For recruiters that work with high volumes of applicants, it can be a real challenge to handle vast numbers of applications efficiently and effectively. The right candidates for the job are there in that huge pile, but sifting through the much larger number of unsuitable applications means there's a big risk of the perfect candidate getting lost in the shuffle. What's needed are methods of quickly and accurately screening job applications so that the unsuitable ones can be discarded with a minimum of delay, leaving you free to closely examine the candidates who fit the bill.
Applicant tracking systems
One of the quickest and simplest ways to handle high volumes of applications is to use an applicant tracking system. This system is a simple software programme that allows you to screen applications, including cover letters and resumes, for keywords that you specify. Within a few minutes, you can generate a ranked list of candidates, ordered according to how well each application matches your keyword requirements. Most of the time, you can immediately discard up to 50% of applications (if not more), so it's a very fast and easy way to weed out those people who apply to every job, regardless of how well they're qualified. As well as this, you can immediately see who ranks well for the most important keywords, giving you a good starting point for identifying the best applicants.
Targeted Questions to Identify Top Candidates
Another useful way to identify serious contenders for any given position is to include in a job ad a number of specific questions that are relevant to the role. Request that applicants add their answers to a cover letter. This means you can immediately put aside any applicants that don't send a cover letter, and it's then a relatively simple task to scan cover letters for answers to the questions.
Combined with the applicant tracking system this can be particularly powerful, since you can track the kinds of keywords and phrases you're looking for in the answers to those questions, and cross-reference with overall keyword rankings. And in most cases, this combined approach will allow you to weed out well over half of the candidates before you even start a close reading of cover letters and resumes.
What does this mean for candidates?
So that's all fairly straightforward and many recruiters in large and small companies are using these techniques to create shortlists of candidates. Some will say that it is a far from perfect way of recruiting and that good candidates are falling through the cracks, and that may well be true.
What it means is that it is very important that applicants craft their CVs and cover letters very carefully, including the right keywords in the right places. The days of photocopying a load of CVs and sending them out are over. It may be that applicants need to work with a specialist CV writer when targeting specific ideal opportunities.
There is an interesting paradox here. The more employers move towards automation and using technology to help them to deal with volume the more important it is for the applicants themselves to hand craft their application.