The Simple Way to Rank Job Applicants [With Free Template]

Ranking job applicants is the best way to find a qualified candidate in a stack of resumes. But it’s key to begin with an end in mind—unclear expectations will lead to vague job postings and lackluster candidates.

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Once you’ve sorted through applications and start scheduling interviews, it’s time to think about a ranking system to compare candidates.

How do you rank job applicants?

Although the practice sounds like something out of a business textbook, ranking job applicants is a practical approach to hiring used by countless successful entrepreneurs.

Imagine you’re hiring a designer. Say you’ve determined they must have one year professional experience, design education, Photoshop proficiency, and are comfortable on a remote team.

Outline your requirements. Usually these qualifications should be on a scale of 0 to 10. Look through your job posting and pull out necessary skills and backgrounds needed to make the role successful.

Measure applicants against the system you’ve developed. Say an applicant has been a freelancer for six months. They’d receive a 5/10 for experience. But, it’s clear from their portfolio that their Bachelor in Fine Arts (7/10) has made them more than proficient in Photoshop (10/10). Considering their freelance work has prepared them for some remote team work (6/10), this candidate seems promising with 28 of 40 possible points.

To make this easy, we built a super simple (and free!) spreadsheet to help managers rank job applicants.

Simple but not easy

Just because ranking job applicants is simple in theory doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute. You need to think carefully about what makes an ideal candidate so you can assign an appropriate value to the criteria you’ve decided to assess.

You must also determine the best method to test your criteria. Deciding on the best approach depends on what type of skill you’re ranking.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are tangible abilities developed through experience and education.

For most positions, there are some hard skills necessary to even be considered for a role. A developer, for example, must know how to code in certain languages. Use the required skills section of your job posting to set criteria for hard skills.

But even if someone claims on their resume to have a computer science degree from MIT, you should assess their actual ability. Have them complete a relevant programming challenge before the interview and assign a score based on their performance.

Soft Skills

Soft skills go beyond the resume and include intangible qualities like leadership, cultural fit, and being a team player. Although many recruiters place a greater emphasis on hard skills, it’s often the intangible x-factor that makes a new hire a superstar in your company. Ignore soft skills at your peril!

Interviews are the best way to assess soft skills. There are two good approaches:

  • Situational questions: See how candidates would react in different scenarios. For example, “What would you do if your supervisor refused to give clear direction?” The question is theoretical, but the answer provides insight into how a candidate approaches their job.
  • Get personal: Dig deep to figure out if you want a candidate on your team. Cultural fit is vital, especially at a startup. Open ended questions like “where are you from” and “what’s your greatest accomplishment” tell you a lot about a candidate’s personality and motivations.

Assigning a score to soft skills is trickier than hard skills. Although you can try and anticipate responses to certain questions, it’s usually best to go with your instincts when judging things like cultural fit and initiative.

What if candidates are similarly ranked?

If two applicants share the same rank, start by reviewing how you weighed various criteria. Maybe you said you valued design education and ability equally. But perhaps you interviewed a candidate without any formal education because they came highly recommended. When they completed the sample assignment, you were blown away by their grasp of your brand. As a result, they received a similar score as that candidate with the prestigious fine arts degree whose sample work was a bit “meh.” You may want to rethink how much you value the education requirement.

When two candidates have the same hard skills, entrepreneurs rarely regret hiring the one who seems like a better fit with the team and vision. Remember, you want someone who will be happy growing with the company. That’s priceless.

Finally, involve your team. Introduce top candidates to colleagues. Ask technical experts to review candidate’s work samples to see if there’s something you missed, and even ask them to assign scores for criteria like technical ability and personality fit.

Ranking saves all kinds of trouble

You’re systematic in everything else you do, from accounting, to product development, to marketing and sales. Hiring your team – the future of your company – should be no different.

Ready to rank job applicants?