How to Spot a Superstar in a Stack of Applications

How to Spot a Superstar in a Stack of Applications

Hiring has never been tougher. Thanks to the rise of job boards and sites like LinkedIn, employers now receive hundreds of applications for positions ranging from entry-level graphic designers all the way up to CEOs.

Missing out on top talent is a costly mistake – not only will it slow your organization’s growth, but you can be certain your competition is waiting in the wings to sign the best and brightest to their team.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you sort through an avalanche of applications and find that next superstar hire.

Start With The Goal

You think you know what you want. But do you really?

Planning ahead to truly understand what you’re looking for before you even write the job posting will not only make your life easier, it’ll also lead to better candidates applying for the position.

After all, a top-tier applicant isn’t going to bother applying for a job description that’s gibberish – and they’re certainly not going to pursue the opportunity if you can’t explain the position clearly.

Think about the intangible qualities that make the position you’re hiring for unique. Are you looking for a graphic designer or an art director? Perhaps the job posting was titled “head of sales” but what you’re really looking for is a right hand. Or maybe you insisted that next programmer be based out of your Bay-area office, when in reality they could work remotely.

The point is, you need to have a vision for every position you fill. Take the time to truly understand your expectations before looking for talent.

Make Three Lists

After you understand your vision for the role, make three lists:

Must haves
These are the qualities, experiences, and skills that are essential. For example, if you’re hiring a programmer, they need to know how to code in specific languages.


Nice to haves
That programmer mentioned above obviously needs to code – but what if you’re a small startup and everyone needs to chip in? In that case, you may want a developer with industry connections to help with business development.

Deal breakers
This is the list of things that makes a candidate a non-starter. Perhaps most of your team is working remotely now, but you need to hire an entry-level member of the marketing team to double as an office manager. In that case, refusing to relocate would be a deal breaker.

Start Sorting – Ruthlessly and Immediately

Sorting through mountains of resumes, cover letters, and portfolios can seem daunting.

It’s tempting to put off the hard work of doing a deep dive into the applications you receive. It’s also tempting to steal away a few minutes here and there to glance at resumes as they land in your inbox.

The better approach is to schedule a few hours every couple days to dig in and review each application. As you do, sort them based on the three lists you made earlier.

Reject anyone who lands in the deal breaker category immediately, and set aside candidates who check off the must have boxes. If someone fits into both the must have and nice to have categories, schedule those interviews right away.

Candidates who surprise you (in a good way) may also deserve special treatment. If someone has gone above and beyond to make a creative application or if they bring something exceptional to the table (such as experience working for your competition), consider putting them at the top of the interview pile – even if other applicants look better on paper.

Know When to Wait

Some candidates might not meet the must-haves or the deal breakers. You shouldn’t have to settle, but you don’t want to close the door on a good candidate.

It’s best to wait on these applicants and return to them later, so put these folks in another folder. If a candidate seems to have the right qualities to fit in with the team but doesn’t quite meet your expectations for this particular role, file his or her resume away for future reference.

If you don’t find someone who feels right after the first round of interviews, take a second look at this pile. Ask yourself if a “must have” quality may be better suited for the “nice to have” list. If there’s someone in this category you like, introduce them to some trusted colleagues. Often your coworkers can provide a good gut check about whether or not that applicant will make a good fit.

Good hires can change the game.

Finding your next game-changing hire is easy when you follow these four steps. Start by doing the hard work of understanding your own expectations. Then divide those expectations into three lists and triage the candidates in a way that makes sense for the role.

Happy (head) hunting!


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