Recruiter’s Guide to Shortlisting Candidates

Emily Heaslip, content writer at Vervoe

Shortlisting candidates is an important if often overlooked, step in the hiring process. Screening candidates is often one of the most time-consuming tasks that recruiting teams have to complete. However, creating a shortlist method can streamline screening and help ensure that the best-qualified candidates make it to the next round. Here’s how to shortlist candidates for interviews — and why using an automated tool can make this step that much easier.

What is shortlisting?

Shortlisting is the recruitment process of narrowing down a pool of candidates to those most likely to meet the criteria listed in the job description. Shortlisting quite literally means creating a shortlist of applicants who can be successful at your company.

While the overall hiring process aims to filter out the number of job applicants down to one — your new employee — shortlisting is a specific step in the recruitment process. It takes place after sourcing a pool of applicants and before you begin interviewing. Screening and shortlisting happen concurrently: As you review CVs, you begin to create a shortlist of applicants who can move on in the process.

Ideally, shortlisting goes beyond reviewing CVs: Shortlisting candidates is not as simple as putting CVs in a yes or no pile. By building a specific shortlisting process, you can optimize your hiring process to make sure all candidates get a fair shot — and that you are assured of hiring the best possible new employee. And, luckily, there are different tools that can make the shortlisting process smooth and efficient.

Why shortlist candidates?

There are a few benefits to practicing shortlisting for recruitment. Shortlisting allows recruiting teams to zero in on the most qualified candidates. By creating criteria for shortlisting candidates, recruiters can reduce the amount of time spent sifting through unqualified applicants — and instead spend time on qualified candidates. This leads to:

  • A better candidate experience: top candidates receive more personalized attention
  • Shorter time-to-hire: recruiters spend less time reviewing CVs
  • Higher hiring success rates: top candidates are less likely to have accepted another position before an offer is made

Likewise, a shortlist can also provide feedback as to how well your sourcing process is working. For instance, if your recruitment team is struggling to find applicants that meet shortlist criteria, that could mean you need to reevaluate where you’re posting job openings. It could also mean that your expectations are too high — in which case you need to revisit your shortlist criteria.

How to shortlist candidates

The success of your CV shortlisting process hinges on two things: your shortlist criteria and the mechanics of actually creating a shortlist of candidates. Following these steps for shortlisting candidates will help you set up an efficient process, avoid mis-hires, and — crucially — protects your company from discrimination lawsuits.

Steps for shortlisting candidates

1. Create criteria for shortlisting candidates

As you and the hiring manager consider what criteria will help you evaluate who makes the shortlist, focus on the essential skills and the “nice to have” capabilities.

Essential skills are those that are absolutely necessary for succeeding in the role. For instance, if you’re hiring a copywriter, essential skills would include things like perfect grammar, familiarity with Google Docs, and perhaps some experience with SEO. Your shortlist criteria should be based on the qualities and traits of top-performing employees who are currently in the same or similar roles at the company.

“Nice to have” skills are those that are not absolutely necessary, but skills that would make someone a stronger candidate for the role. For instance, a copywriter’s certification in Google Ads would have an added bonus but is not essential. Note that here, it’s important to avoid the risk of discrimination.

Your criteria should not discriminate against anyone and must be applied consistently and objectively across all candidates. Shortlist criteria can include skills, work experience and expertise, and competencies.

These essential and desirable skills and experience will also inform how you write your job description.

2. Use a shortlist matrix

A shortlist matrix is a great way to ensure that you’re applying your shortlist criteria consistently. It can also help you keep track of applicants as they move through the screening process. A shortlist matrix can be a simple scorecard that helps you keep track of each candidate’s pertinent details.

3. Set a limit for your list of shortlisted candidates

A shortlist is just that — short. Consider this stat: on average, 75% of applicants are unqualified and 88% are not strong enough to move forward to the interview phase. As you go through the screening process, enforce a maximum number of candidates who you are willing to accept on the shortlist.

What’s the right number of candidates to have on a shortlist? It depends. Recruiting benchmarks suggest that the average application to interview conversion rate is 12%. That means for every 100 candidates you source, you need to shortlist 12 for the next round of interviews. Then, the interview to offer conversion rate is 17%; two of those 12 would receive the offer. And, if your hiring process has gone well, one candidate will accept your offer.

Of course, in a high-volume hiring event, the number of candidates on your shortlist may change. Rather than using a shortlist matrix to track 100’s of candidates, you may need to use a tool like Vervoe to rank a list of candidates for you.

4. Use a skill assessment or other screening tool

Shortlisting tools offer a way to efficiently screen and shortlist candidates. Skill assessment tools such as Vervoe offer a way to test candidates with tasks and questions specifically designed to assess those essential skills you identified.

By using a skills assessment, candidates get a chance to show what they can do in an easy-to-use environment. For recruiters, a skill test is a more accurate way than CV screening to predict someone’s performance in the role.

AI helps with automating this process by scoring candidates using a multi-layered approach. Candidates are ranked based on how well they performed, rather than filtered out if they didn’t achieve a certain benchmark.

The ideal candidates can then be added to your shortlist. This way no one misses out on being considered for the next round. For high-volume hiring events, this is a much more efficient method of shortlisting applicants than using a shortlist matrix.

5. Score candidates

With a tool like this, candidates are scored automatically — or, more specifically, they are ranked against one another so no one is ruled out. For those doing this by hand using a shortlist matrix, score using three categories: mandatory skillsessential skills, and value-add skills. Give each candidate 1 – 3 points for every mandatory skill they possess; 1 – 3 points for every essential skill; and 1 – 3 points for every preferred or desirable skill. Then, rank your shortlist based on each candidate’s total score.

It’s important to make an effort to screen candidates in, rather than look for flaws. Look at candidates holistically to see what transferable skills each person has. Are there certain qualities that a person has that no one else in the candidate pool can offer?

6. Let candidates know if they aren’t moving forward

A final step to this process that many recruiting teams disregard is to let an applicant know then they aren’t moving on to the next round. This builds your employer brand and can help maintain good relations with candidates in case you decide to reach out to them for future open positions. Write an email, or use an applicant tracking system to reach rejected candidates in bulk and let them know they won’t be continuing to the next round.

Criteria for shortlisting candidates

One of the trickiest parts of shortlisting candidates is deciding what essential criteria and desired criteria to use when creating your shortlist. It’s important to foster diversity and create a hiring process that welcomes candidates from all backgrounds. By the same token, you also want to make sure you hire the right person the first time — which means looking at your top performers and seeking others with similar skill sets.

Here are some shortlisting criteria examples that can help you avoid discrimination while still screening an amazing shortlist of candidates:

  • Technical skills (e.g., a particular software or coding language)
  • “Soft” skills (e.g., communication, resilience or project management)
  • Qualifications (e.g., graduated medical school)
  • Experience (e.g., worked in a certain industry for x years)

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