How to shortlist candidates for interviews using 7 simple solutions

Last updated:
May 17, 2021
September 19, 2022
min read
Beth Hudson
Table of contents

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 is easier said than done when the applications start flooding in.

What are shortlisted candidates?

Narrowing down your candidates to a shorter list—whether that list is two or twenty people long—is vital when comparing and analyzing candidate qualifications and narrowing down options, saving time and resources.

In recruitment, timing is crucial. You want to hire the right candidate over a specific time. More common roles with fewer requirements will receive more applicants; shortlisting candidates quickly will benefit any hiring team.

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 quickly and effectively by learning how to shortlist candidates with these easy-to-follow steps.

Before we offer our seven suggestions on how to create a great candidate shortlist, it’s essential to keep in mind the most important qualities.

3 qualities of a good candidate shortlist

  • Short: As we said before, a candidate shortlist should be short. If you still have to filter through tons of candidates, you can’t really call it a shortlist.
  • Candidates are pre-qualified: Pre-qualify the candidates in your shortlist. What do we mean by this? You’ve already determined that their skills, experience, and qualifications match what your company might be looking for. You will most likely have to qualify them further after being shortlisted for a specific role. However, initially qualifying them on some fundamental factors will save you time later on.
  • Updated frequently: Shortlist your candidates constantly. Creating strong candidate shortlists is a continuous process. It can be a helpful, timesaving tool if you are in the habit of pre-qualifying candidates for open and prospective vacancies. For example, you may choose to keep a shortlist of candidates for future openings.

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

How to shortlist candidates for interviews

1. Determine essential and desirable criteria, and pre-qualify candidates upon application. Include specific questions designed to filter out unqualified applicants.

This is the first and most crucial step when shortlisting candidates.

We consider the ideal characteristics and duties that the new recruits will be expected to perform. A checklist is written up with all of the must-haves so that we can begin narrowing down the applicant pool. After reviewing the must-have skills or experience, you can then move on to desirable extra characteristics or experience.
Andrew Fennell
Former recruiter and Director | StandOut CV

After having selected all the ideal characteristics, developing screening questions that elicit answers from candidates helps to create an idea of whether they will be a good 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 suitable applicants, but you can’t and shouldn’t let all of them through.

Instead of wasting time interviewing all of the qualifying and knowledgeable applicants, use 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. Decide who to cut or keep with a simple scoring system.

Scoring your applicants on pre-determined merits, including their qualifications and experience, might seem crude when looking for the ideal applicants, but it can help simplify tough decisions.

Where you may think your applicants all look very similar on paper, then a scoring system can show you precisely where the differences are.

Consider giving each applicant 3 points for the necessary skills or qualifications they need to do the job, 2 points for qualities that would be beneficial to the role, and 3 points for those that would help them really stand out from the opposition.

Total up their final scores and see who comes out on top.

3. Use an ATS to filter and rank candidates.

Another must-have method when looking into how to shortlist candidates for interviews is using an applicant tracking system. An ATS automates streamlining your shortlisting process, and using a ranking system makes your candidate shortlists even more effective.

One of the most common mistakes recruiters and hiring managers do when shortlisting candidates is not using software that can make the task more accurate and organized.
Kris Lippi
CEO & Real Estate Broker | ISoldMyHouse

Recruitee is 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. A precise 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 specific 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.

4. Review 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, try to do so as quickly as possible. You may even want to pick a time out of each workday 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 the end of the application deadline, you may be inundated. This may be overwhelming and cause some lapses in judgment because of eyestrain 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 and filter for obvious mistakes. Grammar, spelling, lack of personalization, and other glaring errors are usually a no-brainer for disqualifying candidates. While human error is unavoidable, 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!

5. Consider phone and video screenings.

At times, you’ll have several applicants vying for fewer places than you have available on your shortlist. If there aren’t any obvious methods to narrow down the selection, then short phone or video screenings have become commonplace in the current market.

Video interviews are part and parcel of today’s hiring process, so bringing them into the fray a little earlier than expected won’t be a surprise to your applicants. In fact, they’ll welcome them as a sign that they’ve already got past the previous steps of your process.

6. 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 how they will fit into the work environment and align with the morals, values, and practices that you want to uphold as an organization.

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

7. Look for inconsistencies.

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 experiences 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.

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