Discourage Applications From People You Will Never Hire

Are you flooded with unqualified applicants that have no chance of being hired? Proactively discourage them and avoid wasted recruiter time and legal risks.

Due to record high unemployment levels during this unprecedented downturn, most organizations are being bombarded with applications. Unfortunately, many of these applicants have no chance of being hired. Every organization, of course, welcomes fully qualified applicants. However, we are now also being flooded with “junk resumes.” From applicants that have no chance of earning an interview, no less being hired. They don’t come close to meeting the job requirements (in fact, up to 42% of resumes do not meet the job requirements). And at organizations with strong employer brands, I estimate the percentage of junk resumes that are received reach well over 50% (I also call them “no chance resumes”). 

Reasons Why You Should Proactively Discourage “No Chance Resumes”

The ideal recruiting system produces a manageable volume of completely qualified applicants. The target would be that no more than 25% of those that apply would be assessed as unqualified (meaning they fail to meet all of the required qualifications). There are multiple reasons why a company doesn’t want to receive a single “no chance resume.” First off, realize that an unnecessarily high volume of applicants reduces the chances that each applicant will receive an excellent candidate experience (volume kills quality). Next, understand that each no chance application must be acknowledged and documented, which takes time and money. Next, assume that a high-volume of unqualified applicants will require a significant amount of recruiter time and a more sophisticated and expensive ATS capable of handling extreme volume. And because each of these unqualified applicants will surely be rejected, they will likely generate many inquiries and perhaps legal complaints. And when the rejected “no chance” applicants are also customers; your company may lose their future business. 

So, recruiting leaders need to realize that all of the costs, time, and risks associated with a high volume of unqualified applicants can be avoided if they never formally apply. Fortunately, the recruiting function can learn from the sales side of the enterprise. Where discouraging low return and potentially high maintenance customers has been a standard practice for years. The key lesson to be learned by smart recruiting leaders is that there are proven approaches that can significantly reduce the number of “no chance resumes” that are received, without offending a single potential applicant.

The Top 10 Ways To Discourage Applications From The Unqualified And Barely Interested

Fortunately, there are a number of things that recruiting can do to actively discourage these “no chance” applicants that increase costs while adding no value. Unfortunately, because the practice of discouraging recruiting applications is still quite rare, there is no firm other than Google that stands out as a benchmark. I recommend that you develop your own customized approach. By selecting the approaches from the following list that best fit your needs and your culture. 

  1. Make it clear that you don’t accept unsolicited resumes. The highest volume of “no chance resumes” comes when people submit applications without specifying what job they want or when there is no actual job opening. These resumes are considered “no chance” because if they are not directly associated with an open job, no recruiter will review them when they arrive. And, they will end up in the ATS “black hole” where they will likely never be reviewed. Start by deciding that you will discourage these unsolicited resumes. There is no business reason or legal requirement that you accept unsolicited resumes for jobs that are not open. It makes sense to avoid the processing and documentation hassles from unsolicited resumes completely. Start by making it crystal clear on your application sites and your corporate careers page that potential applicants must target and list a specific job number. Also, make it clear that you do not accept and you will not review unsolicited applications. Finally, program your ATS to label as incomplete, and automatically reject all applications without the required current job number.
  2. Make your job postings less vague. Any unqualified individuals will “take a chance” and apply for a job simply because your job requirements are vague or unclear. Start by making your initial job requirements more precise and exact. And then, whenever you receive a high percentage of unqualified applicants, instantly revise and make the requirements more specific. Also, alert potential applicants of your policy by including specific wording in your job postings and on your careers site that you proactively discourage unqualified applicants. For example, “We will only consider applicants that clearly meet 100% of the qualifications.”
  3. Limit the number of applications per month.  You can limit the “shotgunning” of applications to multiple jobs. By limiting the number of different jobs (1 – 3) that a person can apply for either at the same time or during a three-month period (Google does this). You can also limit the number of reapplications by telling applicants that you will keep their application active for 6-12 months. And then program your ATS to reject any reapplications from these individuals before the time limit is up.   
  4. Use only the best sources that produce the most qualified applicants.  You must use a data-driven sourcing approach and then limit your recruiting, sourcing, and posting to those where the data reveals that they have historically produced a high percentage of qualified applicants. For example, posting on a niche professional job board will almost always produce a significantly higher percentage of qualified applicants than the same post on a large global job board. It’s also true that the sources that produce the highest percentage of qualified applicants usually are referrals from your employees working in the same job family, recruiting at professional conferences/certification classes, and boomerang rehires. Next, consciously reduce your usage of sources that traditionally produce a high percentage of unqualified applicants like newspapers, public and college job fairs, and large job boards. For example, when you do utilize newspapers, increase your percentage of qualified applicants by running the announcement in the business section rather than in the general job section. 
  5. Shorten the time when your jobs are open.  Research has revealed that almost 50% of the hires had applied within the first week after a job was posted.  If your data supports this finding, shortening the length of time that your jobs are publicly posted will lower the percentage of applicants that are unlikely to be hired. 
  6. Inform potential applicants about the rigor of your hiring process.  Educating potential applicants with details covering your hiring process will help to reduce applicant anxiety. However, revealing the high level of rigor and assessment in your hiring process will also demonstrate to the best that you have high hiring standards. While at the same time, knowing about hiring process rigor will discourage potential applicants that know or suspect that they really don’t meet the level of qualifications because they know that your rigorous process will likely reveal their shortcomings.
  7. Include discouragement factors.  Discourage potential applicants that are not serious about working for your organization by including information that will likely make potential casual applicants reconsider. For example, post your average job acceptance/failure rate for applicants. Follow the practice that is used for college admissions. By letting potential applicants know upfront that the odds of getting a job are very low unless you meet all the qualifications. (i.e., this past year only 15% of completely qualified applicants qualified for a telephone screen). Next, if your organization allows it, post the actual salary range for the job. Knowing that the job doesn’t meet their salary needs will further discourage those who would likely never accept the job because of their higher salary expectations. And finally, if technical tests are required, let applicants know which ones upfront because that will discourage those that know they are unlikely to pass them.
  8. Encourage them to apply on your company website where more information can be provided. One of the most effective ways to discourage unwanted applicants is to provide the unqualified and the barely interested applicants with specific information that may force them to reconsider (i.e., a realistic job preview). Unfortunately, this powerful decision changing information can only be made easily visible if they apply on your corporate career site. There simply isn’t room or it is too expensive to put this information on a job board. Some of the real-world information that you should consider providing includes:
  1. Provide education material covering your expectations start by making it crystal clear to potential applicants that you only want applications from those that have specifically targeted your organization and that meet each one of your qualifications. Make it clear that your hiring process will quickly weed out the unqualified and those that are not 100% committed to working at the firm. Make sure that your recruiters understand that expectation so that they proactively discourage unqualified or barely interested individuals that they communicate with.
  2. Offer a realistic job preview – prior to applying on your site, you can also offer potential applicants a realistic “job preview” (narrative or video), which should cover the good but highlight any negative aspects of the job. Use this preview to fully educate potential applicants about potential aspects of the job that may be a dealbreaker to them. Gather this information from employee surveys or post-exit interviews.
  3. List the disqualifying factors – you can discourage many “no chance” applicants by listing the standard factors that have caused previous applications in this job family to be disqualified. The potential applicant can use these disqualification factors as a checklist (i.e., < five years’ experience, a previous title as a manager, XYZ certifications) to help them quickly realize when they may be wasting their time. 
  4. Estimate the time to fill – by providing an estimate of the time that it will take to fill this job. You can proactively discourage applicants who would have dropped out later when they realized that you couldn’t make a hiring decision within their available time frame.
  5. Link to external review sites – if you get accurate external reviews. You can ensure that potential applicants are fully aware of your strong and weak points, by directly linking with employer review sites like glassdoor.com. By revealing that there are some negatives associated with your firm, you can subtly discourage applications from those not completely committed to your organization. 
  1. Don’t use job boards that make application spamming easy – some large job boards make it too easy for an applicant to submit multiple applications to numerous jobs and companies effortlessly. Utilizing these boards increases the chances that users might clog your hiring system by spamming applications for many of your jobs. If your organization, exclusively, wants applicants that have prioritized, and therefore specifically researched, and targeted your company, avoid posting your jobs on these large job boards. 
  2. Make it clear that you remember undesirable applicant behaviors – there is no legal penalty for over applying for jobs or for applying when you don’t meet the qualifications. However, as part of your application process, you should make it crystal clear to potential applicants that you have a formal process for handling bad application behaviors like lying, missing interviews, and applying for jobs where they don’t meet the qualifications. Make it clear that people that have demonstrated these undesirable behaviors will be “tagged.” These behaviors will be remembered and counted against the applicant should they apply again for any job in the future.

More Difficult Implement Approaches For Discouraging Unwanted Applications

If you’re really serious about reducing the number of unqualified and barely interested applications. Here are some additional changes to consider. The approaches on this list are major changes that require some restructuring of your hiring process. Also, be aware that some of the discouraging tactics on the following list will also inadvertently discourage top performers from applying because they are picky and get frustrated with unnecessary delays.

  • Improve your employee referrals – referrals routinely provide the highest quality of hire and the highest quality of applicants. If you are receiving a significant percentage of unqualified or barely interested employee referrals, you can improve the quality of future referrals by limiting employee referrals to three a month. In addition, you should also provide immediate and blunt feedback to those who have recently made weak referrals. And finally, you can further improve referral quality by requiring the employee to certify that their referral meets each of the job qualifications and that they are familiar with their work. For significant offenders who more than once provided a low-quality referral, simply ban them from making referrals for at least two months.
  • Require that applicants know your company – applicants that have prioritized and targeted a handful of companies will have already completed extensive background research on them. If you only want applicants that have prioritized your company, consider offering a brief pre-application test covering the background of the company on your website. Only allow those that pass this company knowledge test to then submit an application. This precondition also has the effect of forcing potential applicants to research your company and that knowledge may either reinforce or reduce their interest in applying. 
  • Require that an additional application form be completed – when you allow only a resume to be accepted as an application, you make it almost too easy for everyone to apply. However, if, in addition, you also require them to complete a brief application form on your careers site, you provide yourself with an opportunity to use the application form to gather additional information about their motivation or skills. While at the same time, adding the extra short step will likely discourage potential applicants that are spamming applications that only have a modest interest in your organization or are unsure of their qualifications. 
  • Lengthen your application process – there is plenty of data that shows that beyond five minutes, the total time that it takes to complete the application process will discourage applicants. If you want to discourage job spammers or any mildly interested applicants, you can lengthen the time it takes to complete the application up to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this extended time may also discourage currently employed qualified applicants. 
  • Show them their initial assessment score – many ATS systems automatically assess the qualifications of an applicant and provide that score to the primary recruiter. If your ATS system can handle it, consider letting potential applicants informally submit their resume and then directly receive their actual ATS score. A low assessment score will discourage some from formally applying. 
  • Use metrics to assess your success periodically – it’s important to measure whether your complete discouraging process has worked. So, periodically calculate and report the percentage of all applicants that meet the minimum qualifications and your overall quality of hire. Also, work with the CFO’s office to estimate the costs incurred by exceeding the target of unqualified applicants. 


Earlier this year, it would’ve been considered crazy to discourage applications. As a result of the unemployment rate, now above 10%, the volume of applications has skyrocketed. Start with the premise that almost everyone can accept: “nothing kills quality faster than volume.” Next, realize that with the recent cuts in recruiting budgets and the number of recruiters, reducing unwanted applicant volume may now be a necessity just to maintain current levels of quality. Also, realize that with very few job openings, every new hire’s business impact is now even greater. So, every recruiting leader should be looking for innovative ways to reduce the volume of undesirable applications drastically. In my experience, the first step should be to work with the CFO’s office to estimate the real costs of having a high volume of applicants who really had no chance of being hired. The next step would be to survey a sampling of recent unqualified or barely interested applicants to identify any information or process changes that they feel would have succeeded in discouraging them from applying. 

Author’s Note: Please pass this article on to your team and network if it stimulated your thinking and provided actionable tips. Also, please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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