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How to Quickly Shortlist Candidates in 4 easy Steps

Shortlisting candidates can be an overwhelming exercise, threatening to sap your time and energy. But finding the right candidate is easier than you think and we show you how in just 4 easy steps.

Bernadette Eichner
Bernadette Eichner
Hiring manager shortlisting candidates

Imagine this – you’ve advertised for a role and your Inbox is being flooded with applications. Maybe over a hundred have come through in the 48 hours since your ad went live – this isn’t unusual for some roles.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and just go and make a coffee while you think about how you’re going to attack the project. But attack it you must if you’re going to fill the job quickly with the right person.

In a buoyant candidate market one of the keys to success when you’re hiring is the speed with which you can get the most suitable candidates to interview.

And this requires two things to happen – firstly, you need to make the time to conduct the interviews in a timely manner; and secondly, you need to pull together a solid shortlist quickly.

We can’t help you with the first – unless of course you hire us to do it for you! But we can share what we know to help you with the second.

And it’s way less painful than you think! Just four steps will get you there.

The 4 proven steps to quickly shortlisting the candidates you want to interview

Regardless of whether you plan to phone screen candidates first and then bring only the two or three best ones in for a face to face interview or whether you want to see the better candidates from the get-go, there are 4 easy and proven steps to deciding who those candidates should be. And you can do this within a few hours, with a coffee or glass of wine if that makes it less stressful!

1. Build your selection criteria

This is where you need to decide what education, skills and experience you’re really looking for. And I mean really looking for. You’ve got a job description and you’ve run an ad, so you’ve got a good idea of what you’re looking for. Be honest with yourself. Then refine the list even further.

2. Separate the essential criteria from the nice to haves

Some things on your list may be more important than others and these are the ones you focus on in the first instance. Education, certifications, industry experience, location, a background building skills that are transferable to your role – whatever the most important things are. Effectively, you’re building two lists – the first is the essential things the person you need will demonstrate and the second is the ‘great to have’ or desired criteria – the things that would be the icing on the cake.

3. Apply the ‘essential’ selection criteria to each application for your first cull

This is the step that will build your ‘A’ pile. But remember, no-one is perfect, so we work to 75% of the selection criteria as a starting point. They either have 75% of the skills and experience or they don’t. Resist the temptation to stereotype or try to work out what sort of person they are from their resume, or their name, or their gender. Check out my blog about stereotyping if you need some help. At this stage of the project, you are simply reducing the number of applications to only include those candidates who demonstrate the essential skills and experience you need. This is the most important step to put you on the right path to the right person.

4. Apply the ‘desired’ selection criteria

Now, apply your ‘desired’ criteria to each application in your ‘A’ pile. This might be candidates that have worked at a particular company or two in their past, or it may be candidates who have a certification that might be handy. And remember, at this point you still aren’t making any assumptions about their personality or cultural fit.

And voila! You have your first shortlist of candidates ready to explore further. Your ‘A’ pile is now the one with the candidates who meet the essential and some or all of the desired criteria. Keep the others in a separate pile though – you may need to come back to them.

The next step is to find out more about the candidates on the ‘A’ list and you can only do this by talking to them – either over the phone or in person.

We prefer phone screens in the first instance – it’s a quick way to connect with the candidates and a very efficient way of covering off on a few other things that may be important, like; verbal communication skills, their location (if it wasn’t on their resume), why they’re interested in the role, their availability for interview and so on. You might even use the opportunity to cover off on their skills and experience to satisfy yourself they really do have what you’re looking for.

Interviewing your shortlisted candidates

The interview process is your chance to better understand each individual candidate, so it’s important that you devote the time and energy to doing it as well as you possibly can. The aim is to understand them so well that you can make your final decision with confidence.

So, how do you use the interview process to get down to your final two or three candidates for reference checking purposes?

1. Be sure to talk half as much as you listen

The purpose of an interview is to find out as much as you can about the candidate. The biggest mistake hiring managers make when interviewing is that they talk too much. About the company. About themselves. About the job. Your job is to ask questions and then listen to the answers. You cannot find out anything about anything by talking at it! Only by listening can you make any reliable evaluations.

2. Use behavioural-based interview questions

This is the proven way to truly understand a person – their personality traits, how they react to stress, how they prioritise things, how they work as part of a team, even how honest they are – lots of things you can’t get from their resume. Learn more about behavioural interviewing.

3. Read their body language.

This can tell you a lot about their confidence and even their honesty and ethics. Do they use eye contact when talking to you or does their gaze dart around the room? How do they sit in the chair – are they sitting upright and engaged or do they slump and sort of fold back onto themselves? Do they seem composed or are they picking at their clothes or fingernails or checking their phone? But remember that most people are nervous in an interview, so cut them a bit of slack!

4. Imagine them in your team

After you’ve interviewed your shortlisted candidates, spend some time reflecting on each of them. While our instincts can sometimes let us down (we are human and humans are prone to cognitive bias), they can also often guide us in our decisions. And they are most reliable when we listen to them on the back of collecting objective evidence. So, once you’ve applied your selection criteria to the application process and completed your behavioural interviews, you can now think about how you feel.

Use your selection criteria like a scientist and your interviewing skills like a journalist

Now there’s no need to get overwhelmed when you hear the constant ding of your Inbox heralding the arrival of applications. By all means grab that cup of coffee and get stuck in! You have all the tools you need to shortlist candidates quickly and with confidence – use your selection criteria like a scientist and your interview skills like a journalist and your instinct will be better informed and more reliable.

The best person for the job is yours!

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Bernadette Eichner
Bernadette Eichner

Bernadette Eichner, Cofounder and CEO of Just Right People, is a recruitment industry entrepreneur and thought leader in Australia, totally committed to improving the recruiter experience for clients and candidates alike. Her secret to life is to “just do the next thing that needs to be done”.

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