Hiring & Recruiting

Is it Time to Update Your Approach to Reviewing Application Materials?

by Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps

As a Human Resource (HR) professional, reviewing application materials and interviewing applicants is a part of your job—so you probably feel like you have the process down pat.


Not so fast. As the economy has picked up and the job market has tightened, hiring has become more complex and challenging for HR professionals. Demand for skilled talent is strong, with less than 5% unemployment overall. That is one of several reasons you may have to rethink your hiring process to compete with other companies for top talent.

Here, we’ve outlined some key things to keep in mind when reviewing application materials and interviewing applicants so you can fine-tune your approach and quickly find the best and the brightest for your business.

What to Look for When Reviewing Application Materials

Job search blunders don’t just include errors in application materials. According to a recent Accountemps survey, 33% of CFOs said the most common mistakes job seekers make is failing to customize their application materials for the position. Highly customized application materials show you that a candidate has a specific interest in your job opening and isn’t just casting a wide net.

Look for cover letters that are addressed to a specific person and show that the applicants know something about the company. Look for résumés that are tailored to the position and include keywords from the job listing. This makes it more likely that the candidate truly understands the job description and has made the effort to include relevant skills and experiences.

Once you’ve narrowed the pool, take a closer look at any application materials that have a “wow” factor: something that makes the candidate stand out in a good way. Then follow up on promising résumés with a 10-minute telephone interview to help you zero in on top prospects

How to Make the Most of the In-Person Interview

The candidates you choose to interview should be prepared, demonstrating resourcefulness and a sincere interest in the job. They should be ready to answer common interview questions and have a list of their own questions for you.

Also, pay attention to their body language: Do they maintain good posture and eye contact and remain engaged throughout the interview? This may provide a clue to how they’ll interact with coworkers or clients in meetings—and how interested they really are in the job.

Here are a few tips to maximize the value of an interview:

  • Be prepared. Candidates aren’t the only ones who need to prep for an interview. Review the candidate’s materials again and make sure you’re asking the right questions.
  • Set a welcoming tone. Create a comfortable environment, make some small talk and let the candidate know what they can expect from the meeting.
  • Ask good questions. Prepare open-ended interview questions that will reveal a candidate’s past experience on the job.
  • Allow the candidate to complete his or her thoughts. Sometimes interviewees need a moment to think.
  • Don’t jump the gun. Avoid forming an opinion, good or bad, based on one comment. Consider the interview as a whole.
  • Promote your company. It’s important to make a good impression on candidates, especially in today’s competitive hiring market. Discuss enticing benefits or perks, corporate culture, and what makes the company unique.

Advice for Securing the Best Candidate

Keep in mind hiring timelines and processes that worked well 5 years ago—or even 1 year ago—may be outdated and need revision. For instance, get comfortable with the fact that the first candidate you interview can be the best. Holding up the process for the sake of finding a set number of viable candidates can cost you good people and money.

When they aren’t kept in the loop, candidates lose patience and pursue other roles, and also question the firm’s ability to make other decisions. In a recent survey of workers, 23% said they lose interest in the job if they haven’t heard back on their status within a week of an interview. Forty-six percent lose interest if there’s no word between 1 and 2 weeks’ post-interview. Make sure your company isn’t letting good candidates get away because you’re dragging your feet.

Finally, help prevent delays and mistakes by remaining closely involved in the hiring process, from reviewing application materials to interviewing applicants to extending the offer. A balance of thoroughness and efficiency yields the best results.

Bill Driscoll is the New England District President of Accountemps, a division of Robert Half, and is based in the company’s Boston office. Bill oversees professional staffing services for Robert Half’s 23 offices throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and portions of New York. 

Bill serves as a national spokesperson for Accountemps and has been featured in several top publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe. He has also made appearances on local and national outlets, including WFXT, WBZ, WCVB, NECN, PBS, and Fox Business News. Bill is considered a local and national expert on recruiting practices, hiring and job search trends, and other workplace issues.