Shortlisting candidates: What it means and how to do it effectively

by The Withe TeamOctober 17, 2023 | 8 min read

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At Withe, we understand that recruiting is a funnel. You start out with a large pool of applicants at the top of the funnel and then, as candidates go through the recruiting process and a series of qualifying steps, your goal is to narrow down that pool until you get your preferred candidate(s) for the available role(s).

Each stage of the recruitment process offers a chance to reduce the number of candidates, and the very first opportunity to do this is when shortlisting candidates for a first interview. This is an important step. In shortlisting, recruiters need to be equal parts efficient and accurate if they want to reduce the chance of having a low offer acceptance rate or having to start the search again from scratch.

Getting this right requires an intentional approach to the shortlisting process, one that pairs streamlined, automated technologies with a human element. In this article, we explore what the shortlisting process looks like and best practices for doing it effectively.

What is candidate shortlisting and why is it important?

Candidate shortlisting is the process of identifying and selecting the candidates that are best suited for the first round of interviews for a given position. This often involves setting a list of criteria that align with the posted job description, and establishing a threshold that determines whether a candidate is qualified enough to move forward to the next stage.

Within the hiring process, shortlisting will happen after the position is published and advertised, and after recruiters have met (or surpassed) their goal for number of applications. Recruiters then create a short list of candidates that will move forward to the next round of the process.

Candidate shortlisting can be as streamlined a process as a team needs. Some teams use a set of questions that need to be answered a certain way, and others use criteria and scorecards to choose the best candidates. Another common approach is to have candidates complete a short assignment.

Regardless of the approach, an efficient and effective shortlisting process will:

  • Save teams time and money
  • Improve the end-to-end experience for the hiring team (and reduce the administrative burden)
  • Enhance the candidate experience
  • Help set measurable standards for the hiring process

Withe's hiring events platform helps recruiters
streamline and automate
the process of shortlisting candidates.

3 steps to shortlist candidates for an interview

While there may be variations from one shortlisting process to another, there are five standard steps that tend to show up consistently.

Step 1: Choose your criteria

Establish a list of criteria that aligns with the job description you’re hiring for. This could include specific skills (e.g. bartending or graphic design), certifications, years of experience, location, or a certain level of education. This criteria should be validated by the hiring manager and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on the same page. They should also be cross-referenced against similar roles to promote consistency within the hiring process.

Criteria should then be categorized into tiers: mandatory, preferred, and desirable. In the first round of shortlisting, the mandatory criteria will make it easy to determine which candidates are more qualified than others.

Meanwhile, preferred criteria will be the ones that are ideal for a candidate to have, but could also be taught on the job. This would include knowledge of specific software, experience in a specific industry or sector, and certifications.

Desirable criteria are the value adds that will give a candidate bonus points. These are more relevant later on in the process when you’re comparing the last few qualified candidates against each other.

Step 2: Design a scorecard based on the criteria

A scorecard that accounts for how each candidate matches the criteria will help compare candidates on a like-for-like basis. Each criteria can be assigned a numerical value, depending on how important it is to get the job done successfully. This helps equitably assess your candidate pool, and ensure the best candidates move forward to the interview.

Step 3. Determine how many candidates you want to interview

The next step is to establish how many candidates need to be interviewed. This will depend on a variety of factors, including how many roles there are to fill — conversations with customers have told us that companies need to talk to ten people per qualified hire — how much time and how many resources you have available to conduct interviews.

Landing on this number is more science than art. You’ll need to research what has worked historically, understand who needs to be involved (e.g. who needs to interview the candidate), and how quickly the role needs to be filled. That said, the number of interviews may also be determined by the scorecard results. If you have a lot of candidates with high scores, you may find yourself wanting to interview everyone within the top three scores.

On average, the conversion rate from applicants to interviews tends to be 15%. Your conversion rate should be close to this, in order to be efficient, but can vary depending on your organization’s unique qualities. You should also not strive to reach that ratio just for the sake of it — if you only have 8% of candidates that feel aligned with your role, that’s fine. There’s no need to waste time talking to candidates that are unlikely to be a good fit.

At this stage, you’ll be ready to communicate to candidates whether they are shortlisted for an interview or not.

5 best practices for efficient and effective candidate shortlisting

Today, recruiters are under more pressure than ever to optimize their processes and reduce the time to hire qualified candidates. Teams that want to remain competitive in the talent market should go the extra mile to make their shortlisting process as streamlined and impactful as possible.

Here are five things we recommend.

1. Leverage the right technologies

Software and automation have become an integral part of the hiring process. Today’s recruiters rely on robust applicant tracking systems (ATS) and other technology solutions to help streamline recruiting while also optimizing the candidate experience.

When it comes to shortlisting candidates for a job, teams should be able to rely on their hiring software to set up qualification forms and automatically measure candidates against their established criteria.

In Withe, for example, recruiters can set up a number of qualification questions for candidates to answer when they register for a hiring event. Our list of questions include a variety of data types including email, URL, textual answers, and numerical values. For each question, recruiters can set up logic operations to qualify how a response might be evaluated, and then review candidates against each other based on their responses.

The best tools will be the ones that integrate seamlessly with the ATS and other HR technologies so that there’s an easy transfer of data and a comprehensive view into how qualified each candidate is and where they are in the journey.

2. Maintain a human element to shortlisting

While technology solutions and automation will be important in streamlining the shortlisting process, it’s also important to operate outside the technology to some extent. For example, if only a handful of candidates are shortlisted through the automated process, you can go back to other candidates close to the threshold and review which might have qualities that can be developed on the job. This will also be a good opportunity to evaluate whether any of the criteria need to be adjusted as you continue hiring for this role.

3. Ensure the right candidates apply

One way you can streamline the shortlisting process is by ensuring that your pool of applicants aligns closely with the job you’re hiring for. The job description will be a great place to clearly communicate requirements, as well as mandatory and preferred criteria. Any marketing efforts and hiring event invites will also be useful here.

4. Consider early assessments

Depending on the type of role, you may want to include a test or set of assessment questions at the application stage. This will help recruiters craft a more detailed understanding of the candidate’s skills, and provide better insight into which candidates might be a better fit for the interview stage.

5. Avoid bias wherever possible

As you set up your application form, qualification questions, and any other queries for a candidate, be sure to avoid bias where possible. Take a critical look at all the requirements and questions, and review them for potential stereotypes and other biases.

Optimization at every step of the process

Shortlisting candidates might seem like a small step in the broader hiring process, but it is an important one to get right. It sets the stage for the rest of the process and helps introduce efficiency from the get go.

Withe’s hiring events platform helps recruiters streamline and automate the process of shortlisting candidates. Learn more about it on our homepage.

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Author Bio

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The Withe Team

Meet the team behind the revolutionary on-demand video interview software that connects great companies with top talent. Their user-friendly solution streamlines the hiring process and helps people find the right opportunities. With a customer-centric approach, this team of experts is dedicated to helping you find the perfect match.

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