How to shortlist interview candidates in recruitment

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 August 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Recruiting for a job vacancy can be a lengthy process and might involve reducing a large number of applicants down to one successful candidate. After receiving applications for a job, it's usual to reduce the candidates to a shortlist of people you want to invite for a job interview. If you're involved in recruitment, understanding more about shortlisting and how to do it can make the process more straightforward. In this article, we discuss how to shortlist interview candidates, including why shortlisting is important and what things are worth considering when you're making a shortlist.

What does it mean to shortlist interview candidates?

When you shortlist interview candidates it means that you select the most suitable candidates to attend a job interview. This allows you to learn more about them and their experience and decide who's the most suitable applicant for the job. Shortlisting candidates usually involves reviewing their applications and CVs to determine who's likely to be appropriate for the job. In some cases, these decisions are easy but sometimes it can be more challenging to decide. This is especially true if there are a large number of qualified candidates.

Related: 6 stages of an effective recruitment process

Why is creating a shortlist important?

Creating a shortlist is important because it's the first step towards finding the most appropriate person for the job. In most cases, interviewing every person who applies for the job is too time-consuming. When there are a large number of applicants it might be impossible or undesirable to interview everyone.

Creating a shortlist allows you to discount people who lack the skills and experience the vacant job requires. This means you can focus on people who are more likely to be suitable for the role. When you identify which applicants are most likely to suit the role, you can focus on finding out more about them at the interview stage.

Related: Useful tips for recruiting internationally (plus benefits)

What's the ideal number of interview candidates?

The ideal number of interview candidates on the shortlist depends on various factors. Usually, a shortlist of between ten and twenty candidates is advisable. This number is small enough to be manageable but still gives the recruiter enough possible employees to choose from. If you're recruiting for multiple positions it might be appropriate to have a larger selection of candidates on the shortlist and vice versa.

Some organisations have an established recruitment policy. This might include guidance on how many candidates to include in an interview shortlist. It's sensible to confirm with your employer whether there are any guidelines for how many people to include in the shortlist.

Things to consider when shortlisting job applicants

There are various attributes of a successful candidate that helps to define when you're shortlisting job applicants for an interview. These vary depending on the nature of the role. For some jobs, the skills that a candidate has might be more of a priority than their education level or experience in similar roles. Due diligence at this stage ensures only the most appropriate candidates reach the next stage of recruitment. Some areas that are important for most jobs include:

  • academic qualifications

  • relevant experience

  • relevant skills

  • the candidate's legal right to work

  • inconsistencies in employment history

How to create a shortlist for an interview

If you want to know how to create a shortlist for an interview there are some useful steps you can follow. This is a straightforward way to create a shortlist of suitable candidates. You can use a similar process for assessing candidates during the interview stage. Try these steps when you're shortlisting job applicants:

1. Determine the criteria for shortlisting

The first step involves determining the criteria for shortlisting. This includes both essential and desirable qualities and legal requirements such as the right to work in the U.K. Identifying essential qualities helps you allocate a higher score to these qualities than to desirable but not critical attributes. Base the criteria and subsequent scores on what's relevant to the job rather than your personal feelings or wishes.

2. Create a shortlisting scorecard

Once you know what the criteria for shortlisting are, you can create a shortlisting scorecard. The scorecard lists each of the criteria so you can allocate a score to it for each candidate. It also helps you to fairly apply each criterion to every application. When you create the scorecard it's also important to decide how to measure the score of each candidate. For example, you might use a system of scoring a number between one and three, with three meaning the candidate has strong skills or experience and one meaning they lack the skills or experience in each area.

3. Decide how many candidates to include

Before you can use the scorecard it's necessary to decide how many candidates to include in the shortlist. Seeking advice from other hiring managers or recruiters at your workplace might be helpful here. You can also adjust the number depending on how many applications you receive and the number of available vacancies.

4. Assess applications for shortlisting

You can then assess the applications for shortlisting using the scorecard. This involves checking each application against the criteria and adding scores for each one. This is usually the most time-consuming stage of shortlisting. After allocating scores and calculating totals you can identify which candidates have the highest scores. You can then invite them to an interview.

Related: How to conduct an interview (with tips and advice)

Other methods for shortlisting candidates

There are also alternative methods for shortlisting candidates. These methods can be useful especially when you have a large number of applicants and it's more challenging to assess all of the applications. Other methods can also be helpful if you're uncertain about whether someone is suitable for the job:

Using AI

Some recruiters use AI to make the shortlisting process faster and easier. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) automatically scan applications to identify the most appropriate candidates. This can save time but also have some drawbacks. These systems work based on matching keywords. Some candidates use keywords strategically to successfully pass ATS. It can still be a useful method if there are a large number of applications.

Telephone screening

Telephone screening can be a useful way to find out more about candidates and decide whether they're suitable for attending an interview. Some employers use this alongside using an ATS to verify the results. Telephone screening usually involves a short and informal conversation with the candidate. This can give you more information about their personality and communication skills and can be useful for roles that involve telephone communication such as customer service. You can then decide whether to invite the candidate to a more formal interview.

Related: How to prepare for and conduct a successful phone interview

Other tips for shortlisting

Finding the right candidate for a job vacancy can sometimes be challenging but there are other tips you can use for shortlisting. These tips can help you to eliminate inappropriate candidates before the interview stage and more easily identify potential causes for concern. These tips help to make the shortlisting process more thorough and increase the likelihood of finding an applicant who's suitable for the job.

Consider other screening tests

Another helpful tip is to consider whether other screening tests are relevant. For example, asking candidates for administrative roles to take a typing test can help you measure their speed and accuracy. It's worth considering whether to include screening tests as part of the initial application process. This can make shortlisting easier because you have more data to refer to.

Related: What is the recruitment screening process? And how to do it

Check for errors in each application

It's worth checking for errors in each application. Doing this manually is usually advisable as ATS may not identify issues like spelling or grammar mistakes. Errors in an application might suggest a lack of organisation or attention to detail, which can be an issue in some jobs. This can be particularly important if the job involves writing. Errors may also imply that the candidate has made little effort with their application and might be less interested in the role.

Consider how responsive the candidate is

If you've communicated with the candidate or contacted them for a telephone screening, it can be helpful to consider how responsive they are. It's a positive if the candidate responds quickly and seems genuinely interested in the opportunity. Less responsive candidates might be less enthusiastic about the job. It may also imply a lack of professionalism.

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