Shortlisting candidates for your business

Organise your recruitment strategy

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Wednesday, Nov 24, 2021

With a good shortlisting process, you can minimise it — and sort the top candidates from the weaker ones nice and early.

Shortlisting is a useful bridge between applications and interviews. And with applicant numbers growing all the time, recruiters are finding it more valuable than ever. With the following methods, you can avoid progressing candidates who are clearly unsuited for the role. And you can make sure you don’t accidentally miss out on the perfect new employee.

Laying the groundwork

Logging applications

Once you’ve decided to shortlist, it’s helpful to record the details of every application in an electronic log. This might seem like a lot of work to begin with, but it will speed up the process later on by making information quickly accessible.

You might be able to reject some applications as you go along, if they clearly do not meet the criteria (for example if they do not have the degree you specified, or have too few years’ experience).

Creating a shortlisting grid

The shortlisting grid is a useful method of evaluating applications. It allows you to compare each candidate against the criteria you set for the role, in a fair and systematic way. Here’s a simple way to create your shortlisting grid:

  1. List the criteria down the left hand side of the page (in the first column, if you’re using a spreadsheet).
  2. Split this list into two sections, under the headings ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’, and put each criterion into the appropriate section.
  3. Create a second column headed ‘score’.
  4. Decide what scoring system you will use. Recruiters often use a score out of three, where:
    0 = fails to meet criteria
    1 = partially meets criteria
    2 = meets criteria
    3 = exceeds criteria (you may wish to omit this level to avoid shortlisting overqualified candidates)

Making your shortlist

You can now score each applicant against the list on your grid.

Starting with the ‘essential’ criteria can speed up the task. If any applicants have scored zero where a skill is vital, you can reject them straight away.

Once all scores have been assigned, compare totals and invite your ten highest scoring candidates (or a number more suitable to your applicant pool) to the next stage of selection.

Analysing further

If your shortlisting scoring grid hasn’t given you clear-cut answers, you could try:

  • Looking at the scores for ‘desirable’ criteria separately and prioritising some of those attributes
  • Asking colleagues to give a second opinion
  • Analysing other information in the applications — has the candidate written well, or made mistakes? Do they communicate clearly? Do they sound genuinely excited by the role?

If opinions do conflict, you might take the opportunity to discuss the role in more detail and iron out any ambiguities about the type of personality or experience needed.

It’s good practice to contact the unsuccessful applicants as soon as possible after you’ve made your shortlist.

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