Not Enough Applicants? Ideas to Fix Recruiting Woes

Requirement, prerequisite, qualification, criteria, must, need, condition, essential, stipulation, vital, necessary, crucial, critical… No, these aren’t a list of words from a tax form or some bureaucratic red-tape lover’s Twitter feed. If you work in HR or recruiting, you probably know all of these words inside and out. These are words that come to you from the wonderful world of job postings. Try to hold back your excitement, I dare you!

There are plenty of good and well reasons why these words frequent job postings. Perhaps the job is extremely specialized. For example, at the leading heart hospital in the country they would need to fill openings with specialists in order to maintain the hospital’s perception as a leader in their specialization. If you need a developer who practices a language that is no longer popular, there is probably an extremely limited supply of people with ability to have success in that role. In these cases, there is no wiggle room; you have to have who you have to have.

A problem I see and hear about with increasing frequency is recruiters and hiring managers saying they are not getting enough of the right applicants. I can’t help but wonder if the two might be related. In the above examples, there is no option but to hire the experienced cardiologist or the programmer with obscure legacy knowledge. In the vast majority of other cases, you don’t need to draft the next Peyton Manning who will be critical in every facet of your company’s success for the next two decades. Sure, it would be great to catch lightning in a bottle and hire the candidate you saw in your dreams last night who is a 100% match for a list of checkboxes with definitions attached. My contention is that by looking with too fine tooth of a comb, you’re probably sifting out candidates who could otherwise be tremendous assets.

You may be saying to yourself “but I really want to get a home run on this hire!” The phrase “Home Run” is frequently used when describing wins in the workplace. In the game of baseball, people will tell you that “the long ball’s sexy!” and that may be true. It doesn’t always equal better overall performance though. MLB power hitters Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds have regularly belted 25+ homers most seasons since 2009. They also can boast two of the highest strikeout percentages, regularly over 30%. If you want to win games, you need to get on base and make contact when your teammates are on base. Trying to hit a home run on every at bat is not the best strategy for long term success.

Think about your job posting from the other side for a moment. Your job posting is the first professional impression that a candidate has of your company. If your posting is as stodgy and uptight as the small print of your HOA agreement, it’s no wonder you aren’t getting flooded with cover letters and resumes. The perception you set forth in the posting should be a reflection of your workplace’s culture. If people get a bad vibe from the posting, what will actually working there be like?

There are a number of other reasons people could be hesitant to apply based on what they see. Is the process to apply a hassle? Pretend you are a job seeker. You’ve spent all day optimizing resume & cover letter to different jobs and going through numerous proprietary application processes that take 30-45 minutes each. Repeat every single day, all day long, for 2-3 weeks. You’re tired and worn out. Job seekers will start looking for reasons why NOT to apply to this job or that one just to avoid the hassle and heartbreak of that painful application process that all too frequently results in automated scanners kicking out your resume before it even sees a human. Maybe they only have 18 months of experience instead of 2 years. They might have enough knowledge of HTML to excel in the job, but not consider themselves “fluent” as the posting requires. The tiniest details of perception in the posting can have a great effect on your applicant pool.

Keeping those positions open forever while hunting for a unicorn to fill them is irresponsible. Your company is operating at a lower efficiency than it could be, and probably losing money because of it. There’s a reason that position was posted. Fill it. Don’t let complacency sabotage your search, you can increase the number of applicants and fill that position. Here’s how to break free from the cycle.

First, expand your search to other verticals. For this to work, you need to boil down the position to the key skills. Strip away the layers of specific tasks and think about the qualities of someone who would be described as successful. Skills and qualities are transferrable. For instance, I previously worked as an Operations Analyst for a contact center. In that role, lots of Excel work, analysis, dashboards, presenting findings dealing with call center type stats. Although I didn’t fit the mold of the posting for my current position, the analysis and relationship building portions were skills that transferred well to the dual role of analyst and account manager. There are many similar metrics and relationships between call center and email marketing stats. Industry specifics are teachable; having an innate skillset is not.

This brings me to the next arm of the action plan, eliminating arbitrary requirements. There’s that requirement word again. Say you post a position that requires 5 years of experience in Sports Marketing. If you are having a tough time getting applicants, should you be turning away people with 3 years of intense marketing experience and a passion for sports outside of the office? Chances are that someone in your office guessed a “nice round number” for years of experience a candidate should have. Should that guess, made with barely a passing thought, be sufficient criteria to completely eliminate the passionate sports fan with a marketing background from consideration? Does your posting require applicants to have an MBA for consideration? Does a freshly graduated MBA candidate guarantee you better results than the undergrad with 10 years of hands-on industry experience to go with it? Perhaps you should look for experience solving ______ type of issues, or a history within _______ industry.

You should also make sure that your posting is a good representation of your company’s culture. If you have a fun, upbeat, adventurous workplace why would your posting not reflect that? The job posting is often a candidate’s introduction to your company. It’s okay to do a bit of selling yourself. Not every company can have the built in buzz of being a Google or Facebook. They get plenty of applications for every job they post. You might have to do a bit more selling to get people to apply somewhere with less inherent excitement around the company. Some people may not even know who you are or what you do. If this is the case, you’ve got a blank canvas to create an engagement. Writing the posting in the tone of Ben Stein’s voice is not going to get people interested!

When you receive resumes from candidates, you notice the ones that stand out from the crowd. Why have your posting be as bland as any other drivel on If you are having trouble finding candidates your job needs to stand out from the crowd. Standing out because of the most buzz-word filled bullet point requirement lists is not the kind of attention you want from jobseekers. You don’t need to create a BuzzFeed listicle instead of a job posting, but you can definitely take a page from their book. Instead of waiting for applicants to come to you, flip the script by actively marketing the position to your audience.

If you were having trouble filling your long-open, super niche, job posting before, hopefully this gives you some ideas that you can enact right away to get that job filled. Your office will thank you ten-fold in the efficiency created by having that person take back all the individual responsibilities that have since been delegated to other team members. Hiring is one area where keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box can have a dramatic positive impact on your bottom line.