Shortlisting Candidates: Nine Tips Every Business Owner Should Know in 2022

by Sarah Reyes

Recruiting and hiring the best talent is a multi-step process that can see companies trim hundreds of job applicants to a sizable few for an interview, only to choose one for the position.

Although it can be disadvantageous to job seekers, shortlisting candidates is a necessary step toward identifying the most qualified person for the job. After all, no business will want to invest thousands of dollars annually in someone who cannot add to the organization’s value-creating activities.

Shortlisting qualified job candidates is like moving them through a funnel with a fine mesh filter. Only the best can pass through the screening process, giving hiring managers and employers more time to scrutinize each candidate.

But, how do you do it? What steps must business owners take to ensure they get the best talent? This article will simplify shortlisting candidates with nine easy tips to empower companies to make the right hiring decision. 

Why Companies Shortlist Job Candidates

There’s only one reason why companies shortlist job candidates – to make recruiting and hiring more efficient. Business organizations receive about two to three hundred applications for every position they post on job posting sites.

Would it surprise you to also learn that out of these job interests, only 20 percent of candidates will receive a phone call for an interview?

Shortlisting candidates allow companies to screen job applicants before company bigwigs and decision-makers meet them for an interview. You cannot expect a busy CEO to engage in an employer-candidate discussion with hundreds of job applicants. 

Who will run the business during this time? Business owners have more significant responsibilities than interviewing potential employees. Hence, pre-screening job applicants so that only those with the necessary competencies and traits will move forward in the recruitment process.

Candidate shortlisting practices can also fine-tune a company’s recruitment practices. For example, failure to meet the shortlist criteria can mean that the “must-have” attributes or candidate expectations are too high. It could also be due to failure to post job openings on the right platforms. In most cases, it’s the former that impacts their recruitment processes.

You might also like: Pre-Employment Testing Blog for Successful Hiring in 2022

Nine Tips for Shortlisting Job Candidates for Interview

There are no hard and fast rules for shortlisting candidates because each business has unique needs. However, the following nine tips and tricks should help companies gain the upper hand in landing the best talents for their respective organizations.

1.   Determine your shortlisting criteria.

Shortlisting job candidates are more straightforward if you know who you’re looking for or the qualities you seek in the “ideal” candidate. Although the concept of “ideal” can be distant from reality, having a clear picture of this candidate can help you zero in on the character traits and qualifications you must consider when shortlisting applicants. 

Start by analyzing the description, roles, and responsibilities of the job position you want to fill. This document is one of the most significant references for any company, allowing employers and employees to understand their roles in the organization.

Job descriptions work both ways – candidates will know what the company expects from them, and employers will find it easier to find the best person for the job.

Review the job description to determine the essential (must-haves) and desirable (nice-to-have) criteria. 

Essential criteria are characteristics, abilities, traits, experiences, and professional qualifications that the ideal candidate must possess for a particular job. It would be best to be specific about these parameters to make shortlisting candidates as effective as possible. 

For example, suppose you’re hiring a customer service representative who will man your Zoho CRM. In that case, it will be wise to consider “Zoho competence” an essential criterion instead of simply stating “knowledge of CRM platforms.”

Why would you want to be specific in your essential criteria? You might want to consider it as a screening tool. Any job applicant without this must-have qualification instantly gets the boot from the recruitment process. 

Moreover, only candidates with the “required” competencies will apply, saving you the hassle of skimming hundreds of applications and making your job easier.

Unfortunately, explicit essential criteria can still produce a sizable number of “qualified” job candidates. 

Shortlisting candidates are easier if you also define “desirable” criteria. These are qualifications, attributes, traits, competencies, and other characteristics that the job might not require but future organizational processes might. 

We know that only job candidates with the “essential” requisites will apply to your job posting. Unfortunately, there’s still a good chance they are many who meet your “must-have” qualifications. For example, you might still have about 150 “qualified” applicants for the job. 

If everyone has the “essential” qualifications, you must look at their “desirable” characteristics. 

For instance, if Zoho CRM competence is a must-have qualification, a candidate knowledgeable in other CRM platforms would give them an advantage. It’s like the icing on a cake. Although not necessary, the icing can make the cake-eating experience more pleasurable.

Review your job description and identify which traits you can include as “desirable” for the position. This action will make shortlisting candidates more effective and efficient.

According to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends for 2019, more than a third (37%) of business owners find it challenging to identify the best talents. Polishing your shortlisting criteria can help you hurdle this obstacle and improve your organization’s talent acquisition process.

2.           Decide on the maximum number of shortlisted applicants you are ready to accept.

Shortlisting candidates aim to reduce the number of job applicants to include only those with “essential” and “desirable” qualifications. Many business owners are clueless about how many job applicants they should interview or allow to proceed through the ongoing selection process.

Unfortunately, there are no set standards for this metric. Everything depends on an organization’s needs and the number of applicants it hopes to attract. 

For example, some companies might get a hundred applications for a single post, while big-name brands might entertain thousands. Hence, it would be best to put a ceiling on the number of applications you wish to shortlist. 

Industry estimates vary in the number of shortlisted job applicants for interviews from five to twenty percent

Remember, the greater the number of applicants, the lower the maximum shortlisting percentage target. For example, suppose you received 200 applications for one position and 50 interests for another vacancy. Capping the shortlisting objective at five percent means you are willing to shortlist only ten candidates for the first job and only two to three applicants for the second.

Interviewing a maximum of ten job candidates is reasonable. Unfortunately, shortlisting only two to three individuals for the position might not get you the desired results.

Remember, the shortlisted applicants will still undergo interviews, limiting your selection. Hence, a better approach would be to cap the shortlisting target at 20% to increase the number of candidates to ten.

3.           Observe blind job applicant screening.

Determining the shortlist criteria and setting a cap on the number of job candidates don’t mean your screening duties are complete. You’re now ready to skim the resumes and look for qualifying information to fast-track shortlisting candidates.

Recruiters spend an average of eight seconds glancing at a CV before deciding whether it is worth evaluating further or going straight into the “out” shelf. If HR professionals like what they see in a resume, they can spend up to 15 minutes looking for information that meets their job criteria.

Unfortunately, a University of California research paper showed that unconscious bias impacts resume review and evaluation. Many recruiters are guilty of cognitive biases when screening job candidate resumes, looking for information that meets “their” preconceived notions about the “ideal” candidate.

The best way to address this is to fine-tune your job application requirements. You can exclude prejudicial information from resumes and other application documents. For example, some companies don’t require job applicants to state their religion, ethnicity, and information that can be a source of bias. 

Although gender bias is common in recruitment, some industries require their employees to be of a particular gender. Hence, it would be best for recruiters to identify which demographic information they must exclude in the resume screening process to limit cognitive biases in shortlisting candidates.

4.           Focus on inclusion criteria instead of exclusion points.

Some recruiters seek information that doesn’t meet the shortlisting criteria, screening them out. Although this technique produces results, it focuses more on the negative. Hence, recruiters and resume screeners must evaluate CVs based on their compliance with the job requirements.

Employers must screen job candidates in, not out. And although including only candidates that tick all the boxes seems a good idea, it might be counterproductive. A job candidate that looks “perfect” on paper might have issues in the long term.

Studies show that close to seven out of ten (69%) job candidates add fictitious pieces of information to their resumes in what industry experts call “resume padding.” Job applicants customize their CVs to “fit” the company’s job requirements and increase the likelihood of getting on the shortlist. Hence, employers and recruiters must be vigilant against these fraudulent resumes. 

Employers must exercise discretion in determining a candidate’s suitability for the job. You can consider a job applicant’s transferable skills and other attributes that your organization can leverage in the future. 

5.           Be steadfast in eliminating job applicants who don’t meet the inclusion criteria.

Some recruiters cannot ditch cognitive bias when shortlisting candidates. They believe that some attributes are more significant than what the company’s shortlist criteria require. 

Unsurprisingly, some employers will still shortlist a job applicant even though they don’t meet the minimum job criteria. 

Disregarding the shortlist criteria is not only bad business but reflects your commitment (or lack thereof) to objective recruitment and hiring policy. Hence, you must be steadfast in rejecting a job applicant who doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications you require.

6.           Administer comprehensive pre-employment testing before shortlisting.

Most companies administer pre-employment testing in the later stages of the recruitment and hiring process. However, nothing can prevent businesses from observing these assessment measures in shortlisting candidates.

An excellent example is the Amtrak experience. In 2015, the American railway transportation giant required job applicants to take its “cultural fit” test online.

The pre-employment screening test assesses job candidates’ personality attributes related to collaboration, customer awareness, safety consciousness, and integrity. Of the five thousand applicants who took the 45-minute test in the first month, two out of five candidates showed a “strong fit” for Amtrak’s safety culture.

Not all pre-employment tests can be an excellent screening tool. Hence, employers and hiring managers must examine their job requirements to determine what assessment techniques they can include when shortlisting job candidates.

For example, online personality tests are suitable for most employment screening procedures, particularly if the company works with a consultant in designing a business-specific personality assessment tool. It’s what Amtrak did with its “cultural fit” test, empowering it to screen job applicants before they undergo other tests.

Skills tests might be applicable for some business organizations. You can hire a company to develop a screening tool that objectively measures professional competencies for shortlisting. Companies can upload the test on their official website, allowing job candidates to access and take the assessment test. 

Competency testing is crucial to validate the candidate’s skills. For example, a job applicant might write Zoho CRM competence as one of his qualifications. Skills testing allows you to confirm whether the candidate’s claim is valid or not. It’s another way to catch a lying job applicant. 

Cognitive tests are always a big plus when screening potential employees because it gives companies insight into the candidate’s critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving skills. 

You don’t need to use all pre-employment tests for screening job candidates. Administer only those that will help improve shortlisting candidates. After all, shortlisted candidates can still undergo other pre-employment tests as they move across the recruitment process.

7.           Conduct a pre-employment screening interview.

Initial phone and video interviews are becoming more popular nowadays. However, business owners and recruiters must realize that these candidate discussions should not supplant well-designed job interviews. HR professionals must only use these tools for screening job applicants.

A screening interview allows you to ask simple questions that will help you decide whether to shortlist the job applicant or not. You can base your questions on your “essential” and “desirable” criteria, probing if you must.

Some companies include qualifying questions in their job postings. Job applicants must create a brief video answering these questions and attach it to their application. 

For example, you can ask applicants to cite experiences when they had to make a hard decision, how they approached the issue, and what were the results of their actions. 

You can frame your questions to elicit responses that highlight the job candidate’s unique attributes you want in your organization. 

Do you need excellent English communication skills? How about computer programming proficiency? You can ask questions about a project they were a part of, including their roles and responsibilities. 

Employers can still pose these questions during the interview phase. However, fielding these screening queries early in the recruitment process can help simplify shortlisting candidates.

8.           Be objective in your shortlisting activities by giving job candidates a score.

It’s not enough to have clear inclusion criteria, both essential and desirable. You must also be objective by giving a weighted score on your job requirements. 

For example, you can assign a value of 1.0 for every mandatory qualification (minimum requirement), 2.0 for essential attributes (crucial skills), and 3.0 for every preferred or desirable characteristic (nice-to-have).

Evaluate each resume and other application documents and “grade” each job requirement with 1.0 (mandatory), 2.0 (essential), or 3.0 (preferred). Add the weighted values to determine the final shortlisting score for each candidate. 

If you want to be systematic about shortlisting job candidates, you might want to observe a cutoff score. For example, you can accept all job applicants with a score of 20 out of 30 points. You can only do this if you know the maximum weighted score a job candidate can have.

An advantage of this approach is it gives you insights into the job candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Hiring managers can dig deeper into these personal attributes during the interview, ensuring a more meaningful conversation.

9.           Inform non-shortlisted candidates of your decision. 

There are no laws requiring companies to inform job applicants they’re not progressing in the recruitment process. 

However, the Society for Human Resource Management says it is advantageous for employers to inform job candidates of their application status. Doing so encourages applicants to form a favorable opinion about the brand, allowing them to share their positive experiences on social media, and improving the company’s reputation. 

Take the time to create a generic letter to send to non-shortlisted job applicants. You might not need their skills today, but you might have an opening in the future. It’s one of the most effective ways to build your talent pool.

Final Thoughts

Shortlisting candidates empower companies to pick the best talent from a group of highly qualified job applicants. It allows them to guarantee long-term organizational productivity and culture fit by screening only the most qualified person for the position. 

Although businesses can design candidate shortlisting strategies, it’s not the only solution. Startups and small companies can work with recruiting specialists to devise a hiring strategy for their respective organizations.

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