applicant volumes resulting from unemployment happens in every recession.

What is new is the simultaneous occurrence of such drastic changes to market conditions on the one hand and the rapid evolution of technology designed to solve this problem on the other.

Talent assessments at scale

Back in 2018, asking candidates to do skills assessments and then ranking them based on how well they perform was a novel concept.

The exception was engineering, an industry that had already figured out that résumés and chit-chat-style interviews do not predict performance and was used to doing coding challenges.

But everyone else was still playing the résumé and face-to-face interview game. Vervoe asked clients to stop screening résumés altogether and use skills assessments right at the top of the hiring funnel.

The idea of giving every applicant an opportunity to prove their skills seemed like an outrageous proposition to many companies.

The early adopters were either companies in a lot of pain due to a very high volume of applicants, or companies that believed in giving every candidate a chance based on skills.

The same behaviour was seen over and over again.

First, companies started testing skills in the middle of the funnel, and then would get comfortable and move the assessment to the top of the funnel.

The efficiency benefits were too hard to ignore and the quality improvements were undeniable. Everyone is evaluated based on performance of job-related tasks. Every applicant is on an equal footing, regardless of background or privilege.

The sudden change in market conditions means that most companies are now likely to have too many applicants. There will still be some hard-to-fill roles, but these will be the exception.

Recruiters need to switch the focus from marketing to candidate evaluation, which is a very different skill. And it is not easy. With the right mindset, and the right process, having “too many applicants” for a role can and should be an advantage, not a burden.

The time spent filling each role should not go up based on the number of applicants that role attracts. That is what technology is for.

Every company can and should take advantage of the recruitment processes design for high-volume hiring.

This article first appeared in Vervoe.

At Vervoe, their mission is to fundamentally transform the hiring process from mediocracy to meritocracy.