Screening Candidates – Part 1

Screening Candidates – Part 1

This is the first of 2 articles in which we are going to explain the process of selecting candidates. These two articles describe how recruiters and talent acquisition teams turn very long lists of people who are interested in a job into shorter lists of people who might be suitable for that job.

Recruiters use the terms Screening and Shortlisting – both are kinds of Selection. We use Screening to mean handling large numbers of applicants or CVs to identify potentially suitable candidates.  We use the term Shortlisting to mean bringing that long-list down to the smaller number of candidates who are those most suitable for the position, the ones you will interview.


Let’s look at methods of making a ‘long-list’ of candidates from the people who applied for a position.

Screening and Shortlisting involve creating lists. This part of the recruitment process is guided by the criteria which were developed earlier in the process and which we explained in a previous article called ‘What is a Recruitment Strategy?’ In that article we explained how you must list criteria (skills and attributes) in the Job Description and Position Specification. The easiest mistake to make while screening is to lose focus on the criteria.


If things have gone well through the searching stages of recruitment you should now be receiving CVs from whatever channels you are using. If you are only using an agency the screening stage has been done for you – you can go straight on to selection stage.

If your main channel is advertising then you are now at a critical stage of the process and you must now handle unscreened CVs received from advertising and other non-screened channels.

Qualifying candidates

You now have to carry out the part of the selection process called ‘qualifying’ candidates. A qualified candidate matches your requirements and the criteria you use in the qualifying process are like filters. Think of your long-list as a working document and add to it all the candidates who have the minimum number (set by you) of the required criteria. When you are qualifying CVs from unscreened channels this process can be very time consuming and very often the outcome will be that you screen all the CVs out and end up with no long-list. We will come on to that later. Saying that, keep applicants’ potential in mind although screening candidates out is essentially a negative activity – meaning you are identifying applicants who don’t fit the position.

At this stage assume that all the statements in the CV and cover letter are truthful, verifying things at this stage is not worth the effort and any candidate who has lied will be identified later.

If you are lucky enough to have a reasonable number of qualified candidates then your long-list will be easy to generate and will contain everyone with the minimum requirements. In an ideal world you might now interview all of them thoroughly to generate the short-list. In reality we operate with time and cost constraints so long-list interviews rarely happen.

Screen as you go

Try to screen applications as you receive them, this avoids reading through a large number of applications in one session. This way you can reject those that do not meet the essential criteria as you go along and place the candidates that may be suitable onto your long-list.

The screening process is dominated by candidate CVs. In fact CVs have come to dominate recruitment as a whole. Always be aware of the limitations of CVs, what they cannot tell you – this is particularly important when your criteria include those areas. The CV can’t tell you about the candidate’s personality and many of their attitudes, it can’t tell you what kind of work-colleague they are, or how dynamic they really are.

The problem with CVs

Remember that they are often written in a candidate’s second language so may be stilted or contain errors and at junior level will largely be copied and pasted from other sources. Unless you intend to use the CV to assess candidates’ written English language skills try to keep all this in mind. In fact if you plan to assess candidates’ written language skills the CV is actually quite a bad tool, don’t use it for that. Remember that you might be looking at a strong candidate who got no help with the CV and a weak candidate who had a lot of help.

Phone screening

A ‘quick and dirty’ method to screen a large number of CVs for attitude, professionalism and the ability to respond quickly (if that is what you are looking for) is to run a phone screening. Plan a call of under five minutes, have a script which is just one question – perhaps only you introducing yourself, the applicant just confirming that they are genuinely interested in the job and you confirming how the applicant will be contacted next, and when. From this short conversation aim to assess language, appropriate telephone skills, friendliness and attitude towards their application, your organisation and you personally. If nobody answers screen them out (they’re applying for jobs and not taking calls?) but if they call you back then screen them back in. this call should be made in Khmer, not English, you will get a better assessment and very quickly in their first language.

Screening methods vary a great deal between junior and senior positions, first we will look at some methods which work well with junior positions.

Stick to simple criteria

Generally, for junior positions you can expect more applicants so your qualification process will be aimed at screening candidates out based on straightforward criteria, for example if it is essential that the position-holder is a graduate screen out all non-graduates. If one year of experience is essential then screen out all who do not have that. Using simple criteria where a candidate is either in or out keeps it fast and simple. Go through your criteria and apply them firmly – after all your organisation created them.

If you have completed the required criteria and your long-list is still too long then move on to your list of preferred criteria. Here for example if experience in your sector is preferred screen out all the candidates who don’t have it. Using this method you should reduce the long-list to a short-list and these are the candidates you will interview.

Senior positions

For senior level positions where the role is key to the organisation’s operations or profitability you will be faced with fewer applicants but you will probably invest more effort into the screening process. One method you can use is to assign weighting to your criteria based on their importance, essentially you give each one a number of points. Then you score the CV. This is mechanical and takes some time but it keeps you focussed on the criteria and their importance.

(…continued in part 2)

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