Qualified Applicant

Tyler Fisher
Tyler Fisher, PHR
Identifying the characteristics of a qualified applicant sounds like a simple task, but there is more to this task than matching up resumes with job descriptions. Read more for tips on how to identify top talent and qualified applicants.

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What Is a Qualified Applicant?

Traditional definitions state that a qualified applicant is one with the most relevant training, knowledge, skills, and abilities for a role. Our definition will go a bit deeper because there is more to being a qualified applicant than having the most workable skills.

A qualified applicant, simply put, is the person who is the best fit for a role. Here we will explore how to define what it means to be a good fit for a role.

The Importance of Waiting for Qualified Applicants

Sometimes you will not have the luxury of taking the time you would like to find the perfectly qualified candidate. Here are a few reasons to explain the importance of waiting for the right applicant.

  • Balanced employee lifecycle. In order for your organization to grow and thrive on a long-term basis, you need to have a balanced employee lifecycle. As your organization looks to meet its talent needs there is a balance between net new or growth hires and backfill hires that replace employees who leave. Not hiring qualified applicants may end up costing your organization more time and money on backfilling rather than the net new hires your organization needs.
  • Sustainable growth. The ultimate goal of any organization is to grow. Having qualified, competent, motivated people is a requirement for a business to grow sustainably over long-term goals. People can make or break a business.
  • Concrete company culture. Your company culture is the foundation of your business. Company culture is not just the guiding values listed on your website; company culture describes how closely those values align with real-life experience. In order to solidify that your company culture exists more than just on paper, you need to have qualified applicants.

What Are the Characteristics of a Qualified Applicant?

To understand the characteristics of a qualified job applicant, think outside the box of matching experience with job requirements. When finding qualified job applicants, comparing the experience to job requirements is only one piece of the puzzle.

Think of the process to understand qualified applicants as a two-way street. On one hand, you are finding applicants to fit the role you are filling, and on the other hand, you are offering the role the right applicants are looking for.

The characteristics of a qualified applicant help build a holistic picture of the candidate. No single characteristic is usually a deal-breaker, but they are things to consider in understanding a broader picture. Consider these essential characteristics of a qualified job applicant:

Capability To Perform Essential Duties and Functions

To the surprise of hiring managers, many applicants can perform the essential duties and functions of a given role even without that experience listed on their resume. In today’s market, people are not staying in one field for the duration of their entire careers. Statistics show that people will change positions five to seven times during their careers. So if you are only considering candidates who have the experiences you are looking for listed on their resume, you are missing out on many qualified applicants. You should be actively looking for people in other fields and careers with transferable skills.

To effectively determine who has the right knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the essential duties and functions of a job, list the key outcomes this person will need to execute in this role. By listing outcomes-based criteria, you can draw from a wider pool of applicants.

Culture Fit/Culture Addition

In addition to screening for candidates with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities, qualified applicants will also fit with and add to your company’s culture. If a candidate meets the criteria for required skills and outcomes but doesn’t match with or add to your company’s culture, they are not a qualified applicant. Culture is a very large piece of what defines a qualified applicant.

While there are other articles focusing on hiring for culture, lean on your company or corporate guiding values to understand how to use culture to determine if a candidate is qualified. Make a list of the soft skills that are valued within your organization and use that to determine if someone will fit with and add to your organization’s culture.

To understand if a candidate is qualified from a cultural perspective, take into account the work environment of the role. Will the person in this role work alone or work heavily in a collaborative team environment? Understanding the dynamic of the work environment will help you determine with more clarity if someone is qualified for your position.

Career Growth

An applicant that meets all the requirements for a role is not automatically the right applicant. For example, if someone meets 100% of the requirements, your role may not challenge them enough to make them a qualified applicant. A qualified applicant will bring some element of growth, development, and opportunity for themselves into your role.

Timing and Availability

The adage “timing is everything” applies in the recruiting world. A qualified applicant needs to match with timing and availability for the need you have now. When considering timing and availability, here are a few things to look for:

Do they match with the type of hire you are filling, such as full-time, part-time, seasonal, or contract? If you need to fill a role that is contract only, seasonal, or part-time, a candidate that is only available for a full-time role isn’t a good fit. Make sure that the type of employment you are offering matches what they are available for.

Are they available to work the schedule you need to fill? If your role requires weekends or certain shifts like an early morning or late night, take those factors into consideration. Make sure the people you are screening are available and willing to work the hours and shifts that you need.

Compensation

Consider the state and federal regulations regarding compensation. Qualified applicants must fit the compensation you are able to offer. Compensation is a major driving factor in determining if a candidate is qualified for the position and their interest in the position. To successfully navigate this topic within the state, local, federal, and company regulations, transparency is the best policy.

Where To Find Qualified Job Applicants

When you are filling an open position, sometimes qualified applicants come straight to you through applications, but in many circumstances, you will have to go find them. Here are a few places to find qualified applicants.

Job Boards

Job boards exist to connect job advertisers with job seekers. More and more of the job search process is happening online, especially through mobile, so job boards will have qualified applicants. Choosing a job board can be a daunting task because there are so many of them. Larger job boards have more candidates visiting but they can be more expensive. Niche job boards won’t have as many candidates visiting but they may have more qualified applicants for specialty roles.

Here are four large job boards to check out:

  1. Indeed
  2. LinkedIn
  3. Glassdoor
  4. ZipRecruiter

Career Site

Even though it may not find all the qualified applicants you need, don’t discount the value of your career site. Work with your development team to give your career site a facelift. Partner with your marketing team or the team that maintains your career site to make sure that your open positions are fine-tuned for search engine optimization (SEO).

Referrals

Employee referrals can be a rich source of qualified applicants so treat referrals like gold. They are an invaluable tool to find qualified applicants.

Referrals have a few advantages over other sources. Referrals already know the company culture and are therefore equipped to find a good fit for your organization. Hiring someone referred by an employee automatically ensures they have a built-in support system.

Events

Even though most recruiting takes place online, events are a great way for you to find qualified applicants. Your local area offers many events like college career fairs, community events, private career fairs, state and federal career fairs, and interest group career fairs. Find the events that work for the roles that you are trying to fill. You can also try hosting your own events onsite. Hosting an onsite career fair is a great way to bring in applicants who are specifically interested in your company. There are other events like open houses and information sessions to help you find candidates and build their interest in your organization.

Tips for Screening Applicants To See if They Are Qualified

Effective screening is important to understand if an applicant is qualified. Here are a few screening tips:

Tip 1: Understand the Why Behind Qualifications

Take the time to conduct a thorough intake meeting with your hiring manager to ensure you are calibrated on the qualifications for the role to be filled. This will build their confidence in you and give you a better understanding of their needs so you can provide them with qualified applicants.

If they have the required years of experience, ask a few follow-up questions to understand why they want that many years of experience. Try asking, “What accomplishments do you need them to have accomplished within that time frame?” or, “What core competencies do you need them to have obtained in that time?” Clearly understanding the why behind qualifications will empower you to create screening questions that get to the heart of the needed qualifications.

Tip 2: Use Behavioral and Situational Questions

Using behavioral and situational questions helps you understand the areas and projects that the applicant has both excelled and struggled in. Behavioral interview questions focus on an applicant’s previous experience. They usually start with something like, “Tell me about a time when…”. Situational interview questions ask the applicant how they would respond to a hypothetical situation, and help you understand their ability to perform in the critical areas for the role. They usually start with, “How would you respond in a situation where…”.

Tip 3: Understand the Applicant’s Career Goals

Qualified applicants must be a good fit for the role that you are filling, and the role you are filling needs to be a good fit for the candidate. If the role is not a good fit for the candidate, they are not really qualified. Take the time in your screening process to understand the applicant’s career goals to determine if this role is right for them.

Tip 4: Ask Follow-Up Questions

If your questions haven’t given you the answers you need to make an accurate and thorough assessment, ask follow-up questions to dig in deeper. Your ability to accurately screen a candidate is much more dependent on your ability to ask follow-up questions than on your interview guide.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Qualified Applicants

How do you tell an applicant that they don’t qualify?
Recruiting has a bad reputation for “ghosting candidates”. There are two primary reasons this happens: 1. Recruiting teams don’t have time to respond to all the candidates they reject. 2. Turning someone down for a role is a difficult conversation to have. Ghosting candidates is not a good policy or practice. It’s best to tell an applicant they don’t qualify candidly, and to frame the feedback within the knowledge, skills, accomplishments, education, and abilities they lack. Providing a candidate with honest and candid feedback gives everyone the best experience.
What percentage of job applicants are qualified?
The answer to this depends on the role being filled. Measuring and tracking your progress shows what percentage is qualified. The best practice is to design a clear job description and job posting that defines the qualifications and outcomes you are looking for.
Tyler Fisher
Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.

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