by Shawn Boyer, CEO of, DDIFO Associate Member and America’s largest hourly job Web site.

While the upside to a down economy might be the increasing size and quality of your applicant pool, identifying the best candidates – especially among hourly workers – can be an overwhelming task.

Human resources departments across the country already are spread thin, after layoffs of their own.   For those who remain, taking on additional workloads leaves little time to sift through each application, let alone interview job candidates.

And time is of the essence.  After all, the general lifespan of an hourly application is about 30 days.  Beyond that, the application is likely “stale,” meaning that the candidate may have found a position, changed physical location or may have out-of-date contact information.  That’s why it’s so important for hiring managers to keep their pipeline stocked, even when it seems like so many qualified people are looking for employment.

To combat an ever-increasing number of applications, HR professionals and hiring managers need to consider how to quickly identify the best candidates for the job.  Every employer should include filtering practices in their overall hourly recruitment strategy, ways to “weed out” candidates who do not meet the mark.

Many struggle with the decision to hire someone over or under qualified for the position if the perfect candidate has not emerged. On one hand, the over qualified applicant may bring valuable skills and expertise to the team, but he or she may soon walk away for a higher-level position somewhere else.  On the other, taking on someone with a major learning curve could require extra training time and slow the rest of the staff down.  In the end, you want the best candidate for the job, which is why it’s so important to refine your criteria.

To screen for the right candidates during the application process, you must ask the right questions that pertain to your unique business, a step that will require a bit of work on the front end.  You’ll want to develop a combination of assessment questions that are either specific enough to identify the qualities you are looking for in a candidate and broad enough to offer you a range of applicants.  Done the right way, you’ll also weed out candidates who simply are not a good fit.

The basic questions:

• What experience level does someone need for a given position? (Some healthcare openings may require a certificate or training to be qualified for the job.)

• Are there industry-specific concerns to address?  (For example, a pizza restaurant or catering company may need to find drivers – folks that must come to the job with reliable transportation, a clean driving record and their own car insurance.  And a home healthcare company may need to find candidates who have demonstrated true compassion for others in prior positions.)

•What kind of applicant is needed for the culture/atmosphere you foster?  (For instance,  a retail salesperson will need an outgoing personality to deal with customer inquiries.)

•From a logistical standpoint, do you need to consider a candidate’s availability to work a certain shift?   (If you are in need of an overnight stocker, it is obviously important that the applicant have nights available.)

More sophisticated options may include questions about what the candidate wants from the job?  (Are they a realistic about expectations? Will they leave too quickly for what you need?)

Some job sites can be helpful in screening applicants ahead of time, allowing you to interview only the best candidates.  At my hourly job Web site, we usually offer our clients a 60-day pilot program to test filtering questions and adjust as necessary.  For example, if a manager is getting too many applications, we may add one or more filtering questions so that applications that do not provide the desired answers will not be sent to the client, therefore reducing applicant overflow.  And if applications are too few, we will strip away questions to broaden the field.  (Of course, we always allow hiring managers to view all applications that have been collected, even if some originally had been filtered).

Simple steps like coming up with the right mix of questions will save your company time and money in the long run.  Filtering will dramatically reduce fruitless interviews with ill-suited applicants and allow you to focus on what’s most important: running the business.

Shawn Boyer, CEO of, America’s largest hourly job Web site, has helped hourly employers find qualified candidates since 2000 within the retail, restaurant, hospitality and service industries, among others.