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 finding, attracting, screening, and shortlisting candidates.

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

shortlisting is the hardest part of 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.

Talent acquisition leaders are feeling increased pressure to find better methods of candidate sourcing, screening, and shortlisting.

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 in a time-effective and efficient manner, on the other hand, are challenges that still frustratingly 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.

Shortlisting Step-By-Step Guide For Candidate Recruitment: Table of Contents

  • Section 1: What is shortlisting?
  • Section 2: How to shortlist
    • Step 1: Determine your shortlisting criteria
    • Step 2: Create a shortlisting scorecard
    • Step 3: Determine the length of your shortlist
    • Step 4: Screening resumes for shortlisting
  • Section 3: The future of shortlisting
  • Section 4: A summary of shortlisting

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.

shortlisting step in recruitment

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 shortlisting criteria

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

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

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

Shortlisting criteria should be based on:

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

Shortlisting 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 shortlisting criteria that are correlated with job performance 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.

Shortlisting 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.

Again, remember to keep your shortlisting criteria consistent across all candidates to avoid legal and discrimination issues.

Step 2: Create a shortlisting scorecard

Take the essential and desirable criteria you’ve identified above and create a shortlisting 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 template

Having a shortlisting 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, the length of your shortlist may be to move forward anyone that meets your shortlisting 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, and one candidate will accept in order for you to get one successful hire.

shortlisting recruitment conversion rates

Step 4: Screening resumes for shortlisting

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, resume screening and shortlisting was a manual process. 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 to the rescue: 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 its matching and shortlisting function by learning which candidates who 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, especially for high volume recruitment, 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: The future of shortlisting

The current explosion in data analytics technology is enabling the next generation of shortlisting. The future of shortlisting 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 — low-level sourcing 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 intelligent shortlisting works:

  1. Software that uses a machine learning algorithm 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 for as well as learning from their tenure and turnover rates.
  3. The software learns about existing employees’ experience, education, and other characteristics and applies this knowledge to new applicants for the role in order to rate, rank, and shortlist the strongest candidates.

The major benefits of intelligent shortlisting over traditional shortlisting:

  1. Replaces the manual process of creating shortlisting criteria yourself by learning what they are by using your existing resume database.
  2. Ensures the shortlisting criteria that the software uses 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 good qualifications slip through the cracks.

But the big question remains: does it work?

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

Typically, intelligent shortlisting software 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, intelligent shortlisting represents the holy grail of recruitment.

shortlisting tech benefits for recruiters

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 shortlisting criteria, create a scorecard, and screen resumes against that scorecard.
  3. The future of shortlisting: “AI comes to recruitment.” Intelligent shortlisting software that determines an open role’s essential and desirable criteria, automatically creates a scorecard, and screens all the resumes for you now exists.
  4. The benefits of intelligent shortlisting for recruitment: Accurate and efficient shortlisting 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 shortlisting questions!

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Want to Learn More? Here Are Our Top Shortlisting Tools and Resources:

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