Shortlisting Step-By-Step Guide For Candidate Recruitment

The holy grail of recruitment is finding a quick, easy, and accurate way to automate candidate shortlisting.

As organizations start to embrace the idea that recruiting and retaining talented employees represents a competitive advantage, Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report finds that HR departments are being tasked to redesign everything they do to change the way organizations hire, manage, and support their people.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite these demands for change, the classic challenges of recruitment remain including how to find, attract, screen, and shortlist candidates.

Shortlisting is often the most challenging and time-consuming step in the recruitment process.

shortlisting is a challenge in recruiting

A survey of talent acquisition leaders found that while 46% struggle with attracting strong candidates in the current candidate-driven talent market, 52% said the most difficult part of recruitment was identifying the right candidates from a large applicant pool.

While sourcing remains a major problem especially for high-demand roles, it’s a challenge that is largely being solved with modern recruitment marketing practices such as developing a strong talent brand, nurturing talent communities, and paying competitive wages.

Screening and shortlisting quickly and efficiently, on the other hand, are challenges that still remain.

To help you solve this talent acquisition bottleneck, we created this comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to effectively, efficiently, and accurately shortlist candidates to move forward in your recruitment process.

Watch our 2-minute video on shortlisting below:

Shortlisting Step-By-Step Guide For Candidate Recruitment

Step-By-Step Guide: Table of Contents

Section 1

What is shortlisting?

Shortlisting is the process of identifying the candidates from your applicant pool who best meet the required and desired criteria for the open req and who you want to move forward onto the next step of your recruitment process, which is usually some form of interview.

In other words, creating a “short list” of candidates you want to talk to.

In the recruitment process, shortlisting comes after sourcing (finding and attracting) and before interviewing and further assessing. Screening and shortlisting often happens simultaneously: as you screen resumes from candidates, you shortlist the best ones to move forward.

There are a lot of technical and legal considerations that go into a proper shortlisting process. We’ll go over each issue below.

Section 2

How to shortlist

Step 1: Determine your shortlist criteria

These are the essential and desirable criteria needed to do the job and the minimum level that the shortlisted candidate should have.

These criteria should be related to on-the-job performance and ideally should be captured in the job description.

Developing the right criteria is a balance between standards that are high enough to ensure good quality candidates move forward, but not too strict that you’d be unnecessarily screening out a lot of qualified candidates.

Your shortlist criteria should be based on:

  • the qualities and traits of top performing employees currently in the role

Your shortlist criteria should not be based on:

  • personal opinion or gut feeling of what managers think are required for success
  • personal similarities of the candidates with the recruiters or hiring managers

A short note on legal and discrimination issues: Using criteria that are correlated with job performance to shortlist candidates helps you avoid legal and discrimination issues.

Make sure your criteria doesn’t discriminate against any legally protected classes in the first place. The important thing here is to apply your criteria consistently, fairly, and objectively across all candidates.

Shortlist criteria can include:

  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Skills and knowledge
  • Personality traits
  • Competencies

Differences between essential and desirable criteria:

Essential criteria are the ones that a candidate must meet to be considered for the role.

A simple example of an essential criterion is whether the candidate is legally able to work in the country. These types of criteria are often called knockout questions because either the candidate has it and can move forward or they don’t and gets screened out immediately.

Desirable criteria, on the other hand, are ones that would make someone a stronger candidate for the role. These are often considered nice-to-haves. An example of a desirable criterion is a professional certification.

In a lot of cases, the difference between essential and desirable criteria often becomes blurred. For example, a hiring manager may desire a minimum of three years of experience in a particular role. If the majority of the candidates have at least three years of experience, that criterion becomes essential by default when candidates with less experience get screened out.

Remember to keep your process consistent across all candidates to avoid legal and discrimination issues.

Step 2: Create a shortlist scorecard

Take the essential and desirable criteria you’ve identified above and create a shortlist scorecard for your candidates. The purpose of this scorecard is to list out each criteria so that you can assign a rating for each screened in candidate.

For example, if you’re hiring for a retail associate role, your scorecard might look like this:

shortlisting scorecard for retail

Having a shortlist scorecard serves two purposes:

  1. Ensures you are applying each criterion fairly and consistently across candidates.
  2. Allows you to easily identify and rank who the strongest candidates are to move forward.

Step 3: Determine the length of your shortlist

How many candidates do you have to shortlist to get a successful hire?

When it comes to deciding the length of your shortlist, most people have a pre-determined number in mind. For example, interviewing four to six candidates to get one successful hire.

For high volume recruitment roles like customer service representatives where you need to hire hundreds of people, you might shortlist any candidate that meets your criteria.

The best way to determine the length of your shortlist is to work backwards from the average conversion rates in your own recruitment process. As a reference point, the industry average application to interview conversion rate is 12%, the interview to offer conversion rate is 17%, and the offer to accepted conversion rate is 89%.

According to these numbers:

  • For every 100 candidates you source
  • You need to shortlist 12 of them to interview
  • Two of them will receive an offer
  • One candidate will accept in order for you to get one successful hire

Step 4: Screening resumes to shortlist candidates

According to industry stats, 75% of applicants are unqualified and 88% are not strong enough to move forward to an interview.

When 75 to 88 percent of the resumes you receive for an open req are ones you have to screen out, it’s obvious why shortlisting is the most time-consuming part of recruitment.

Traditionally, screening and shortlisting candidates were manual processes. These days, a job opening receives 250 resumes on average, which can take up to 23 hours per hire just to screen resumes, rate each candidate using your scorecard, and determine your final candidate shortlist.

Recruiters and talent acquisition leaders realized long ago this was a major problem, so they turned to technology: the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) was invented. In many ways, ATS software has been a boon. Of the organizations who use one, 94% say an ATS improved their hiring process.

The advantages of using an ATS include:

  1. Organizing all applications received for an open req.
  2. Tracking candidate source as well as other recruitment metrics (e.g., application to interview ratio).
  3. Automating resume screening through knockout questions.
  4. Ranking candidates through keyword matches.
  5. Allowing searches for candidates in your existing resume database using keywords or Boolean searches.

Unfortunately, some of these strengths of an ATS have become their weaknesses. It’s become common knowledge that most ATS software use keyword matching to screen resumes, which has led to candidates gaming the system through keyword stuffing on their resumes.

The two major weaknesses of an ATS are:

  • False positives: erroneously moving forward candidates who are not actually the best qualified ones due to keyword stuffing.
  • False negatives: screening out good candidates who don’t meet the keyword filters but have strong qualifications otherwise.

Traditional ATS software wasn’t designed to improve how it shortlists candidates by learning which ones went on to become successful and unsuccessful employees. That means each new req needs to re-invent the wheel, even for the same roles you’ve filled previously.

So while ATS software is virtually a must-have these days for recruitment and talent acquisition departments, their limited functionality is understandably frustrating.

But just like the invention of the ATS, technology is again coming to the rescue to enable the next generation of candidate shortlisting.

Section 3

Innovative ways to shortlist candidates

The current explosion in data analytics technology is enabling the next generation of shortlist tools. This is being called “intelligent shortlisting” or applying the “big data treatment” to candidate information.

Industry experts believe the adoption of automation tools that reduce — if not remove — time-consuming recruiting activities won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

In a nutshell, intelligent shortlisting is adding functionality to an existing ATS that allows it to rate, rank, and shortlist candidates beyond keyword matching.

Artificial intelligence comes to recruitment.

-Martin Burns, ERE


How software uses AI to shortlist candidates

  1. Software that uses AI is added to your existing ATS.
  2. The software uses your existing resume database to learn which candidates moved on to be successful and unsuccessful in the same role you’re currently recruiting.
  3. The software learns about existing employees’ experience, education, and other qualifications and applies this knowledge to new applicants in order to rate, rank, and shortlist the strongest candidates.

The major benefits of AI-powered shortlisting

  1. Replaces the manual process of creating shortlist criteria yourself by learning what they are from your resume database.
  2. Ensures the criteria that the software uses to shortlist candidates is correlated with the job by using data from your existing employees.
  3. Ensures objective and consistent application of the criteria across all candidates reducing problems related to compliance and discrimination.
  4. Reduces false positives and false negatives because candidates can’t trick the ATS nor do qualified candidates slip through the cracks.

But the big question remains: does it work?

Initial results are extremely promising. Companies that have adopted these types of algorithms into their recruitment process have seen their turnover rates decrease by 35%, performance increase by 20%, and revenue per employee improve by 4%.

AI software that automates shortlisting lives inside your existing ATS so it doesn’t disrupt your workflow, the candidate workflow, nor require IT support.

Couple this with the 23 hours you save per hire by automating screening in the first place, AI-powered shortlisting represents the holy grail of recruitment.

Section 4

A summary of shortlisting

  1. Definition: Shortlisting is the process of identifying the candidates from your applicant pool who best meet the required and desired criteria for the open req and who you want to move forward.
  2. How to shortlist: Determine your shortlist criteria, create a scorecard, and screen resumes against that scorecard.
  3. Innovative ways to shortlist: “AI comes to recruitment.” Software that uses AI to shortlist candidates determines what an open role’s essential and desirable criteria are, automatically creates a scorecard based on that criteria, and screens all the resumes for you.
  4. The benefits of automated shortlisting: Automating this process has the potential to save you 23 hours per hire, reduce turnover by 35%, and increase performance by 20%.

Shortlisting Step-By-Step Guide For Candidate Recruitment

Remember to bookmark this post and keep it as a resource to answer all of your shortlist questions!

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