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Shortlisting Candidates: HR & Recruitment Guide (2022)

Jen Morris
Jen Morris March 21, 2022
shortlisting candidates

In today's job market, a single vacancy can attract hundreds of applications, which in itself is a big enough challenge for recruiters. But the sheer volume of interested parties is no longer the only challenge they face.

A shift in working culture means many companies are now open to hiring remote talent. At the same time, they're recruiting from a younger workforce much more inclined to switch direction, often transferring their skills from one career to another.

All of this adds further complexity to the shortlisting of candidates. So to get it right, you need an effective process in place.

What Is Shortlisting?

Shortlisting is the act of creating a relatively short list of candidates to progress to the next stage of recruitment - typically an assessment day and/or interview.

It comes after the sourcing phase - where a vacancy is advertised and applications received - and is the result of screening, where those applications are vetted and narrowed down to a select few.

Though it sounds straightforward in theory, it's much more complex in practice. It takes careful consideration of shortlisting criteria and processes, but when both of these are in place it brings significant value to recruitment.

Why Is Shortlisting Important In HR & Recruitment?

Statistics from HR magazine state that it takes 27.59 days to complete the average hiring process. The more applicants you put through to the final stages, the longer that timeframe becomes, and the higher the costs involved.

An obvious reason to shortlist candidates then is time and cost efficiency - and of course to focus your efforts on the most promising talent. But there are other reasons besides this.

Shortlisting can give you an insight into the quality of your acquisition efforts. If you struggle to narrow down your applicant pool because it is so strong, you can be confident that your job ad was well crafted and well-targeted.

On the other hand, if screening throws up few to no suitable candidates, you should rethink your sourcing strategy.

Effective shortlisting is also an important part of the candidate experience. Research has shown that today's workforce wants a quick turnaround, with over 50% having turned down a job offer because the hiring process took too long. So if you're not shortlisting at speed, you may be alienating your best applicants.

How Do Employers Shortlist Candidates?

The key to shortlisting is to know from the very start what your ideal candidate looks like. You should create a clearly defined list of essential and desirable criteria against which all applicants are measured.

Once you have this in place, you can use various screening methods to filter candidates through your recruitment pipeline:

Things To Consider When Shortlisting Applicants

The shortlist criteria you assign should be job-specific and relate to the needs of your business. As a general rule you'll want to include the following:

  • Education and qualifications
  • Past work experience
  • Technical skills and knowledge
  • Key competencies
  • Soft skills and character traits

Basic Principles Of Shortlisting In Recruitment

Before we go on to look at the shortlisting process itself, we need to look at the core principles that underpin it.

Equality And Diversity - your shortlisting process must not in any way discriminate against anyone based on the protected characteristics laid out in the Equality Act 2010.

Objectivity - you must endeavour to remove unconscious bias from the process, and not let any personal opinions influence your decisions.

Fairness - Whatever methods you use, it's vital that the process is consistent, and that every candidate is assessed against the exact same criteria.

The above principles should be adhered to, not only to ensure you don't inadvertently dismiss a strong applicant but also to meet your legal obligations as an employer. It is unlawful to discriminate against anyone based on any of the protected characteristics, and you must be mindful of that fact when planning your shortlisting strategy.

How To Build A Shortlisting Process

shortlisting candidates

1. Define Your Shortlist Criteria

First, you need to lay down the essential and desirable criteria for the role. Essentials are things you consider absolutely vital - such as a minimum qualification - whereas desirables give a candidate a competitive advantage.

A good example of a desirable, is years of experience. You might list this as four to five, but if a candidate has proven highly successful in less time, they should still be considered for shortlisting.

To determine those criteria, look at existing employees in similar roles. What strengths make them good at what they do? What do they consider essential from the outset, and what can be learnt on the job?

Consulting employees and line managers at this stage give you first hand insight into what you need.

2. Select Your Screening Methods

Now you need to decide how to measure your shortlist criteria. Some, like those minimum qualifications, will be straightforward. You can even use screening software to speed up the process.

Others however are somewhat tricky, like problem-solving for example. This often essential skill is hard to assess without asking each candidate to solve a real-world problem, so you might want to consider cognitive ability tests.

You can combine these with other relevant skills and behavioural tests to assess all applicants objectively. To add to that objectivity, you may consider blind screening CVs and application forms.

Split your process up. Use CV and application screening to eliminate those that do not meet easy to measure essentials, and apply additional screening methods to the remaining candidates.

3. Create And Apply A Scoring System

You're unlikely to come across the perfect candidate - someone that ticks every box on your list of criteria. So, to identify the strongest applicants, assign weighted scores to the boxes they do tick.

You can create your own scoring system, or use an approach like M.E.P. This splits criteria into mandatory, essential and preferred. Every mandatory tick gets one point, essential ticks two, and preferred ticks three.

In totalling up your scores, you can quickly see where the most promising talent lies.

4. Decide How Big Your Shortlist Should Be

Whilst it's not essential to stick to it, it's useful to have a rough idea of how many candidates you want to progress. Looking at your past application - interview - job offer ratio is a good place to start here.

You can also follow the average benchmark of 12% - meaning 12 out of every 100 applicants would make it onto your shortlist.

Whatever figure you choose, don't put unqualified candidates through just to meet it - and don't eliminate a strong prospect because they exceed your quota. Be flexible, and pick those candidates that have consistently impressed throughout the screening. You now have your shortlist!

Useful Shortlisting Resources And Tools

Shortlisting Criteria Examples

Beyond education and work experience, which are pretty easy criteria to set, you should also consider:

  • Technical skills - these are the hard skills that qualify an applicant for a specific job function, like programming or data analysis.
  • Soft skills - these are things that make an employee effective in the workplace, such as team working ability, organisation and communication.
  • Workplace behaviours - things like situational judgement tests and personality assessments can help determine culture fit, and if the candidate has the right character to succeed in the role.

General Screening Questions

Whether used on an application form or in a phone/video interview, screening questions should be fairly generic, and the same ones asked of each candidate. Some examples are:

  • What do you know about our products/services?
  • Why did you apply for this role?
  • What skills would you bring to the position?

Software

Technological advancements are helping to transform the recruitment process, making the screening, tracking, testing and comparison of candidates far more effective. There are many software tools to choose from, including:

  • Bullhorn - everything you need to automate the entire recruitment lifecycle, including keyword and Boolean search functions for applicant screening.
  • CareerBuilder - an all in one recruitment platform covering everything from applicant tracking to automated screening interviews.
  • Test Candidates - a full suite of psychometric assessments for objective, data-driven screening.

Is Candidate Screening The Same For All Industries And Job Roles?

Candidate screening is very much role and industry-specific. In the first instance, the methods you use should be aligned with the specific demands of the job, and the level of responsibility involved. For example, you would not administer the same aptitude tests for an entry-level administration role as you would for a senior executive position.

There are also nuances across industries. For example, public sector employers in the likes of education or law enforcement will need to include DBS checks in their screening process.

Shortlisting Process FAQs

How many candidates should be shortlisted?

There's no definitive answer here since it depends on the quality of your applicant pool. However, if we're going by standard recruitment benchmarks, a conversion rate of 12% from applicant to interviewee can be used as a rough guide.

Why should multiple people be involved in shortlisting?

Having multiple people involved in the shortlisting process helps minimise the risk of unconscious bias, and protects employers from accusations of discriminatory behaviour.

What is pre-employment screening?

Pre-employment screening is slightly different to the initial screening stages of recruitment. Whilst the latter focuses on narrowing down the applicant pool, the former is the process of verifying a candidate's credentials, such as their employment history and qualifications.

Pre-employment screening is also referred to as a background check, and in some cases can include credit and criminal record checks.

What is 'positive action' in the shortlisting process?

Positive action is when an employer introduces provisions to assist any group underrepresented or disadvantaged based on a protected characteristic. For example, guaranteed interviews for disabled applicants that meet the shortlist criteria. However, those applicants must not be employed if a more suitable candidate is in the running.

Jen Morris
Jen Morris March 21, 2022

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