Candidate Shortlisting: How To Do it The Right Way

6 minute read

Posted by Chris Platts on 3 December 2020

The hiring process can become overwhelming. Recruiting the best people can cost the earth and suck up valuable time if it isn’t done the right way. And

Optimising your candidate shortlisting process is one of the best ways to prevent your hiring process from becoming chaotic. Good shortlisting can benefit you in many ways, such as providing you with the opportunity to spend more time with your most valued candidates, spending fewer resources and finding talent more quickly.

When you know how to shortlist effectively, you lower your average time to hire and your business will benefit from improved new hire performance.

In this post, we’ll outline the steps you should take to shortlist candidates more effectively – we define what candidate shortlisting is, share some best practice candidate shortlisting examples, mistakes to avoid, and the best candidate shortlisting tools.

How to be Successful at Candidate Shortlisting.

What is candidate shortlisting?

Candidate shortlisting is the process of funnelling in your candidates from your total applicant pool who most fulfill your essential and preferred criteria for the role. It’s the evaluation process of transitioning candidates from application stage to interview stage.

Your selection criteria will determine who you wish to move forward in the recruitment process so using a clearly defined Ideal Candidate Profile is critical to effective shortlisting.

Being able to quickly identify which candidates to prioritise in the funnel will set your whole recruitment process up for success and should provide you with a solid foundation for hiring the best candidates quickly.

Tip #1: Context is king

The most suitable process for your business will be determined by the context of the role. In entry-level or high-volume recruitment, many businesses mistakenly begin shortlisting candidates before all applicants have completed a pre-hire assessment. This leads to a disorganized and prolonged screening and shortlisting process, where much of the criteria being screened against may not actually be relevant. If you’re hiring for entry-level roles, assessing candidates with a pre-hire assessment will enable you to shortlist candidates more quickly and fairly.

How to Shortlist Candidates

1. Create your Ideal Candidate Profile

Before you do anything, you must define the things you need a candidate to have and the things you would like your candidate to have. This list will help you to write your job description, your job advert and will provide the basis for your shortlist criteria. It’s important to be specific, but not unrealistic.

Make your criteria too strict and you will limit the range of applicants that could be available to you. Too lose and you’ll become overwhelmed with unqualified applicants. You need a healthy balance.

2. Have a maximum number for your shortlist

Allowing yourself a specific number (or range) of candidates for the shortlist will ensure you meet a manageable number for the next recruitment stage. Make sure you have a reasonable number to ensure your hiring manager has candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds.

3. Create a scoring system 

Take your essential and desirable criteria and create a scoring system for candidates based on this. For example, award 2 points for each piece of essential criteria obtained by the candidate, and 1 point for desirable criteria. This will allow you to have a score for each candidate, and determine who your most valuable candidates are ‘on paper’.

This scoring system could be something you can embed in an online assessment if you felt automation was the way to go.

4. Initial Assessments

The greatest benefit of pre-hire assessments comes from implementing them right at the beginning of your process. If you know that you are likely to have a large applicant pool, tests are a quick and painless way to separate the candidates who have the skills you require, and those who don’t.

Assessments can allow you to see who really has the skills you require versus those who only claim to. You will also be able to look at these assessment results and get valuable information to help guide a structured interview process.

5. Have a good balance of screening in and screening out

Be open to shortlisting some candidates that may not have all of your criteria, but seem like they could be a great fit for the role. You should also review your candidate pool in terms of diversity. When deciding whether to screen in or screen out, consider if there are other similar applicants. Having a diverse candidate pool will provide you with a good range of applicants and increase your chances of hiring the best employees. Assessments are a good way to screen people in who may not have the relevant experience but do have the right behaviour, skills and attitude.

6. Use automation tools if necessary 

Deloitte found that “83% of HR leaders believe that technology will play an increasing role in candidate screening in the next three years.” Recruitment automation software can reduce the time consumption involved with shortlisting, but choosing the right tool for you is important. Some of these technologies look for keywords in CVs and applications which can be easily gamed by candidates. Others are increasingly innovative in their ability to do much of your shortlisting work on your behalf. Look for providers that measure only the skills and behaviours needed to perform in the job in a relevant work context.

7. Get back to your candidates

It sounds obvious but you’ll need to treat your candidates how you would like to be treated. Let them know if you aren’t taking them forward and respond to every single applicant. Being left in the dark is not appreciated. An e-mail or a phone call goes a long way.

Candidates are very likely to appreciate feedback and an explanation as to why they aren’t moving forward in the process. If you have the means and time to do this, you will provide a positive impression on your candidates. By having a good reputation as an employer – you will be more likely to attract more qualified candidates. So treat all of your candidates with the utmost respect! 

How to be Successful at Candidate Shortlisting.

That’s a wrap!

So there you have it! These 7 tips should help you to be on your way to a much faster and painless recruitment process. Just remember to check that your shortlisting criteria are fair and relevant to the job.


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ThriveMap creates customised assessments for high volume roles, which take candidates through an online “day in the life” experience of work in your company. Our assessments have been proven to reduce staff turnover, reduce time to hire, and improve quality of hire.

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