3 Killer Tactics to Improve the Way You Shortlist Applicants


Getting as many talented and high-potential qualified applicants as possible is the dream of any Recruiter. “The more qualified candidates, the merrier,” you say.


… if you’re in a midsize or start-up company that doesn’t use automated applicant screening system (since you never get thousands of resumes daily as to how giant companies get), digging, viewing, and screening online applicant resumes daily might be a daunting task.

You not only have to ensure you get it right – screen the candidates effectively and manually (unless you use general mass testing as an initial screening tool). But, you also need to consider that it costs you and your team the most valuable non-renewable resource on earth — time.

Have you ever experienced spending time interviewing candidates who also pass the employment testing, only to find out that they don’t even meet the minimum requirement you look for to hire top performers?

Don’t you wish you have the accurate tactics to get it right for you and your team to follow?

Here, I listed three killer tactics to improve the way you shortlist job applicants:


1. Know (exactly, detail by detail, the nitty-gritty of) what you’re looking for.

Do you know what’s the one factor that separates effective recruiters that get top talents to others?

It’s this.

If you miss this, before engaging in all other strategies and tactics, it’s challenging to get things right when it comes to getting the best talents fit for the role. It’s the foundation of all your recruiting and screening efforts.

You don’t need to get expert in doing the exact role or job (for example for a Sales job, Technical job – Programming, Quality Assurance, Information, and Security -, Marketing, Finance, or Legal, etc. as that is far from possible unless you are a generalist who can do everything but lack mastery. 

What I refer to is understanding “what will exactly take to be successful in each role.”

  1. What are the General Attributes, and
  2. What are the Job-Specific Attributes

needed to succeed in the job?

Take note of “succeed in the job”.

You can always put some criteria, attributes, or whatever traits as part of the specification, but that’s not how people that get top talents do it. They try to understand what attributes successful people in the role and top performer demonstrate, and then they use strategies and techniques to identify a fit. They look for “potential to show such” or whether the applicant has already shown in the past.

It may not be in a work setting (especially for fresh graduates),   but in situations whose complexity was comparable to the existing requirements. It might be in school, on-the-job training, volunteer works, or other types of roles where such attributes where shown.

Say, for example, on the General Attributes, is it mental ability (fluid intelligence), learning aptitude (strong innate or acquired capacity for learning), problem-solving or motivation that is generally critical for your type of industry and culture (say technology, software, education, etc.)?

Then you drill down to the exact Job-specific attributes and previous results that will determine whether the applicant will succeed in the role.

Be guided by the question,

“What attributes do top people doing this type of job have, and what are examples of results they produced to support such?”

For example, for Sales, personality plays a more prominent role. In fact, according to the testing conducted by Harvard Business Review among 1,000  business salespeople,  findings say that key personality traits directly influence top performers’ selling style and, ultimately, their success. The respondents were high technology and business services salespeople and members of President’s Club ( the incentive trip that companies award their top-performing salespeople). Modesty, conscientiousness, achievement orientation, curiosity, lack of gregariousness, lack of discouragement, and lack of self-consciousness were found to  influence sales performance.

You may also look within your organization among your top performers and above-average performers (ensure the sample is enough). Dissect and test what makes others more successful than their counterparts. Do it in all your openings.

One caveat, you don’t need to exactly reflect these attributes in the Job Description and Specification in your job ads; you may or may not (I’ll discuss in a separate blog why).

Instead, use it as a clear mental picture during your shortlisting and job interview. The goal is to pinpoint the results the applicants have already produced in the past where the either demonstrated those attributes or any situation comparable to the complexity of the current job conditions.

You might wonder how some recruiters could conduct interviews without knowing these. See how their results are and compare them.  Doing this is one of the factors that separate top Recruiters from mediocre ones.

Again, you don’t need to know “how” to do those jobs exactly. You’re an HR practitioner and Recruiter. You’re not a Programmer, Procurement Specialist, Accountant, Sales Business Development Manager, etc.  Understand what it takes to be successful in those roles – down to the minute details. This also includes what makes them tick, what motivates them, and check the results they’ve done in the past showing those. Then, use them throughout the whole screening process from recruiting (attracting candidates through job postings, advertisements, networking, etc.) to selection (resume screening, job interviews, testing, reference checking, and the rest).

As a guide, you may create a Shortlisting Scorecard or as simple as this in a spreadsheet. You may use this throughout the whole selection process to final interviews and reference checks.


Take note of this information if available on the resume or their LinkedIn profile. If not, gather more information. Check the remaining tips below first and see if worth to schedule an initial 30-minute phone call.

2. Look for an “achiever pattern” in the resume or LinkedIn profile.

What’s an achiever pattern, and why is it important?

Behavioral patterns are the person’s recurrent way of behaving toward certain situations. Achiever patterns are a person’s recurrent and consistent records of accomplishments. It’s where the applicant did more than the requirements expected of him. Or patterns where the candidate walked the extra mile.

This is crucial to identify whether the candidate is driven or motivated enough intrinsically. In my experience as Recruiter, this is the first thing I look for in a candidate. Without intrinsic drive, a skilled person will still perform average performance.

Remember: A motivated person will always do more than the need of the job. He will always find ways to improve, produce better results, start better methods and strategies, learn better, or achieve better than others. That’s the Achiever pattern. And…we are not looking for only one example, but a series of illustrations showing a “pattern”.


  • Did he do something that’s above average or above ordinary? Something that is not done by 80% of their population?

Primary Evidence:

On the job (or school),

  • Does he have:
  • Steep upward career progression and promotion
  • Honors, Awards, and Recognition, Commendations, Patents, Whitepapers
  • Teach, coach, or advise (peers and subordinates), or leadership experience at work or in school
  • Is he a mentor? Or a mentee (showing he’s open for better learning)
  • Is he assigned to more significant projects?
  • Does he hire top people?

Secondary evidence:

  • Chosen first or regularly for main projects
  • Exceptional in one or two critical areas
  • Employment gaps (if there’s any) are filled with self-development projects

Check for quantifiable results data such as numbers and percentages. From such evidence, we’re looking for making an impact, meeting the performance objectives, delivering high quality, expanding, consistent results, working well with multi-functional teams, technical impact, and upward progression.

Take note of this information if available on the resume and their LinkedIn profile. If not, more information is needed. Schedule a 30-minute phone call to reveal the applicant’s Achiever Pattern through the Most Significant Accomplishment (MSA) Interview Framework by Lou Adler.

Once applicants meet this least criterion first (I call this minimum criterion because I don’t move applicants lower down the recruiting funnel if this isn’t present), you may now schedule for a comprehensive or complete interview to check for the general and job-specific requirements to succeed on the job. Drive, energy, initiative, or also known as motivation is crucial for good to exceptional work performance.

Drive is just one factor – but the minimum criterion. It’s the function of the next selection steps once the applicant is shortlisted…to find out MORE.

3. Spot “red flags” or warning signs that the applicants are either not qualified for the job or can be problematic later on.

Some of the common red flags are bloated job title, not staying in the company for a reasonable period or short job tenure and frequent job-hopping, employment gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in the applicants’ application tools such as resume vs. LinkedIn profile vs. other public data available online, dishonesty, ambiguous and general wording, and mistakes and typo errors for lack of attention to detail.

Bloated Job Title. Look at the context and conditions where the position title was used. Check the actual functions, responsibilities, and deliverables vs. the title itself, and compare for a match.

Short Job Tenure. Remember the time, effort, and other resources your team spent to fill a role, not to mention the onboarding and job-specific training. These are costs. If a new hire left without the company getting Return on Investments such as those, it’s a loss for the company, which is also a reflection of your shoddy work. Be sure to spot this early on – look for patterns. Frequent job-hopping may indicate an inability to meet job demands and satisfactory performance and quickly burn out. It may also possibly imply poor relationships with co-workers.

Employment Gaps. Here,  strive to maintain objectivity. Take note of this and probe during the interview if the applicant met the other criteria. If the employment gap is filled with self-development initiatives (such as learning a new skill or taking advanced education), it may not necessarily be a red flag.

Also, be more attentive to applicants’ use of functional resume format vs. chronological, although the two can be used. Both have specific strengths that aim to market applicants better, but also compensate for profile weaknesses that some Recruiters might not notice. Don’t be that Recruiter.

A functional resume is useful for applicants with substantial employment gaps, have changed jobs often, and candidates that don’t exactly fit into what you are looking for.

Inconsistencies with Applicant’s Information. It may be either sign of lack of attention to detail, professional awareness, or worse, dishonesty. Some applicants would sometime tailor theirs based on the job descriptions you put on your posted job ads, take skills and essential keywords, and put them on their resume – which some might not necessarily possess.  Always check for consistencies among all their data you have.

On a final note, falling a victim of “misrepresented expertise” on applicants’ resume and profiles cost you valuable resources – time, workforce, opportunity to get better candidates, and other essential company resources.

Save yourself from these wastes. Apply these three killer tactics to improve the way you do initial applicants screening.

Need help in recruiting? Contact us at hiring@talentlush.com now.

For more of the  interviewing techniques, hiring strategies, and how to conduct these, contact TALENTLUSH team.

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