Do More With Less: 3 Changes To Immediately Improve Inbound Applicant Quality 

Inbound applicant pools for some jobs and locations have ballooned in 2023 thanks largely to two major trends – layoffs and hiring slowdowns led by (but not limited to) the tech industry and the Return to Office wave. According to a LinkedIn study, remote jobs make up around 14% of all listings across the platform yet attract a colossal 51% of applications.

To make matters worse, talent acquisition teams have been particularly impacted by the layoffs, requiring you to do more with less. This is true whether your employer is a small startup or a juggernaut like Google, Ford, or Goldman Sachs.  

So there are fewer recruiters available, and less capacity among them, to review inbound applications. And while inbound recruiting is more efficient, effective, and fair than outbound sourcing, a dizzying number of unqualified applications can make the current situation untenable.

The good news? Small changes to your hiring process have a big impact on who applies to your jobs. Here’s a data-backed explanation behind the latest challenge to test talent acquisition teams and three adjustments to immediately improve the quality of your inbound candidate pools.

What’s happening in the labor market?

It’s not uncommon for fully remote jobs today to get plenty of applications. According to new Datapeople research, the median applicant pool size for a remote job in 2023 is 175, while in 2021, it was just 44. That’s a 4x increase – that you’re no doubt feeling the effects of in your role!

However, even if roles get hundreds of applications, this doesn’t necessarily translate into qualified candidates. Quantity doesn’t guarantee quality, but it does guarantee more work for recruiters. Trying to find a needle in a haystack means sometimes missing out on needles, such as Ted Skyba, a former CEO who scaled a fintech startup to a $250 million valuation in just three years yet was rejected more than 1,000 times in the hiring process when he began applying cold to other jobs. 

But it’s not just remote jobs that are experiencing an influx of applications for a single position. The labor market is tight in 2023, but that tightness varies across industries. Health, transportation, and education feel that squeeze, while construction and retail are on the more relaxed side. Even in a single function like go-to-market (GTM), sales roles remain very competitive, but marketing and customer success roles have relaxed substantially. And while frontline roles are tight, general & administrative (G&A) and technical roles have eased.

Meanwhile, hanging over it all is a 31% overall failure rate for job requisitions. Yikes!

So how can recruiters cut through the noise and find the right candidates without having to sift through thousands of job applications? 

Here are three systematic process changes you can implement to make sure your inbound pipelines result in qualified candidates and efficient, successful hiring outcomes – all while keeping your recruiters’ sanity intact. 

Three essential hiring process changes to help you improve inbound applicant quality

So how do you attract diverse, qualified candidate pools quickly while staying within (a shrinking) budget – all the while preventing your team from burnout? It’s difficult, but doable with these actionable tips. 

Write clear, concise, and calibrated job posts

Post and pray doesn’t work for job ads. Job posts must be highly specific in order to attract qualified candidates and deter unqualified job seekers from applying. Some steps that you need to do well when it comes to job posts are: 

  1. Calibrate the title of the job with its responsibilities and qualifications. Getting a job title right can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful requisition. Hiring teams often overqualify, or “inflate,” their job titles (e.g. putting ‘senior’ in the title even though the job responsibilities and qualifications don’t warrant it). This may seem harmless, but the effects are drastic; in a Datapeople study on the negative impact of the word ‘senior’ in financial analyst titles, title inflation yielded 29% fewer candidates, 39% fewer qualified candidates, and 27% fewer female candidates. Words matter, so be precise in your job post titles.
  2. Include salary information. It’s required by law to post salary info in California, Colorado, New York, Washington, and British Columbia. But you can attract more qualified candidates by including salary details whether or not local laws mandate it. According to LinkedIn, 91% of people state that salary information impacts their decision to apply for a job. Embrace transparency and see all the positive effects it has on your hiring process.
  3. Provide clarity about on-site, hybrid, or (fully) remote jobs. Let’s define the terms so there’s no confusion. On-site means that an employee works in the office (or factory, or warehouse…) every day. Remote means that they never have to come to the office or another physical location. And hybrid means a combination of remote and on-site work. Considering the Return to Office trend, it’s no wonder that hybrid roles went from 1.3% of all roles in 2021 to almost 9% of all roles in 2023. Whenever you’re hiring for an on-site or hybrid position (no matter how flexible), you are limited to the talent pool in that specific geographic market and must make this clear in the job post. That way, you’ll deter job seekers who can’t be considered and invite applications from those who can satisfy the on-site requirements. The last thing you want to do is catfish your candidates (or waste the recruiter’s time). Be clear about your job’s location.
  4. Keep it short and sweet. In brevity lies impact. If your job posts are too long, you risk having candidates only skim them before applying. Worse yet, qualified candidates may pass them over for more simple, attractive listings. Remember, job ads are just that: advertisements (i.e. marketing documents), not detailed internal job descriptions.   

Include knockout questions in your applications

Knockout questions in the application help you quickly determine if candidates are qualified for a role. Knockout questions are a way to efficiently yet fairly separate phone screen-worthy candidates from the rest.  

When writing these questions, you can think about them through the KSA (knowledge, skills, attitude) model. What must a candidate possess or demonstrate in order to be considered? 

Additionally, you can include questions that determine if a candidate is willing to come into a physical office or other location (for hybrid or on-site roles) or if they have proper work authorization or certifications.

You can also create company-specific knockout questions. At one point, Google had the Foobar challenge, a hidden test programmers could solve to get shortlisted. 

You don’t have to go that far; you can simply have some questions related to your company (such as its values or mission) to assess if candidates are aligned. We use the question, “Datapeople is a mission-driven startup. What is it about Datapeople/our mission that has attracted you to this position?” 

Analyze candidate sources and turn off those not generating enough qualified candidates or hires

Use recruiting analytics to lead you to your desired results. It’s not about getting more applications, but about getting more qualified candidates.

According to Datapeople’s research, twice as many outbound (i.e., sourced) candidates drop out of the hiring process as inbound candidates. So while inbound may feel noisy right now, it’s a critical channel for meeting your pipeline and hiring goals. 

Datapeople’s Tech Hiring Report also found that 85% of female applicants to tech jobs between 2019 and 2021 came from inbound sources. With the (optimized) inbound route, you not only attract plenty of candidates but diversify your talent pool. 

The key is to track and analyze your inbound candidate sources since they’re not all created equal. Don’t spend time (and money) on channels that don’t provide results – focus only on those that generate qualified candidates and hires. Gather data on the performance of your job boards and job post syndication tools and see if they’re measuring up. If not, cut them out of your process and recruiting budget immediately. 

Make sure to measure relevant data that will help you make these decisions, such as:

  • Number of applicants by source
  • Pass-through rate by source (is the source bringing in applicants that progress to the phone screen stage – and beyond?)
  • Number of hires by source (and ratio of applicants to hires)
  • Source ROI (is the source producing enough qualified candidates and hires to justify its cost?) 

This data will be the proof of what works and what doesn’t for your organization amidst the market shifts of 2023 and beyond. And it will allow you to keep the inbound coming without the overwhelming surge of unqualified applications.

Follow these tips to attract qualified candidates

From writing clear, calibrated job posts to ensuring you have accurate and accessible recruiting analytics, improving inbound candidate quality in today’s market might seem like a daunting task. 

But you don’t have to do these things all by yourself – you can use Datapeople to alleviate the burden and zero in on what actions will deliver the most impact. Sign up for a demo to learn how we give recruiting teams intelligence and control over the entire hiring process, beginning with your job posts.

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