8 Steps to Smooth Candidate Shortlisting

So you’ve posted a stellar job ad and your applications are rolling in. But the process of candidate shortlisting can feel daunting. In fact, a 2021 survey by Deloitte Human Capital trends found that 37% of employers find identifying full-time talent with the right skills one of the biggest challenges in the talent acquisition process. 

So how do you go about selecting which candidates to prioritise and who should ultimately be called for an interview? We’ve broken the process down into 8 key steps which will lead you to the perfect hire 

1. Screen against your required skills 

At the job-ad writing stage, consider separating the skills that you’re looking for into two groups —required and desirable. Make it clear you’re willing to consider people who don’t have all the skills if they can show a clear ability to grow.  

The first step in your candidate shortlisting process should then be based on whether the candidates possess the required, non-negotiable skills that you outlinedBut consider whether what you are asking for is really necessarymaybe someone does not have a degree but has proven their skills in other ways for example. Rather than asking where this person went to university, ask whether this person shown demonstrable growth in their career. 

Our Diversity Hiring Guide offers best practice on how to establish basic guidelines for how to review applications and why it is better to include candidates according to what they have rather than seeking to exclude with a focus on what they don’t. 

2. Decide how long your shortlist will be 

The whole point of candidate shortlisting is that it gives you a manageable number of candidates to progress to the next stage. It’s therefore worth making a rough decision about how many candidates you would like to have at each stage of the process. This will also give you a good idea of how strict you need to be with your sifting. But note that this number should only be a guide. If you end up having more highly qualified candidates than you predicted, be sure to interview them. It’s a good problem to have!  

shortlisting candidates

3. Watch out for red flags 

There are some obvious red flags that you should be mindful of when sifting through applications. These include grammar and spelling errors on CVs and cover letters, as well as poor formatting and structure. All of these things show that a candidate hasn’t put enough effort into their application.  

A CV gap is not necessarily a red flag. Indeed, it might have offered a candidate a chance to develop a new skill or experienceIf a candidate is appealing, you can ask about the gap in the interview. If a candidate is otherwise appealing, but it’s something to take note ofand you can ask about it at the interview stage 

4. Consider the unconscious bias in your process 

All of us have some degree of unconscious bias – which can take the form of discrimination based on ethnicity, race, age, gender and other factors. Biases lead us to make less than perfect hiring decisions, meaning that some top candidates can fall through the cracks. That’s why it’s worth making your recruitment process anonymous. See our Diversity Hiring Guide for advice on how to establish guidelines for candidate evaluation during application and interview for example. 

Did you know? With CharityJob’s Applicant Manager, you have the choice to anonymise the applications you receive for every posted job. The platform will remove key personal details, such as names and email addresses until first contact with the applicant. 

Empathy and recruitment

5. Conduct an initial screening interview 

Many charities have a three-step hiring process which begins with a short initial interview, which is usually designed to determine the candidate’s motivation. This is a good opportunity for them to find out more about your organisation and role, and for you to check their overall suitabilityThis step can save you a lot of time further down the line. Don’t use this screening to identify things like ‘culture fit’ as hiring like-for-like perpetuate discrimination. Ask instead why this candidate wants to work for you if they haven’t done so already. 

We may disregard seemingly qualified candidates because of assumptions e.g. thinking someone isn’t fit for a role because their age signifies less experience—or they have a disability, impairment or health condition that keeps them from commuting into the office. This could mean you neglect potential new recruits. 

6. Decide whether a task would be useful 

For many roles, a task is useful to determine a candidate’s ability to do the job. But you should take the time to carefully plan it and consider where it comes in your hiring process. Traditionally, tasks are placed at a later stage in the process, but you might find that introducing them earlier on gives you a clearer idea of who is or isn’t suitable. Some organisations have even included a small assessment as part of the application process. This is not only helpful in assessing skills but it is also likely to leave you with the more dedicated candidates, who have taken the time to fill out a more detailed application – but don’t ask too much of those you reject 

Make sure you set out in advance the criteria for marking the task, and a point system for each. That way you’ll be able to see at a glance how each candidate performed on their task. If you are recruiting for a coder do you give marks only for error-free code, or for doing the right things along the way? 

manage candidate expectations

7. Make your final decision 

The final stage of most recruitment processes is an interview, which should involve at least two members of staff from your organisation so that you get a balance view and avoid the trap of unconscious bias 

At this stage you’re likely to be down to a handful of candidates and you should get a better idea of their experience and skills. This is your opportunity to get to know them more as people and to get a sense of whether they will work well with your team. If you’ve noted any red flags at the previous stages of the hiring process, now is the time to address them.  

8. Be sure to let shortlisted candidates know your decision either way 

Take the time to contact candidates directly if they’ve been unsuccessful at any stage of the recruitment process. In the early stages, a simple email is enough, but if you’ve put them through to interview stage, it is best practice to give them feedback on why they weren’t selected for the role. This should ideally be done over the phone. Being professional and honest will leave a lasting positive impression on the candidate – they’ll be more inclined to recommend you to their network or to apply for other relevant positions in the future. If you have used a standardised scoring system for each candidate you can reduce the chance they might think they have been discriminated against. 

Save time and focus on what’s important 

CharityJob’s Applicant Manager can help you save considerable time during the recruitment process. It enables you to filter CVs with keyword search, easily communicate with candidates,  evaluate applications, and perhaps most importantly, to remove unconscious bias from your process. Why not try it today? It’s free with every job posted.  

Tags: attracting the right candidates, diversity in recruitment, finding the right people, hiring process, shortlist, shortlisting

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About the author

Ewa Jozefkowicz

CharityJob’s Content Manager Ewa Jozefkowicz has a passion for all things digital, particularly when it comes to UX and writing engaging copy. In her spare time she likes to travel and devour huge quantities of books.