Shortlist candidates like a champ: A step-by-step guide

The art of shortlisting candidates

Learning how to shortlist candidates is not easy. Precisely because a candidate shortlist is supposed to be just that: short.

While it may seem easy, this task easier said than done when the applications are flooding in. In recruitment, timing is crucial. You want to hire the right candidate in a certain period of time. While the more common roles with fewer requirements will receive more applicants, shortlisting candidates quickly and effectively benefit any hiring team. Narrowing down the candidates to a shorter list (whether that list is two or twenty people long) is helpful in comparing and analyzing candidate qualifications.

Don’t waste time interviewing candidates that just don’t fit the bill. Whether you are an independent recruiter, hiring manager, or employer with a full-fledged hiring team, we have some tips for you! Take action to fill open positions the fast and effective way by learning how to shortlist candidates with these easy-to-follow steps.

Before we take you into the details of the six steps towards creating a great candidate shortlist, it’s important to keep in mind the important qualities of a good shortlist.

With those factors in mind, here are the six simple steps to shortlist candidates!

How to shortlist candidates in 6 steps

1. Pre-qualify and screen candidates upon application with a survey. Include specific questions designed to filter out unqualified applicants.

This step is the first and most important step when you shortlist candidates.  Develop screening questions to elicit answers from candidates that give you an idea of whether or not they will be a fit early on.

This interview with Hotjar explains how this can benefit a real-life recruitment process. Hotjar likes to create a detailed, intimidating survey that automatically weeds out disengaged applicants. They take standard questions used for every job opening and mix them with questions tailored to the open position, specifically. At least one question is a key filter question, allowing the survey answers to be sorted through and applicants to be filtered easily. Ultimately, there will be mounds of good applicants, but you can’t and shouldn’t let all of them through. Instead of wasting time interviewing all of the good, knowledgeable applicants, use a screening questions or questionnaires to identify the candidates that match the position and the company.

shortlist candidates: screening questions
Screening questions can help you shortlist candidates quickly, without having to conduct a phone screening immediately.

Recruitee has an easy-to-use application form builder. In the screenshot above, you can see that once you create a job opening, you can customize the application process. Add screening questions to form the survey that will save you all the hiring time! You can make certain (or all) questions required, which we highly suggest. If you are looking for decisive answers from candidates, you don’t want to miss the chance to review their answers.

2. Go through cover letters, CVs, and resumes as soon as you receive them.

If you can’t review the documents that candidates submit as soon as they submit them, then try to do so as soon as possible! You may even want to pick a time out of each work day to run through CVs and resumes. This way, you aren’t leaving the candidate documents to pile up. If you decide to review the documents all at end of the application deadline, you may be inundated. This may be overwhelming and cause some lapses in judgment because of eye strain after sifting through hundreds of resumes! You don’t want to miss out on a great fit just because you are trying desperately to breeze through a big stack of candidate documents.

Instead of leaving the grunt work to the last minute, take time out close to resume/CV submission to take a quick look. Filter for obvious mistakes. Grammar, spelling, lack of personalization, and other glaring errors are normally a no-brainer for disqualifying candidates. While human error is unavoidable at times, there are reasons that these simple mistakes should be a warning sign.

The truth is, you shouldn’t ignore these inconsistencies in resumes/CVs. 61 percent of resumes are thrown out for including typos, and it may very well be beneficial to do so 100 percent of the time. Attention to detail can be crucial in many positions, from low to high profile. Make the call, and make it early!

3. Focus on cultural fit.

Cultural fit is something that should be taken into consideration even when you shortlist candidates. To determine cultural fit,  talk to them via phone, video call, or panel interview. This way you can gauge the way they will fit into the work environment an align with the morals, values, and practices that you want to uphold as an organization.

Shortlist candidates that fit with your company and organization. This way you won’t waste time on candidates who ultimately cannot hack it in later rounds.

4. Schedule a trial day.

The best way to assess a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks that will be assigned to them is to, well, assign them to them! Although the tasks in a trial day are modelled after real, day-to-day problems the new hire could face, the point is not neccesarily about getting correct answers. You want to see how the candidates go about solving a problem or answering a question. Are they creative, consistent, and concise? Of course, what you are looking for will vary dependent upon the position, but a trial dayt is a surefire way to predict how a candidate will perform if offered the job.

Depending on what you need, the trial can be “take-home” with a specific deadline, timed, or completed in person. Whether or not you should allow candidates to work on the trial without supervision or a certain timeframe is up to your discretion. Oftentimes, however, it is painfully obvious when someone cheats. Original work will be easy to distinguish.

Shortlist candidates who have completed a trial day successfully. Even if they do not make it to offer, having a shortlist of candidates who have completed this kind of interview with your organization can prove to be a handy list later on!

5. Look for inconsistencies along the way.

Make reference checks the rule rather than the exception. If you require references with an application, use them! Rather than using leading questions, such as “Is this candidate a hard worker?”, use questions that will show you their experience and worth. If a candidate references a big project they led, this is definitely something you will want to verify. Look for tangible numbers and results to double check. Candidates often want to put their best foot forward, but lying on a resume is a bit too far.

We aren’t suggesting to question every little detail that your candidates offer up about themselves, but if something doesn’t seem to add up, trust your gut! Follow up and investigate. If you catch someone bragging about awards or experience they never had, they probably won’t be a good fit. A little Googling also may work wonders. Double checking can save you time in the long run.

You can then shortlist candidates who have completed a reference check successfully.

6. Use an ATS to filter and rank candidates.

An ATS can streamline the shortlisting process and using a ranking system can make your candidate shortlists even more effective. Recruitee was built with teams in mind, so shortlisting can be an efficient, collaborative system. Filtering and ranking candidates in Recruitee is easy. Drag and drop candidates into specific slots dependent upon ratings and notes previously allotted. Clear hiring stage and structure help tremendously with the shortlisting process, allowing for organization, and less chance of losing track of the right candidate choices.

Disqualify those that just don’t fit. Rank the rest. Decide how many you want to interview. Use this ranking system to place candidates into certain stages of the hiring process.  And make sure your shortlist is automatically saved! This allows you to keep track of candidates you need to move forward with.

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