4 Tips to Quickly Qualify Candidates


Years ago, when I told my now 98-year-old mother that I was headed up to Maine for a few weeks of vacation, she sweetly asked me, “Who does your job when you go on vacation?” My mother is a child of the Great Depression, a World War II bride from quite another era. I told her that no one does my job when I go away. All of my work will be waiting for me when I get back. I’ll have to work extra hours to catch up for the time I missed. She was incredulous at that.

I was remembering that exchange this past Labor Day weekend. Appropriately so, since I spent my Labor Day laboring! I had come back from Maine a few days earlier and, because I had been gone for a few weeks, I had close to 500 resumes in my Inbox for review. Whew! Now that’s a daunting challenge.

But, I have a system that helps me quickly identify that NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK, determining which resumes to toss and which to keep.

I get an extraordinary amount of responses to jobs posted both on my website and through my national recruiting network. For the most part, 99% of those who respond are not qualified. But, in order to know, I still must review each resume – whether that is five, fifty, or five hundred!

I know so many hiring managers who are overwhelmed and exhausted from reading resumes. People without a job or looking to make a career change respond toanything that may even remotely be a fit.

So, what do you do with an electronic haystack in front of you?


That’s right. You can’t even get through to the “maybe” candidates and onto the “definitely” candidates until you weed out the “no” candidates.

This is done in two steps:

  1. SORT FOR GEOGRAPHY – Draw a circumference around your company’s location. (Of course geography is no constraint if you plan to consider nationwide candidates to relocate, or if your position can be filled from a home-base.) These are the cities and towns where ideal candidates should reside. With today’s commuting congestion, many of my clients aim for about 30 miles.
  2. SORT BY FUNCTION – Simply “eyeball” the resume to confirm that your applicant has performed the function you need. If it’s a sales position, candidates must have sales experience. If it’s marketing, same thing. Delete the obvious non-qualified candidates.

These two steps will greatly whittle down your possible candidates. Now on to the final steps:


Remember, there’s a gem in there somewhere, so you need to focus. Reviewing resumes is a task that picks up a certain momentum. Try to keep distractions to a minimum.

In an analog world where you have printed out a resume, choose a quiet place with an open work surface (not a cluttered desk with a constantly ringing phone). Then make room for three piles: YES, NO and MAYBE.

In the digital world where you are reviewing on your screen, pick a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed. Then set up YES, NO and MAYBE folders to quickly move the resumes.

Start to read your resumes this way:

  1. Go through the stack focused on the “must haves” of your position description.

    • If they clearly don’t qualify, move to the NO folder or pile.
    • If they may qualify but you’re not quite sure, move to MAYBE.
    • If they definitely do qualify, move to YES.
  2. Start to read the YES resumes carefully. (I like to read a resume chronologically so I can get an idea of career progression. You can do this by starting at the end of the resume and read to the latest position.) But, regardless of how you are reading the resume, look for your “must-have” qualifications. After you read the resume, place it in one of the three folders and move on.
  3. Now you are left with two folders you care about, the YES and the MAYBE. Re-read your MAYBE resumes and move them to either the YES or NO folders.
  4. Voila! You are now down to ONE folder – YES. Review these and stack rank them according to any additional criteria you may have. In the case of finding a new super software salesperson, you may give weight to candidates who have successfully sold similar products, have sold into the same verticals, or have come from certain companies. You get the picture.


Now that your resumes are prioritized, you’re ready to start contacting candidates. You can start with an email or, if time is of the essence, send an email AND call them. For the candidates who are super-qualified, send an email AND pick up the phone right away. This is a tight labor market and you need to act fast.

You’ll be happy you invested in this weeding-out process, saving you from speaking to unqualified candidates, wasting their time and yours. As a matter of fact, you’ll be excited to dive into those resumes and find your next great employee!

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