It’s often surprising just how many applications you receive after placing a job advert. And it leaves you with the daunting task of creating a shortlist — a task you must complete without discriminating illegally, in the limited time you have available.

So what are the best ways to shortlist job candidates fairly and efficiently, without getting overwhelmed?

First, a note about discrimination


Before we get to our shortlisting methods, let’s remind ourselves of the employer’s legal obligation to treat all candidates equally and fairly.

When you exclude an applicant from your shortlist, it must be for reasons related to the job specification — not because of personal characteristics such as health, age, spent criminal convictions, union membership, disability, or other protected characteristics. Discrimination is illegal even if you do it accidentally, so it’s important to follow a fair process.

Make a list of essentials and desirables


The better you know what you’re looking for in a candidate, the easier it will be to shortlist. So start by making one list of the essential criteria that every candidate must have, and another list of desirable criteria. Use the job description or person specification you developed when advertising the job.

Now you have two simple checklists — and it should be easy to cut applicants who are missing one or more of the things you want.

Divide up the work


There’s another advantage in making ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ checklists. Now it’s easy for your colleagues to help you with the shortlisting process.

Dividing up this work is especially useful if you have a lot of applicants, because it can be time consuming. Having several people sifting a few applicants should mean everyone is working with fresh eyes, so you should make fewer mistakes.

Make your shortlisting in short, quick stages


Now you’re ready to start shortlisting, and your ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ lists mean you can do it in two fast stages.

In the first stage, you’ll simply cut every applicant who’s missing essential criteria. This is faster because you don’t need to worry about desirable criteria at this stage. And when you’re done, you’ll probably find your pile of applications is much, much smaller.

In the second stage, you can cut applicants based on desirable criteria. Because you already ditched many unsuitable applicants in the first stage, this will again be much quicker.

Finalise your shortlist


For the final stage of your shortlisting process, you’ll now have a greatly reduced pile of applications — all of which are generally suitable for the job.

Decide how many people you want to interview. Then go through them one last time, scoring each against your list of desirable criteria. If you still have too many applicants, consider other fair criteria such as bad spelling and grammar or gaps in the candidate’s work history.

Your shortlist will include the very best candidates, selected fairly and quickly.


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