How To Measure The Quality Of Your Applicants (Before You Hire Them)

Managers are continually asking for a higher quality of candidate, while recruiters tend to focus on the cost or the speed of the hire. The quality of the applicant is clearly the superior factor. There are many ways to measure the quality of the applicants (before you hire them). Some of them include:

  • They get at least one counter offer. If they are any good (unless they work for government or a not-for-profit) their current boss will give them at least one counter offer to match yours. The very top get two.
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  • They are currently employed. In low unemployment times, if they are not currently working, odds are they are not top talent.
  • They have 3 offers from top firms. In high employment times, if they are active job seekers, the very best have multiple job offers and at least one will be from a top firm. If yours have only one offer (yours) they are not top talent (unless you live in a single employer area).
  • Your top performers know them. If they are any good, your top people know them. Top performers are a hard secret to keep.
  • Executive search professionals know them. Professionals you work with have them in their database.
  • They were hard to convince. Because the best are in demand, they are hard to “sell.” If they don’t have high expectations and they settle easily, something is wrong (or you did great market research).
  • They fit your competency profile. They have at least 110% of the competencies that your specs cover. They have skills and experiences that are not in your minimum requirements.
  • They are gone quickly. The best are taken rapidly. If you are slow to make a decision and they are still around after 10 days, they are not top talent (or you are the employer of choice for the region).
  • Awards. Top performers are publicly recognized in their firms. They might also be highly rewarded in monetary terms also (a >10% raise or a >20% bonus).
  • Manager satisfaction. If you survey your hiring managers on their satisfaction with the quality of the applicants they receive, you can get an idea of their assessment of the quality.
  • This year’s vs. last. Select a random number of applicant’s resumes from this year and last (in the same job). Mix them up and have an expert anonymously select the top and bottom 20%. See whether this year’s applicants are better represented in the top category.
  • The source. If they were referred by a current top performer odds are that they are also. Referrals consistently rate as the highest quality applicants.

<*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Don’t Be Fooled Traditional measures of quality might be misleading. Be careful of:

  • Resume quality. Top performers seldom have great or even current resumes. People that are on the job market a long time have time to polish and improve their resumes. Beware many people don’t even write their own resume!
  • Schools attended. Top performers come from many schools. The best usually do excel at what ever school they went to. Don’t assume; check to see where your firm’s top performers actually went.
  • Grades. In a diverse world where many students are older or have to work, overall grades might not predict much. Grades in their major might show more. See if your current top performers had great grades first.
  • Number of years of experience. In a rapidly changing world information and technology change rapidly so “experience” in a dated technology might mean little.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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