Recruitment: How do you effectively shortlist applicants?

Recruitment: How do you effectively shortlist applicants?


The screening and short listing stage can reveal the success of the advertising of the vacancy. It can also help identify candidates that may be suitable in other parts of the organization. Candidates shortlisted for possible interviews should be matched to the job description and person specification

How do you effectively evaluate every application?

Determine your criteria – it is important to highlight the key things you are looking for so you can evaluate all applications on a level playing field. An effective job description gives you the basis for the criteria to mark all candidates against. You should aim to set around ten clear conditions.

These criteria can usually be split into three sections:

  • technical – does the candidate have the necessary education, training or qualifications to succeed in the role?
  • experience – has the candidate worked in a similar industry or role before?
  • personal – has the candidate given examples of when they have demonstrated the required competencies?

Developing a screening chart

A screening chart enables you to mark which candidate meets which criteria. It allows you to go through each CV putting a score by each key criterion. You will be able to quickly see which candidates best meet your needs.

For example, if your role requires a candidate to have a degree in maths, you might use the following scores:

  • no degree or a degree in a unrelated subject
  • degree in a related subject or a 3rd in maths
  • 2:2 or 2:1 in maths
  • 1st in maths
  • mathsmasters degree

The process should be completed by someone within the HR team (or who has recruitment experience) and the manager of the department that is hiring. Preferably, it should also involve people who have done a similar role before.

Pre-employment screening

Pre-employment screening is the process of carrying out background checks on potential candidates. It involves a search of multiple sources, both private and public records such as:

  • schools and former employers
  • Criminal Records Bureau check
  • addresses history
  • credit report
  • social networking sites

Some organizations require a pre-employment health screening as they may be relevant to the job. These should be specified to the applicants.

How do you effectively shortlist?

As part of the recruitment process you will have compiled a job description and person specification. These will list the key tasks and responsibilities and the skills, experience and qualifications required.

These will usually be split between essential and desirable.

Essential qualities are those that are required to do the job: specific qualifications, subject knowledge, number of years experience, etc. You should not shortlist any applicant who does not demonstrate these essential criteria in their application.

Desirable qualities are those which you would like applicants to have, but are not essential to the job itself. These tend to be ‘softer’ skills such as team working, sector knowledge, experience of managing staff, certain personality traits – many can be learnt through training and/or experience.

When shortlisting applicants, the first step is to identify which essential and desirable qualities matter most. You can then assess each applicant against them, using a scoring or rating system – those demonstrating clear evidence of reaching the required qualification or subject level needed (for example) would rate a "5", those that don't would rate a "1". Assessing candidates against each identified criteria in this way allows you to decide who to invite to interviews and/or assessment centers.

It will be rare to find the ideal candidate, but what they lack should be possible to address through training.

Tips to ensure shortlisting is fair and unbiased

Training on best practice in diversity and inclusion, or bias training, should be provided to staff members involved in the recruitment process.

To avoid bias, shortlisting should be undertaken by at least two staff members. To maintain consistency and continuity, the staff members should be involved in the shortlisting process from the start until the end.

If possible at least one staff member from a different department than the one posting the vacancy should be involved in the shortlisting, thus reducing personal preferences and implementing checks and balances.

Candidates meeting the essential requirements should be selected. If there are still too many candidates after this stage, then desirable qualities should be taken into consideration.

The shortlisting panel should consist of diverse members to ensure different perspectives.

The shortlisting process should have consistency (e.g. a scoring system could be used by the staff for their candidates).

Shortlisted candidates

Candidates who have made it onto the shortlist will be invited to an interview and/or assessment centre.


The invitation letter should advise the candidate to contact the organization in advance if necessary arrangements need to be made on their arrival or during their interview (e.g. ramp access, lighting levels etc)

The invitation letter should also specify whether or not the organization will compensate travel expenses.

Potential problems

  • resources for diversity and inclusion training may not be available
  • shortage of staff could prevent the involvement of at least two members during the sifting process
  • lack of knowledge regarding best practice in recruitment could result in more possibilities for discrimination; therefore, it is advisable for all staff members to have a general knowledge regarding this topic
  • on the other hand, awareness of diversity could result in preference for underrepresented groups in the workforce
  • tokenism – an individual is hired for a 'number game' and not based on their competencies and merits