How to shortlist candidates for interviews using 10 simple solutions

Last updated:
November 22, 2022
November 22, 2022
min read
Beth Hudson
how to shortlist candidates
Table of contents

Shortlisting is an integral part of the recruiting process. That's why it's critical to speed up the process.

In fact, according to recent research by HR magazine, the workforce today wants a quick turnaround, with at least 50% of job seekers turning down a job since the hiring process took too long. On the other hand, 65% of employers reported they had lost a preferred candidate because of a lengthy recruitment process.

So, to attract and retain the right talent, HR needs to learn how to speed up the shortlisting process. Otherwise, they may be alienating their best candidates. 

However, identifying the perfect candidates from many applicants can be one of the most complex parts of the recruitment process.

Understanding how to shortlist your candidates fast can simplify the process. Fortunately, in this post, you will learn how to select suitable candidates to focus on fast. Let's dive in.

What is shortlisting?

It is the recruitment process of reviewing candidates for a job application and choosing the ones that best suit the position according to predetermined criteria. This enables the HR candidates to create a shorter list of qualified applicants to move to the next recruitment step. 

Let's say a job application deadline has been reached; now it is time to go through cover letters and resumes to choose your company's incredible talent to hire. Generally, shortlisting comes after finding and attracting suitable candidates.

But what happens after shortlisting? After you've shortlisted your applicants, interviewing and further assessing takes place. Shortlisting process isn't as simple as putting applications in a no or yes pile.

When you create a specific shortlisting process, you'll be able to optimize the recruitment process to ensure all candidates get a fair shot, thus hiring top talent. 

Why is shortlisting important?

Shortlisting helps make the process of narrowing down your pool of candidates feel less overwhelming. Also, it sets standards for your HR recruitment team to consider while deciding on the right candidates to interview. 

A shortlist can also help you know how on target you are when reaching the ideal candidates. If you are facing problems finding candidates that fulfill your shortlist criteria, it could be a sign that you need to post the job listings in the right places. Or perhaps your expectations are very high for the position you want to fill. 

Generally, shortlisting simplifies the hiring process and helps you speed up the hiring process.

What makes a good candidate shortlist?

There are 3 essential 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 seven simple steps to shortlist candidates.

How to shortlist candidates for interviews

1. Determine essential and desirable criteria

You should develop your shortlist criteria based on the most up-to-date version of the job description. What qualifications, skills, and competence does the role require? It can be helpful to cross-check the criteria with an experienced employee in that role or a relevant team leader. 

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

Once you have developed your list, categorize it into three: Mandatory, Preferred, and Desirable.

The Mandatory criteria should include all the skills and qualifications required to perform the task successfully.

Examples include:

  • Relevant experience
  • Minimum education level
  • Workplace safety training
  • Location (if necessary)
  • Approved security clearance or background check
  • Language fluency

When it comes to preferred criteria, these are the things that are nice to have. Typically, these involve what a person can learn in the process.

If an applicant has these qualities, it gives them an advantage over the other candidates. Examples include:

  • Experience in a particular industry
  • Working knowledge of relevant tools, software, or programs
  • Professional certification

The desirable criteria consist of all the value adds that give an applicant bonus points. Examples include:

  • Values, goals, and mission that aligns with your organization
  • An understanding of semi-relevant tools, software, or programs.

The best way to avoid wasting time interviewing all the qualifying candidates is to take advantage of screening questions or questionnaires to pinpoint the applicants that match the role and your company.

Screening questions will help you shortlist candidates fast without needing a phone screening immediately. 

At Recruitee, we have an easy-to-use application form builder. Our system allows you to customize the application process after creating a job opening. The system will enable you to make some (or all) questions needed, which we highly recommend.

If you need decisive answers from the applicants, ensure you review the answers. Adding some screening questions to come up with the survey will help you save time every time you are hiring.

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

2. Decide who to cut or keep with a simple scoring system.

Once you have set up your shortlist criteria, you need to develop a candidate scorecard. A scorecard will help you compare candidates' scores against candidates' scores. This way, you can avoid comparing an individual against an individual, which ensures you don't discriminate or become biased

Begin by assigning a numerical value to the criteria categories mentioned above on how essential they are regarding the open vacancy. For example:

  • Mandatory criteria = 3 points
  • Preferred criteria = 2 points
  • Desirable criteria =1 point

Proceed to review every applicant and give them points if they possess the criteria or not. The applicants who score more points will appear on your shortlist.

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. Determine the length of your shortlist

As mentioned, your shortlist should be short. But how short do you want it to be? The number of candidates will depend on the available resources and time. 

Start by reviewing your company's hiring history and relevant information to estimate how much time you need to identify, hire and recruit the new employee and who will be involved in the process. In case you have a tight timeline, ensure your shortlist is short. 


Useful tip:

Useful tip:

Also, you can base the length of a shortlist using the applicant's scorecard results. For instance, if your scorecard was out of 25, applicants who scored 23 or above can be chosen to continue.

While eliminating candidates, keep in mind that research shows that the interview conversion rate is at least 15% on average. This implies that for every 100 candidates you get, you should at least shortlist 15.

However, if you have, for example, 13 highly qualified candidates, and you want a shortlist limit of 10, keep the three off the shortlist just so that you can stick to your predetermined limit. On the other hand, only include qualified applicants to reach your target.

5. 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!

6. Consider phone and video screenings.

Sometimes you might have several candidates vying for fewer positions than those available on your shortlist. If there isn't an obvious way to narrow down the shortlist, consider doing a short phone or video screening, which has become common nowadays. 

A video interview is part and parcel of today's recruitment process. Therefore, bringing these screenings into play a little earlier than expected won't surprise your applicants. They might even welcome it as it's a sign that they have passed the previous steps of the hiring process.

7. 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.

8. Look for inconsistencies.

Make reference checks the rule rather than the exception. If you require references with an application, use them!

Useful tip:

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.

9. Try assessment during the initial application phase

Applicant's assessment typically comes later in the hiring process, but adding it in the early stages can help you know candidates better at the start, especially when you expect a high number of applicants.

Assessment can also be helpful if there is a specific skill you want to score candidates for. For instance, if your mandatory criteria are precise, an assignment will help you identify candidates with the skills. Consider adding the assessment during the application stage, or wait until applicants have applied. 

10. Inform the successful candidates

After identifying your shortlisted applicants, you must tell them the good news! Contact the successful applicants with congratulations and instructions for the next steps, whether scheduling a screening call, skill assessments, or video interview.

Also, send non-acceptance emails to those candidates who didn't make it to the shortlist. When a person is searching for a job, getting no reply from an organization can even be more frustrating. So, once you determine an applicant isn't moving on, send them a non-acceptance as soon as possible.

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