19 August 2021

3-step guide to shortlisting best candidates for an interview

Candidate screening process is the most time consuming task throughout the whole hiring process. However, it is not only the time costs that can prove to be an issue in the long run. Additionally, the candidate shortlisting process is often is heavily impacted by unconscious bias. If your goal is to hire someone new for your team, the last thing you would want to happen is accidentally leave someone awesome out of your shortlist. Or in contrast, include people in the shortlist that are not a fit with what you are looking for.

On average, recruiters spend about 75% of their hiring time on the interview process. Why? Because too many non-fit candidates are shortlisted for interviews. What if I’d tell you that there is a way to not only reduce the time spent on this, but also to ensure that you’re hiring the right people. Would you believe me?

After reading this blog, you will know:


What does it mean to shortlist candidates for an interview?

The term itself is quite straightforward. Shortlisting is all about selecting candidates that meet a set of criteria to be considered for a certain job position. In recruitment, shortlisting takes place after finding and attracting talent and prior to the first interview. 

2 reasons why shortlisting candidates is crucial

So there are 2 main benefits of shortlisting candidates before the interview process:

  1. You will stop wasting time on unqualified or unfit candidates. If you create a “shortlist” of candidates you want to talk to, it will save a lot of your precious time. Time that could otherwise be spent on candidates who are unqualified for the position.
  2. Improved hiring success. Since the best candidates will be invited to the interviews, the chances are higher that they will be qualified for the position. Thus, your hiring success will increase. 


How to shortlist candidates the right way: 3 steps

Choosing to invite the best candidates to an interview sounds like a dream. Let’s be honest, it does not sound like such a difficult thing to do either. I mean, it is essentially cherry-picking. Only knowing the definition of shortlisting won’t help you actually narrow down your increasingly growing pool of candidates. Here is how you can create a shortlisting process in a way to ensure that you’re actually interviewing the right candidates.

Step 1. Define the criteria, consider other eliminating factors

When looking for a new employee, the list of criteria you come up with for the given role can end up being pretty long. Yet, what I urge you to do is take a step back and reassess whether all of these requirements are absolutely necessary. By defining criteria upfront, you can also eliminate screening biases. Such as the similarity bias, which can leave a negative impact on your hiring decisions.

With every new requirement, you eliminate one more candidate from your talent pool. The more requirements are listed as must-haves, the more likely a candidate viewing the description will not see themselves as fit for the job. That’s why carefully consider which requirements really matter. Ask yourself: which skills can be learned on the job and which skills are necessary before even having started? 

To do that, you must first know and understand the difference between essential and desirable criteria.

Essential criteria

These are what are often referred to as “must-haves”. For example, the ability of fluently speaking English is an essential criterion when applying for a job in which all the communication takes place in English.

Desirable criteria

These are referred to as “nice-to-haves”, meaning that even though it might give an advantage to some candidates, these skills can also be acquired and learned on the job. For example, this could be fluency in a second language, such as Spanish.

Remember how I mentioned that the more “must have” criteria, the more likely a lot of candidates will see themselves as not fit for the job? Once you’ve defined a list of essential and desirable criteria, make sure to include both the essential criteria and a few nice-to-haves in the job description. (check out this 5 step guide to writing better job descriptions for more tips on how to create the best job descriptions).  To give you an idea of how this can look in practice, this is for a job opening of Customer Success Specialist on our own career page:

This visual shows an example of essential and desirable criteria within a job description used on our own career site.

Step 2. Create an interview scorecard based on the criteria

Have you ever heard of scorecards? They are used by many recruiters as means of grading candidates.  Let me briefly explain to you what I mean when I say “interview scorecard”. Think of it as sort of a spreadsheet that gives you a really clear picture of all the valuable information. In general, interview scorecards consist of four columns:

THis visual shows the 4 main categories of an interview scorecard which are based on both desirable and essential criteria. Using interview scorecards allows for hiring the best candidates.

Using scorecards helps in the process of making comparisons amongst potential candidates. How? 

Interview scorecards with clear scoring criteria are a highly effective manner in which to reduce the unconscious bias that can occur during the interviewing process. Additionally, allowing to identify which candidate is best-fit for the position based on how well they scored within the scorecard. It is important though, if and when using interview scorecards, to note down the score immediately while the memories in your mind are still fresh.

For example, if you are looking for someone who can easily adapt to new situations and environments, you are looking for someone who has high cognitive flexibility. If this is the only hard requirement, so a must-have, then a candidate who scores low on this, is probably not the best fit.

This visual shows an example of an interview scorecard which allows to assess candidates objectively based on essential versus desired criteria.


Step 3. Don’t determine the maximum number of candidates for your shortlist

It goes without saying that a shortlist is exactly that – short. That is why most companies choose to determine the maximum number of people who they want to interview before making a final decision. At first glance this might not seem as an issue. However, I recommend you to take a step back and think about this again. 

Let me explain very briefly to you why:

  • You don’t want to limit yourself to x number of candidates. Why? Because if the right one isn’t amongst them, it doesn’t make sense to hire either of them.
  • You don’t want to at least interview x candidates. Because forcing yourself to compare candidates also leads to a lot of dangerous hiring biases, such as the Contrast Effect.


Here’s how to shortlist the ideal candidates for an interview efficiently

On average, 20 to 40 people apply for a single job. And each job interview lasts between 45 minutes and 1 hour. Now, I’m sure you can imagine (or maybe you’ve even gone through) the frustrations and been overwhelmed by how time consuming this can eventually feel. Additionally, going through all the applications can actually affect how you perceive the candidates. Think of it this way. The more applications you review, the more likely you will eventually start scanning through them without really paying that much attention. But hey, that’s exactly why many recruiters and HR professionals have turned to technology to help not only automate the process, but also help gather insights about candidates in an unbiased manner.

Step 1. Automation of candidate screening process

As you probably know, during the hiring process, our brain encourages us to gather as much information about a candidate as possible. However, not always our brain is capable of objectively assessing which information is relevant and which is not. 

So, if you want to create a candidate screening process that is efficient – begin by automating it. An ATS, such as Recruitee, Teamtailor, or Homerun, allow you to automate the screening process. How? By eliminating endless paperwork, streamlining the entire hiring process by storing all the information in one place. Starting from finding, interviewing and hiring the best talent. Take a look at this blog to learn more about how an ATS can benefit your business and improve your hiring process.

Step 2. Data-powered candidate pre-employment assessments

A pre-employment assessment allows you to (i) collect the exact same data for everyone and (ii) let the tool interpret the data for you already. Pre-employment assessments can be used to assess both hard and soft skills of the applicants. This way providing you with all the relevant information at the very beginning of the funnel. And guess what – also allowing you to shortlist & select the best candidates based on insights that matter. Additionally, allowing you to create a seamless interview process, and overall an efficient recruitment process. 

Here, at Equalture, we use neuroscience games to help companies shortlist the best candidates for interviews and eventually hire the best-fits unbiasedly, by letting both their teams and candidates complete the games. 

Want to know how we do it here at Equalture? Just request a demo to see for yourself, no strings attached.

This is Anete Vesere, content marketer at Equalture.

Cheers, Anete