Are you a Candidate or an Applicant? Is there a difference?

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Recently one of our internal customers asked me a unique question. “I hear the recruiter speak about Candidates and Applicants. What is the difference between Candidates and Applicants?”

It is very possible that applicants and candidates can be viewed as the same in your organization. However, in the world of Talent Acquisition when talking with recruiters, applicants and candidates have a completely different meaning.

Applicants are job seekers who have “applied” for your job opening. They have either sent a resume to you or completed an application. You might have 150 applicants for a particular job opening. Consequently, you may only have 10% of these applicants meet the minimum requirements for the job. As a hiring manager, you may think having “a lot” of applicants is a good thing. However, it may reveal your job description is not clear and you are attracting unqualified candidates for your job. Keep in mind, great recruiters do not depend on building their pipeline from whom has applied. They build it from whom they find and qualify! (Which brings us to our next classification).

Candidates on the other hand are active applicants that recruiters have screened and verify qualified for the requirements of the job opening. They can also be passive candidates which recruiters go and find or invite to apply. They are the true contenders for the open headcount you are seeking to hire against. These are the people that you will interview by phone or in person or contact to learn more about their qualifications. As stated earlier, out of an applicant pool of 150, you might only identify 15 candidates.

As a hiring manager or internal customer, focus on your candidates over your applicants. Speak to the recruiter you are working with in these terms. Instead of saying, “How many applicants do we have?” Say, “How many candidates have you identified?” Those candidates are your pipeline! On one final note, make sure you are validating candidates against the job qualifications, not each other. Do not make the mistake of selecting the candidate you like best out of the candidate pool. Select the candidate that you feel is the best person to hire for the job. Otherwise, you bring unconscious bias and exclusion into your decision making process.

For the job seekers who ultimately become applicants and candidates, focus on becoming a Candidate! The best way to achieve this status is to not guess if you are a fit for the position, KNOW you are a qualified contender! If something is unclear in the job description, do some research and reach out for clarification. If you are not qualified, do not apply. One of the biggest mistakes I see applicants make is applying to a variety of different positions they are not qualified for, thinking it improves their chances of being a candidate. Be selective when applying. If you are truly a qualified applicant, recruiters will respond quickly and deem you a candidate!

I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people and learn from them, which has helped me “sharpen the saw” doing what I do. My background is solidified in building highly functioning teams, recruiting process, data analytics and leadership . I use data to tell a story and drive solutions via strategic common sense. -- Tony Cornett

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