10 steps to building a thriving candidate pool

Last updated:
December 15, 2020
December 19, 2021
min read
Bev Campling
Table of contents

As a recruiter, what’s your worst nightmare? Mine is an inbox with an applicant pool in the hundreds for one vacancy and a hiring manager breathing down my neck. I have to screen all of those applications before I can come up with a reasonable candidate pool. And I’m expected to do it in double the time!

If this nightmarish vision flashes through your mind once in a while, I’d like to tell you how I’ve managed to stop it from ever becoming a reality. It’s all about valuing pools created at every stage of the hiring process. But before we do that, let’s get some clarity on the different job pool definitions.

Recruitment pool definitions

There are three main hiring pools that every recruiter should maintain. Without an applicant tracking system, it becomes almost impossible to keep track, though. An ATS ensures that you always have access to the best candidates for new vacancies.

  • An applicant pool - is the total number of applicants you receive for each job post. Each application has to be screened to assess suitability, and either declined or moved to a short-list. High application volumes mean you might have to create a long-list for reevaluation to come up with a short-list.
  • A candidate pool - is a list of applicants who meet the job criteria and get moved to the short-list. Their personal information is saved to your ATS and contacted for a phone screening interview. Good candidates who don’t get through the initial interview stages for a specific vacancy get moved to the talent pool for future roles.  
  • A talent pool - is a group of candidates that have the skills and experience your company regularly needs, but you don’t have a suitable position to make an offer. Recruiters should actively engage with candidates in the talent pool to keep them interested in the organization. Long-term candidates in a talent pool can become a great source of referrals as well.

A pool of applicants is like a funnel

Recruiters must realize the value of hiring pools. Applicants must be evaluated and properly moved through the system. You must ensure that the type of people you want to attract don’t fall through the cracks and disappear forever. Just because someone doesn’t fit a current role doesn’t mean that they won’t be a perfect hire for another.

If you work your pool of candidates well, you’ll have quick access to people who are familiar with your employer branding. Not only that, you know that they want to work for your organization. That takes a lot of the risk out of hiring and also reduces your cost per hire.

By keeping a job advert live for longer than necessary, you’re actually damaging your employer brand.

10 ways to build and maintain your talent pool

Anything of value takes work to develop and maintain but the effort is worth it in the long-run. With established applicant pools and candidate pools that feed into your talent pool, finding new staff becomes a breeze.

Here’s how to get the best results:

1. Work on your job posts

Spend time writing quality job adverts that will attract the right people. You need a great job description, particularly once the interview process starts. But to attract the right candidates, you must get your advertising copy right as well. Vague wording and brief job requirements will attract a vast applicant pool for you to screen. Most applicants will be unsuitable because there was no specific criteria, but you can’t overlook anyone. You have to read every application to find the best candidates.

Include a bit about your company culture, list not-negotiable criteria and add the benefits of working for your company in the post. Make it attractive to the type of people you want to apply for your positions. Each job ad must be written specifically for each different role; you can’t use a generic template. You can also use augmented writing technology to help you get it right every time.

2. Put the post in front of the right people

If you haphazardly post to various job boards and social media platforms you won’t get the results you need. After all the work and expense, you could end up with a minuscule, or non-existent applicant pool. Job distribution software easily integrates with your ATS. The software uses artificial intelligence to identify your target market and then analyses where to place your posts and at what time of day.

3. Include screening questions

Apart from the right wording, including screening questions as part of the application process makes your life easier. Carefully consider the questions so that you exclude people who don’t have the required skills. Job portals, including Indeed, also offer online assessments. Both screening questions and assessments will result in a smaller but higher quality applicant pool.

4. Make the application process easy

Even if your job advert is well crafted and the posts find their target, if it’s a hassle to apply people will give up. We live in a world of speed and quick results. No one is going to be willing to go through screen after screen to make an application. You should routinely check your application process to see that it's user-friendly. Get a colleague to apply for your jobs and give you feedback.

5. Acknowledge every application

Use your ATS to send an automated email reply to every applicant thanking them for their application and detailing what the next step will be. That way, people not only know that you have their application, but they also know what to expect next. You can also integrate a chatbot with your ATS to answer frequently asked questions.

6. Keep your word

If your automated response tells applicants that they will hear from a recruiter within, say 48-hours, make sure that they do! Even if you decline the application, you’ve kept your word. Automated responses shouldn’t be used beyond the initial screening stage of the interview process, however. No matter how well constructed the content, they’re still impersonal. As soon as an applicant is migrated to your candidate pool, you must start engaging directly with them. At this stage, keeping your word is even more critical.

7. Keep in touch during the interview process

Some interview processes can become drawn out. Ensure that short-listed candidates are updated regularly. For example, if you have an interview date set for two weeks, don’t ignore the candidate until then. If you do that you could end up with a no-show because they’ve accepted another offer. Keep touching base. Apart from saving yourself time, staying in contact also lets the candidate know that you’re looking forward to meeting them.

8. Let people down quickly

If candidates are eliminated during the interview process, let them know right away. No one likes being the bearer of bad news, especially if a candidate is very keen. It’s easy to push it aside until later but don’t! Being invited to an interview creates hope and expectation. Apart from that, you’ve also taken up someone’s time. Call the candidate as soon as possible and let them know. Also, thank them for their time and participation. If they have any questions, answer them constructively and with empathy. People will value your feedback and support. This is also an ideal time to ask excellent candidates if you can move them to your talent pool and keep in touch via social media.

9. Remove the job post

You can keep your post live until you’ve made an offer and it’s been accepted, but if you have a good short-list, pause it instead. People apply in the hope of being selected for an interview. If you’re in the final negotiations with a candidate, it’s unlikely that you’ll interview new applicants. By keeping an advert live for longer than necessary, you’re actually damaging your employer brand.

10. Put the candidate experience first, always!

In the immediate-term, you have a job to fill, but building a talent pool requires a long-term view. As much as you’re looking for the perfect hire right now, there will be more roles to fill in the future. Many of today’s applicants are tomorrow’s perfect employees, just in a different position. The candidate experience starts long before you post your vacancy.

Every point listed here is about creating an excellent candidate experience that shows that you care. People value that and you’ll make a positive impact on applicants because they were well treated. They will add value to your talent pool. One of the basic human needs is to be acknowledged. Organizations that recognize people quickly gain a reputation as an employer of choice. Those that don’t can easily end up with poor reviews on Glassdoor.

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