Shortlisting Candidates – Part 1

Shortlisting candidates – Part 1

We are going to describe the best methods for turning long lists into shortlists in 2 articles.  Here we give you information which is suitable for recruiting for senior roles. You can find information in the previous articles on Screening candidates which was more suitable for lower-level roles and mass recruitment.

The purpose of short-listing is to identify the candidates who best meet the selection criteria for the post, the ones who are most likely to be capable of carrying out the duties of the job, the candidates you want to meet for a formal interview.

The goal

The goal of short-listing is to remove as many unsuitable candidates as possible before the interview stage, mainly because interviewing uses a lot of resources. Start by deciding how many candidates will be interviewed. Your strategy already described how many interviews will take place and who the interviewers will be – now add to that by looking at your time frame and interviewer availability to get a rough guide to how many suitable candidates you can schedule to screen fairly and accurately.

To select for your short-list you must return to your list of criteria for the position. The easiest mistake to make is to start to compare the candidates with each-other and to lose sight of your criteria. That is the reason it is very important your person specification is clear, up-to-date, and appropriate to the duties of the position.

Don’t add criteria

Another easy mistake is to introduce new selection criteria at the short-listing stage. If you do this because you feel that you are responding to availability of the market or because you are interested in other strengths in one candidate or another you are not being true to your process. Yes, you may be looking at candidates who have strengths that originally you didn’t go looking for, but be very careful, going down that path will lead you away from what you set down as the purpose of this activity – to recruit for a specific role with a set of specific requirements.


The easiest and most effective way to shortlist is to make a short-listing grid or spreadsheet. It is a list of the names of candidates together with the required (or essential) and preferred (or desirable) criteria with a tick box next to each criteria. This method lets you identify the candidates who have the most criteria and who become your short-list.

Filtering candidates

Filter the applications by matching them to the essential criteria. Now that there are fewer applications, eliminate any candidates that do not meet presentation standards. For example: CVs that include a lot of spelling or grammatical errors. This often shows very little attention to detail.

Now filter again using the preferred criteria. If candidates have plenty of essential criteria and only a few preferred, you should probably keep these in. A candidate who has made it through the required criteria eliminations but does not have the preferred criteria should be kept on one side for future reference.

This filtering activity does not mean re-reading the CV through each time, it means scanning through it looking for evidence of the criteria you are using, for example a degree in the subject you require or a specified number of years  of experience in your sector.

Other factors

Next you can apply other eliminating factors including job-hopping (too short a duration for each employment), unexplained gaps on the CV and any other inconsistencies. Remember that sometimes there are reasons for these things so for strong candidates you should phone screen to clear up any confusion.

Throughout this filtering you must keep your standards consistent applying the same conditions to each candidate throughout the shortlisting process.

Other factors you might want to use as filters to short list candidates include whether the candidates’ current notice period/availability fits the start date you planned, and if their salary expectation is in your budget.

(…continued in part 2)


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