So you’ve advertised a position, received a stack of applications, and the closing date has passed. The next step is to shortlist your candidates for interview — and it’s not just a case of leafing through the CVs and picking the ones you like.

For starters, it’s illegal to unfairly discriminate against candidates based on things like their age, disability, spent criminal convictions, trade union membership, or other ‘protected characteristics.’

And secondly, when you’ve received lots of applications, identifying the best ones is pretty tricky.

What you need is a fair and easy-to-follow process for shortlisting candidates for interview. You’re in luck.

Decide how many candidates you want to interview


Based on how much time you have available, decide how many candidates you want to interview. This number is also the length of your shortlist.

Now you have a target for sifting through those applications.

Make lists of your essential and desirable criteria


Shortlisting fairly means rejecting unsuitable candidates based purely on the requirements of the job. So you’re going to use those requirements to make your shortlist.

From your job description and person specification, make two lists: a list of essential criteria, and a list of desirable criteria.

Your essential criteria are must-haves such as qualifications, experience, and important traits and abilities. Desirable criteria are those that make the candidate an even better fit, such as experience in your industry.

Shortlisting stage 1: essential criteria


You can now start shortlisting, and it’s easiest to split the process into fast, simple stages. The first stage is to reject all the applications that are missing essential criteria.

You’re not worrying about desirable criteria at all at this stage, so it’s quick — but you’ll still probably have far fewer applicants at the end.

Shortlisting stage 2: desirable criteria


The next stage is to consider your desirable criteria. Your approach here will depend on how far away you are from your target shortlist number.

If you have a lot of candidates left to exclude, start by rejecting the ones with the fewest desirable criteria. Once you’re nearer your target, score each candidate based on how many of the desirable criteria they meet. You can then compare candidates side-by-side, and keep the best ones on your shortlist.

Consider other eliminating factors


If you still have more candidates on your shortlist than you need, it’s time to consider other fair eliminating factors. These might include:

  • Serious presentation issues, such as bad spelling and grammar
  • Unexplained gaps in the candidate’s learning and employment history
  • Problems with their right to work in the UK

Notify the unsuccessful candidates


With your shortlist complete, it’s good practice notify the unsuccessful candidates. You should give the reason they were unsuccessful, although you don’t have to be too specific.

Now all that’s left to do is invite your shortlisted candidates to interview.


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