I liked Frank.

Frank was one of the Hiring Leaders I worked with in a large multinational company I used to work for. He was affable, had good emotional intelligence, and was a man who efficiently got things done. But from an HR point of view, he was a lot of work sometimes.

Frank was what I would affectionately call a “Spray and Pray” guy. We would have nice chats about his business drivers, his team, and his new, upcoming staffing requirements. He would then say, “Just show me a bunch of candidates around the mark”, then he would say, “I’ll know what I need when I see it.”

This might have been OK for Christmas shopping, but I learned pretty quickly to push back with Frank, otherwise we would both be spinning our wheels.

Firstly, I had to nail down his budget. (He always had only so much money to spend.) Then we had to shore up a job description and selection criteria which reflected what the market would bear based on his budget.

Going forward, instead of looking at a long line-up of possible applicants that could do the job based on “I’ll know it when I see it” he began excitedly looking at candidates that met a tight selection criteria within a pre-determined salary band that were aimed at fulfilling objectives that contributed to his team.

A not so surprising thing happened along the way.

Frank went from looking at 7, 8 or 9 candidates to considerably fewer on the shortlist because there were only so many that would fit his budget and could deliver on the selection criteria we had set forth. He was pleased that he was looking at the most appropriate candidates for the role, but he was still getting used to not spending plenty of hours being like a game show host and having chats with a range of contestants to see who might have the winning answer.

One day he came to me and said they had won a contract and he needed another staff member. We went through the budget and selection criteria dance together. I had the Staffing team go to market with a solid attraction strategy, and out of it came one shortlisted applicant. Frank interviewed the applicant. The selection criteria was met, the budget was met. He was happy. The applicant was happy.

We had gone from initially presenting shortlists of 9 to presenting a shortlist of 1 with approximately the same type of brief.

Question: What is the ideal number of applicants to have on a shortlist?

Answer: As many as appropriately fit a well-defined job description and selection criteria (and are in budget). Even if it’s only one applicant. Applicants should first and foremost be compared to the selection criteria, and only then to each other.