Hiring 101

January 23, 2020

Danielle Braff

Seven myths about the “Perfect Applicant”

Seven myths about the “Perfect Applicant”
Danielle Braff
By making sure you're truly making an effort to get to know your candidates, you're going to find your perfect applicant.

You’ve got a stack of resumes piled on your desk, but you’re ready to discard nearly all of them. Not out of frustration mind you, but because (based on your knowledge of what a perfect applicant is) you think you’ve found your top pick. It’s a resume that’d make any hiring professional salivate- an Ivy League grad with prior experience who already lives in the area; a mythical candidate that has the perfect mix of education, skills, and experience who doesn’t mind that you don’t pay top dollar.

It sounds like you found the one… but maybe not. What happens if the resume has been exaggerated a little bit? Or worse, a lot? You may just be enchanted by one of the seven myths about the perfect applicant. 

What are those, you ask? You’re about to find out!

1. Every Ivy League grad is a must-hire 

Malcolm Gladwell argues that Ivy League students are just the same as everyone else. He looked at math SAT scores from freshman science and math students at a small college in New York and also looked at their graduation rates. More than half of those in the top third of the math SAT scores graduated, while just 27 percent of the second third of the New York students and just 17 percent of the bottom third graduated. In other words, not great. 

Gladwell then looked at the students from Harvard and saw the exact same thing: A little over half of those with the top third of the math SAT scores graduated, while 31 percent of the middle and 15 percent of the lowest scores graduated. 

Translation? At every school, regardless of rank, those with the top SAT scores will graduate, and those with the lowest SAT scores won’t. It has nothing to do with the school. Even so, education isn’t everything, either. There’s so much more to an applicant than their GPA.

2. You should focus on related work experience 

Only five percent of hiring professionals realize that it’s important not to discount those who don’t have an industry-related job (and that work experience shouldn’t be a significant factor when hiring). One of the great things about hiring someone who doesn’t have related work experience is that you can mold this person to fit your company or your position. Plus, even if they don’t have the work experience, that doesn’t mean they won’t be fantastic. 

Sure, having work experience is nice, and employers do tend to look favorably on those who’ve logged time in the same field (91 percent of employers prefer candidates who have work experience, and 65 percent prefer that these candidates have relevant work experience, according to NACE’s Job Outlook 2017 survey). But typically when you’re hiring, the applicants you end up with are a mixed bag. They’ll come from all kinds of places- be careful not to get starstruck.

3. Reference checks aren’t necessary 

First of all, you won’t learn everything you need to know about your candidate during their interview. Don’t get us wrong- you’ll learn the essentials, but how can you make sure you’re finding out the key information you need to make a great hire? Yes, there are pre-employment assessments and testing you could require as part of their application process. But what about the insights you could gain from someone who worked with your applicant for a long period of time? That’s why reference checks are key during your hiring process. 

Typically, it’s common sense to assume that anyone applying for a job isn’t going to include a reference that’d have something negative to say. Keep in mind though that while they may have had a solid professional relationship with their reference, former employers pick up on a lot more than whether or not your candidate has a nice personality. Was the candidate punctual? Did they go above and beyond? Ask their reference to offer examples of situations where they really stood out and did more than was asked. 

In addition, the list of references itself can say a lot more than the actual references on it. Did the candidate list their previous boss? If not, how come? Is there a lack of professional references? Could there be false or exaggerated information on your candidate’s resume that an unlisted reference could point out? 

In other words, their reference list may be a red flag. In addition to verifying the facts about your candidate’s job experience, make sure to validate the claims they made either in person or on their resume. No matter how many there are… 

4. Job hoppers are red flags 

Should you always reject potential employees because they don’t appear to stay at a single job for more than a year or so? Not necessarily, despite the fact that turnover is expensive and you don’t want your employees to leave. According to the 2019 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 43 percent of Millennials plan on leaving their current role within the next 2 years. So if you’re going to exclude job hoppers, then you’re going to potentially axe a huge chunk of candidates that may be great fits.

You never know off-hand what their circumstances were, either. Perhaps the previous positions weren’t a good fit? Maybe they moved a few times? You also need to account for the fact that the person is probably hoping to move up in the job world, and sees job hopping as a way to do that. If you’re able to move them up within the company, maybe he’ll stay longer? You’d have to ask. By the way, this is why career pathing is so important.

5. Passive candidates don’t make good employees 

While active candidates (the ones looking for a new job) make up 30 percent of the global workforce, passive candidates exist in the other 70 percent. That means if you’re only considering the people actively making themselves available for new opportunities, you’re limiting yourself and your company.

You have to remember that those passive candidates are probably open to new jobs, they’re just not doing a whole lot about it. In order to make sure your hiring pool is as strong as possible (not necessarily larger but better), you may have to strengthen your social media presence, network, and try offering an employee-referral program. In other words, reach out to them! We highly recommend tools like LinkedIn Recruiter. Free plug!

6. It’s a numbers game 

There’s an easier way to find candidates than to post your opening on every job search site and job board: try instead to reach out to candidates you’ve got your eye on. 

Have you noticed someone at another company who you think would do well at yours? Reach out and see if they’d be interested in applying. Or post an opening only on a few select sites where you know that you’ll attract candidates who have the right qualifications (perhaps this might even be in a Facebook chat board directed at those working in your high-level field). You only need one person who can make a great employee rather than a pile of resumes who may or may not work out for you.

7. The perfect applicant doesn’t exist within your own company

So what happens if you start looking internally for your next hire? You know their current references because you happen to be one of them, and you’ve got a pretty close eye on their work habits. Unfortunately, the idea of promoting from within doesn’t happen that often. Only 28 percent of internal candidates fill vacancies. In this case, it would behoove you walk the path less travelled.

Your own employees can be a great source of hirees. They already know your business, they understand the company culture, and they don’t need extensive training which means they can start right away. Plus, if you move someone up within your company, they’ll be less likely to job hop, allowing you to save money that may otherwise have been spent on turnover. Try looking within before looking outside your company for your next hire.

And now that we’ve debunked these myths…

The best place to start is to ensure you’ve got the largest pool of qualified applicants possible, so you’re able to narrow down your options in a more unbiased way. It might sound like a lot- but it’s not, we promise. Typically, hiring professionals find themselves in a position where they’re filling open positions based on who already works for their company, which severely limits company culture and diversity in your workplace. 

The moral of the story? By making sure you’re making your opportunity available to everyone, and truly making an effort to get to know your candidates, you’re protecting your organization from that. Having a developed interview process that thoroughly vets all sides of a candidate will prevent you from falling into the above common hiring misconceptions. There’s no such thing as the perfect applicant, but there is such a thing as the perfect applicant for you.

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