How to Sort Through The Noise and Hire The Perfect Candidate

by Gonzalo January 15, 2018

More candidates through the pipeline means a better hire? Let’s dive into the data and find out.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Conventional wisdom states that whenever you face a complex decision, you want the most information available, as close to the deadline as possible. More relevant information will always lead to a more accurate decision.

It’s just common sense…

In 2014, three italian scientists from multiple universities observed how betting worked in Italy’s top football division — Il Calcio. They analyzed over a million bets and evaluated the impact of decision timing on the outcome of those wagers.

For everyone’s surprise, they discovered that gamblers performed better when they placed their bets farther away from the game day.

They attribute this result to the increase of superfluous information on game day. This hampers the capacity of an individual to correctly assess the right data points, such as team rankings, and instead leads them to over-weigh less relevant information.

Professional gamblers do a better job when they close Twitter and limit their access to information, even if it’s available.

This isn’t something limited to gamblers and Italian football. Similar studies have been performed with comparable results in other sports and disciplines.

But how does this relate to hiring? Well, we have reasons to believe that the mental exercise of hiring the right person isn’t that different from betting.

Is there a thing like too many candidates?

The hiring industry is obsessed with optimizing the number of candidates who apply to a given position. It’s one of the top metrics hiring studies focus on. A simple Google search for “how to get more candidates” leads to 45 million results. There are countless posts on the topic.

It’s understandable. Having an unlimited stream of candidates for your open positions sounds like the dream. Sure it increases your odds of finding the perfect candidate. The right one must be somewhere in the middle of those hundreds of application.

But is she? And if she actually is, will you be able to identify her and move forward? As we’ve seen above, information overload hampers our ability to make an optimal decision, and hiring is no exception.

No matter how good your applicant tracking software is, sifting through hundreds of candidates is time consuming. Scrolling through CV after CV is an exhausting task and after a while your ability to assess candidates will diminish.

The sheer volume of applications makes discerning signal from noise a strenuous task. Most candidates won’t be a fit, so finding those five or six good ones you’d like to interview is going to be problematic. Playing ‘a needle in a haystack’ is usually a rigged game.

On top of that, it’s even harder to actually stop looking and commit: “This is the one” in a way that maximizes your outcomes and minimizes regrets. Specially if those applications just keep coming. The “one that got away and the “stone left unturned” will always haunt you.

So what do you do? How do you make the optimal hiring decision when the very act of informing it jeopardizes the outcome?

Learning to sort through the noise

Below we’ll discuss 3 different tactics you can start using right now to reduce the volume of candidates, increase their quality and help you pick the right one while minimizing buyer’s remorse.

Let’s dive in.

Understand when to stop

Buying the perfect apartment. Selecting the right life partner. Finding the nearest parking spot. All life changing decisions everyone faces at least once.

The usual approach is to observe as many options in the shortest amount of time possible, analyze the acquired information, make a decision and pray for the best.

However, there is a better way. In math, there is a common concept called “optimal stopping.” When you are faced with a situation where you must observe and pick, we argue that the crucial dilemma is not which option to go for, but how many to even consider.

Countless studies show that when less options are in play, people are more satisfied with their selection and less likely to change their mind. So let’s try to figure out when to stop.

How are you going to decide that a candidate is the best unless you have a baseline to compare him against? And how are you to establish that baseline unless you look at other candidates?

Most people would say there needs to be a balance between looking and pulling the trigger. Brian Christian, the co-author of Algorithms to Live By, goes one step further and argues that that balance needs to be 37%.

“If you want the best odds of getting the best apartment, spend 37% of your apartment hunt noncommittally exploring options… This is not merely an intuitively satisfying compromise between looking and leaping. It is the provably optimal solution.”

How can you do that?

In hiring terms, this can be applied in a simple way — by setting internal and externals schedules for each open position you have.

Internally, you could try your own version of the “optimal stopping” problem. Math and the 37% rule states that in a 30 days search, you should spend 11 days looking at candidates and the rest making a decision.

If you like arguing with math, you can try your own version of it and set up your own chronogram. We wouldn’t recommend spending more than two weeks looking at fresh candidates for non-executive positions.

Once you figure out the ideal stopping time, set up an internal schedule and communicate it to the team.

Externally, you should provide applicants a clear deadline for their initial submission (based on the 37% rule). Not only this prevents the hiring process from dragging endlessly, it also create a hard constraint on you and your team.

Post the job ad, wait for candidate, pick, hire, and move on. Instead of a never-ending hamster wheel, it’s a linear process with a clear outcome.

Common language you could use in your job posting would be:

  • Please apply before December 13th.
  • To be considered for this role, send in your application before December 13th.
  • We value efficiency and candidates who take action. Please submit your application before December 13th.

Craft the perfect job ad

One of the biggest predictors of hiring success is your job ad. It’s one of the key variables that decide how many applicants you’ll get, and how good they’ll be.

Most people would state that the best job ad is the one that brings as many candidates as possible. We would argue that it’s the one that leads you to hiring a successful candidate. And if you are hiring in the technology field, going wide to capture as many candidates as possible is not a good idea.

Quite the contrary…

The language you use in your job ads is going to determine how your company will be perceived. So take this as an opportunity to write careful copy that will attract the candidates that match your exact needs but scare away less ideal individuals.

Less applicants of higher quality will allow you to spend more time with the right people, helping you in your decision.

How can you do that?

The first step is to be specific with requirements and skills but in a supportive way. This will allow candidates to compare what is required with their own experience and discourage those not qualified from applying.

The difference between a supporting and a demanding job ad is really clear. One is focused on telling the candidate what is expected of them by the employer, while the other one on telling the candidate what is expected of them, but also what the candidate can expect of the company.

Can you guess which one is a supporting job ad?

“As a core member of the Project Management team, you will be expected to work autonomously and deliver on project phases on time and on budget. We will help you achieve your goals by continuous professional development and regular career progression sessions.”

“The successful applicant will have excellent written and verbal communication skills and be a motivated, self-starter who is able to complete tasks in a timely manner.”

Culture is something else you must take into account. For starters, a culture match decreases employee turnover, but it’s also a great way to attract quality candidates that will be interested in the type of company you represent. Take a look at how Buffer describes themselves on their company page.

Buffer is a fully distributed team, which means that we’re literally spread across the whole planet. We have Bufferoos in 15 countries, 11 timezones and 42 cities, scattered around the world to build a better culture and product. As a member in our team, you will work in the place that makes you happy, that inspires you daily, and helps you to become the person that you wish to be.

They are clear who they are, and opinionated about how they work. They even have company-specific language, like the term Bufferoos. For reasons like that, is that Buffer has an employee retention rate for 2017 is 91% and their average tenure is 34.7 months — much better than other tech companies like Facebook, Google or Uber.

One last actionable tip is providing a salary range in your job ads. This is a heavily discussed topic with valid arguments on both sides, but we the pros outweigh the cons. If the salary provided is not in their ball park, they won’t waste their time and yours by applying.

On top of that, Jobsite found out that job posts without a salary have a drop off rate between 25 and 35%. That could be your candidate, right there. And even though this might generate some spam submissions, those are easy to spot and filter out.

Avoid general job boards

You’ll be tempted to post your job ads in, Seek, and every job board out there. After all, more candidates will lead to a better hire. Well, after what we’ve discussed above, there’s an argument that shows you should resist that temptation.

Instead, I suggest you avoid the big hiring websites and find niche job boards with less traction but more relevant applicants. If you are hiring for a Growth Marketing position, you should consider posting your job in Growthhackers, Inbound or working with Reforge or General Assembly.

Spend some time analyzing where to post, and commit to your choices. Below is a list of niche job boards. You can start from there.

Add a qualifying question

In a further effort to reduce the number of applicants to consider while increasing the quality of the submissions, you could make use of qualifying questions.

Usually, recruiters use standard questions to pre-screen candidates. We suggest going on step further, and asking one simple, role specific question that only candidates who have a firm grasp of the requirements will understand.

Going back to the Growth Marketing position, this could be “What’s more important, acquisition or retention?” Any seasoned growth person will tell you that acquiring customers without a decent retention is like filling a leaky bucket.

Another variation of this same tactic is to ask candidates to explain a complex concept in a simple way. That’s only possible if you have a deep understanding of a topic.

The result is an additional filter on top of copy and optimal stopping.

Most applicant tracking systems will let you segment and filter out candidates who don’t fulfill this requirement.

Now up to you

Everyone has a unique approach to hiring and there certainly isn’t a unique way to do it. Incredible companies were built using different team building methods. What’s you take? What’s your ‘secret trick’ to hire?

This post is a part of Jobbatical’s hiring blog, designed to help hiring managers get their teams to the next level. To get our new articles straight to your inbox, please sign up for our hiring newsletter.

Share this article:

Having trouble finding talent? Hire internationally

You know how hard it is to find great talent locally. The best people are all over the world, so we’ve put together the Ultimate Guide to Hiring Internationally.