What is an applicant pool? (Plus benefits and tips)

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Your applicant pool contains all people who’ve applied for a specific role at your company. You want this group to be as large and highly skilled as possible to maximize your chances of a top hire. Otherwise, you risk mis-hiring an under-qualified candidate that could make costly mistakes. You can even face productivity losses if you can’t fill the role.

But what can you do to expand your applicant pool and ensure you attract suitable individuals for your open positions? We’re here to help.

In this article, we break down what applicant pools are, the benefits of having a strong one, and tips to strengthen yours. We include a variety of strategies and tools, from increasing your applicant pool diversity to simplifying the application process and expanding your search.

Let’s dive in.

What is an applicant pool, and why does it matter?

An applicant pool is the entire group of individuals who apply for an open position. 

It’s important not to confuse an applicant pool with a candidate pool or a talent pool. Here’s how the three differ:

  • The applicant pool contains all individuals who have applied for a specific role. They may or may not be a good fit for the position or the company, and they’ll vary in skill level, experience, and qualifications. While some applicants may have had previous contact with the company, others are new contacts. 

  • The candidate pool comprises applicants who have passed the screening stage and are actively being considered for a role. They’re usually invited to interview or take a pre-employment assessment. This is a small subsection of your applicant pool.

  • The talent pool is a wider group of individuals your company might be interested in for future open positions. They possess a wide range of skills and experiences and might apply for specific roles when prompted. A talent pool can include past applicants and candidates, as well as contacts from other sources, such as company events and career interest forms.  

Your applicant pool matters because it directly impacts the quality of your hires. The wider and more diverse it is, the more choice of applicants you have. In turn, having many high-quality applicants in your pool leads to a more robust candidate shortlist. Therefore, you can make better hiring decisions much more quickly.

Benefits of a strong applicant pool

A strong applicant pool is large and diverse, with a high proportion of individuals well-suited for the role. Below are the key benefits of having a solid pool of applicants:

Higher-quality candidates

With a large and highly skilled pool of applicants, you have more individuals to choose from to create a stronger shortlist of candidates for interviews and pre-employment assessments. This makes it more likely that you’ll find the right fit for your open positions in terms of skills, abilities, and personality traits. 

A better fit for the company

Finding employees that gel with your business’s mission and values can be tricky. They must possess attributes that connect to your unique company culture – such as motivation, sociability, or innovation. 

You’re more likely to find these individuals when you have a large, diverse applicant pool because diversity brings various perspectives, backgrounds, and capabilities to the table. Thus, you’ll increase your chances of finding applicants who are a strong fit for your company.

A more diverse team

As mentioned, a strong applicant pool helps you include people with varied backgrounds and experiences in your decision-making process – from application to screening to hiring.  In turn, with more diverse applicants in your pool, you can make hiring choices that bring more diversity to your team

Reduced time-to-hire and recruitment costs

Filling open positions more quickly means you optimize team productivity and deliver client outcomes on time and on budget. You can reduce time-to-hire by building a larger, more suitable applicant pool. Having this enables you to quickly identify and interview excellent candidates without the need for extra recruitment rounds.

Similarly, an applicant pool that includes suitable individuals from the get-go can save you significant recruitment costs. By finding the right hire quickly, you can minimize job board fees, recruiters’ wages, and other costs.

Benefits of a strong applicant pool graphic

8 tips to build a robust applicant pool

Here are some best practices for growing your applicant pool:

1. Write detailed job descriptions

The more precise the role responsibilities and desired candidate qualities are in your job postings, the more relevant the applications will be. However, keep it concise to avoid overwhelming applicants.

In your job descriptions, outline a typical workday, note the role’s key tasks, and describe the abilities the worker must perform. In addition, detail the support successful candidates will receive and the top targets and challenges they can expect. 

You should also summarize your company’s mission and values and any important details about the department and services linked to the role. Ideally, specify a salary range, a list of benefits, and whether the role can be performed in a remote or hybrid setting.   

Together, these job description elements help applicants determine if they fit your role and company well and want to apply. This helps increase the quality of your pool. 

2. Use inclusive language in your recruitment

The language you use in job descriptions and other media like recruitment videos influences people’s decision to apply. Therefore, evaluating how you describe your company, open positions, and desired employee attributes throughout recruitment is essential.

Aim to eliminate any language that can discourage members of certain communities from applying – including ethnic, gender, religious, neurodiverse, or LGBTQ+ groups. 

Here are some words and phrases commonly used in job descriptions that you can replace with more inclusive language:

  • “He or she” can be replaced with “they” to ‌ensure gender neutrality.

  • “Fast-paced environment” and “performs well under pressure” can be replaced with “enjoys a challenge” so as not to deter those with either neurodivergence or mental health conditions.

  • Gendered phrases like “ninja” or “rockstar” can be swapped with “skilled professional” to avoid alienating applicants.

  • “After-work drinks” can be replaced with “optional social activities” to include those who don’t drink alcohol for personal or religious reasons.

  • “Native language” can be swapped for “first language” to ensure cultural sensitivity. 

Learn more: How (and why) you should prioritize inclusiveness

3. Expand your applicant search 

Cast a wider search net to bring more types of applicants to your job openings. Consider individual traits like personality type, as well as demographic factors like location, qualifications, highest education level, and family care duties.

Here are some specific tips to expand your applicant search:

  • Recruit nationally or internationally if the role allows the employee to work remotely, in a hybrid setting, or from the nearest office or branch to their residence. This gives you access to talented applicants who couldn’t otherwise commute or relocate to the role’s main location.

  • Remove professional qualifications – like project management certifications, for example – from the job requirements unless they’re essential to performing the role. You’ll get more applications from people with comparable experience and transferable skills – just without formal qualifications.

  • Consider dropping strict requirements for higher education like PhD, master’s, or bachelor’s degrees unless necessary for the job. You’ll hear from applicants who’ve had alternative ways of learning, like vocational training or entrepreneurship. (Fun fact: Bill Gates never graduated from his bachelor’s program.)

  • Make the role attractive to applicants with caring responsibilities, such as childcare. For instance, you can offer flexible working hours and monetary contributions towards childcare costs.

  • Avoid targeting specific personality types through your job ads unless they’re essential for performing the role successfully. For example, describing the ideal employee as “friendly and outgoing” could suggest you’re looking for a very extroverted personality type and detract introverted individuals from applying.

4. Post job ads on multiple platforms

Posting your job openings on multiple online platforms – including various job boards, company websites, and newsletters – helps you reach more applicants. 

However, ensure that each platform’s target audience is a good match for the role type and its seniority. For example, posting on a college job board may not be effective for recruiting senior leadership roles.

Furthermore, certain job sites are sector-specific, like not-for-profit or technology, while others cater to applicants with specific backgrounds and abilities. So, consider niche platforms that may connect you to suitable applicants. For instance, a site for entrepreneurial types would be useful for a role requiring independent thinking and innovation.

5. Simplify your application process

Lengthy or complicated application forms have a higher drop-out rate, robbing you of potentially qualified individuals. To avoid this, exclude submission elements that aren’t critical to screening applicants and selecting candidates.

For instance, don’t ask applicants to manually fill out details about past roles if this information can be provided in a resume. This task takes time without adding extra value, and some applicants will abandon the submission altogether. Alternatively, use software that automatically extracts employment data from resumes or LinkedIn profiles. 

Additionally, mandatory cover letters can deter certain applicants due to the time and effort required to write them. You could miss out on talented individuals who are short on time – like parents and full-time workers – or those who aren’t confident writers. Cover letters aren’t effective indicators of applicant suitability either, as they can’t demonstrate job-related skills.

6. Recruit from your talent pool

You don’t want to miss out on talented people simply because you don’t currently have open positions for them. So, use your talent pool to source suitable applicants for your upcoming openings whenever you aren’t currently hiring. 

Here are our top tips for growing a talent pool:

  • Provide a general careers interest form on your website that includes submitters’ desired role and past experience. This provides you with potential applicants who already understand your company’s mission.

  • Your talent pool includes your current employees, too. So, use internal communication channels such as emails and internal job boards to advertise open positions within your workforce.

  • Add unsuccessful former candidates to your talent pool. They grabbed your attention for a reason, so they can help raise the quality of your future applicant pools.

  • Engage regularly with talent pool contacts through emails and texts and provide targeted job opportunities based on their career interests. You can also share important company updates via digital newsletters or email to maintain your pool’s awareness and interest.     

7. Create an employee referral system

Using your existing employees to source new talent can be very advantageous, as they know first-hand what it takes to do the job and fit well into the team. Do this by creating an employee referral system. This encourages staff members to recommend people they know for job openings. Successful referrers usually receive monetary rewards, such as a one-time bonus. 

This system may not dramatically increase your number of job applicants since only a small proportion of employees have suitable contacts for specific roles. But, it will raise your applicant pool’s quality through referred applicants who are a strong skill and culture fit.  

Learn more - Employee referral programs: How to leverage this talent acquisition strategy to recruit qualified candidates

8. Use pre-employment assessments

Many experienced professionals count themselves out of the application process because they’re not confident their experience and skills look strong enough on a resume or cover letter. However, using pre-employment assessments – like the ones TestGorilla offers – at the start of your hiring process can attract more applicants. 

This is because assessments allow applicants to showcase their skills, abilities, and personalities in an objective, measurable way. Moreover, they tend to be time-efficient. For example, TestGorilla tests last around 10 minutes each, making them accessible to applicants pressed for time.

Recommended reading: Pre-employment screening guide for employers

Find your top applicants with TestGorilla

Struggling to attract job applicants, particularly ones that fit your role descriptions, can lead to you hiring under-skilled individuals and facing high turnover and low productivity. Conversely, a strong applicant pool translates to higher-quality hires, a more engaged workforce, and greater team diversity.

Thankfully, there are some best practices to establish a robust applicant pool. Aim to write detailed job descriptions, using inclusive language, and post your job ads on multiple platforms. Further, you should build and nurture your talent pool to capture potentially interested applicants.

Finally, traditional recruiting requirements such as resumes and cover letters don’t accurately indicate applicants’ skill levels and often deter people from applying for jobs. In contrast, pre-employment skills assessments take very little time from applicants and make it easy for you to find top-ranking talent in your applicant pool.

Interested in learning more about pre-employment testing? Explore our library of 300+ tests across categories like cognitive ability, role-based skills, and personality and culture. You can also sign up for a free live demo or get started with a free TestGorilla plan to see our platform in action.

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