Shortlisting Applicants: A Simple Guide to Choosing the Best Applicants

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>In This Guide You’ll Learn</h2><p><ul><li>Two key principles that you need to observe when filtering applicants.</li><li>A step-by-step process for drawing up your shortlist of applicants.</li><li>What to do if you get too few applicants.</li><li>How to keep track of your applicants.</li></ul></p></div>

Once you’ve received applications for your job, you need to draw up a shortlist of applicants. There are two principles which you need to observe when doing this.

1. Avoid Discrimination on the Basis of Traits Unrelated to Competencies

  • Discriminating on the basis of gender, age, race and sexual orientation isn’t just legally and ethically dubious, it’s bad business. By not discriminating you’ll enhance the diversity of your company and create a better business culture. Having different kinds of people all bringing different perspectives makes you more innovative.
  • Discrimination is often unintentional and unconscious, as when managers hire people who look like them. I’m sceptical about the effectiveness of formal diversity training to counter this. I’ve tackled the problem by giving staff psychometric tests and getting them to share the results. This helps them to see that people very different to themselves can be just as strong performers.
  • Ultimately the aim should be to become more self-aware and to change perceptions and attitudes so that all stages of recruitment, from shortlisting through to interviewing and making offers, is influenced as little as possible by biases.

2. Shortlist Applicants Everyday

  • My advice is to not delay! Managers often want to wait to get a good number of applications before shortlisting. This is a bad idea. On day one you might have received an application from the ideal candidate and if you’re slow to follow up they might take up a job with someone else. Also, responses to adverts tend to dwindle over time, so there’s really no reason to wait.
  • Shortlist every morning until the vacancy is filled. Even when you’re interviewing candidates keep on shortlisting, because things might not work out with your interviewees, in which case you need to quickly move onto the next applicant on your shortlist.

How to Shortlist Applicants

Gather the responses from all your Applicant Attraction Channels. Then draw up your shortlist following my step-by-step process:

Step 1: Review your Great Performance Profile

  • Remind yourself of the competencies essential to the role.

Step 2: Read through the applications

  • Review the applications and remove obviously unsuitable people such as international applicants if you can’t offer a work visa.
  • Looking at the remaining applicants, find positive reasons why you should interview each of them. Compare applicants to the competencies defined in the Great Performance Profile rather than to the other applicants.
  • Now run through the following checklist:
  • Does the CV have spelling and grammar mistakes? This will be more of a problem if your job requires good writing skills or attention to detail.
  • Are there gaps in the applicant’s work history or sudden changes in the kinds of jobs they’ve had? Have they moved around a lot? See if there are things that need further probing.
  • Do they have relevant qualifications or carried out training that’s useful to the job?
  • Finally, don’t discount people who live far away as they may be open to relocating. And don’t rule out unemployed applicants as this might not be their fault and they could have a lot to offer.

Step 3: Sort the applicants

  • Divide applicants into qualified (have all the required competencies), possibly qualified (have most of the required competencies) and unqualified (lack many of the required competencies).

Step 4: Take action straightaway

  • Don’t let your competitors beat you to the best applicants! Start carrying out Telephone Interviews of qualified applicants. (See guide: How to Carry Out Telephone Interviews.)
  • Retain possibly qualified applicants and come back to them if your qualified applicants don’t work out.
  • Email unqualified applicants to let them know that they haven’t been successful.

What to Do if you Don’t Get Many Qualified Applicants

There could be various reasons for this. Think about whether any of the following apply to your situation:

  • Insufficient Applicant Flow. You may need to broaden your Applicant Attraction Channels, for example by using more job sites or finding a better flat-fee recruiter.
  • There’s no perfect person. Is your Great Performance Profile so stringent that the person you’re looking for doesn’t exist? If so, you need to amend it. For more on this, see guide: Does the "Perfect" Employee Exist?
  • You have a poor advert. To improve your advertisement so that it attracts the best people, make sure that it explains clearly why a jobseeker should join your company rather than a competitor. See guide: How to Write Your Job Advert for guidance on how to write an effective advert.
  • The salary is too low or not stated. You may need to offer more to get the kind of person you want. And if you don’t state a salary in your advert you’ll end up with 80% fewer applications.
  • You’re displaying your logo too frequently. If you’re hiring regularly and identifying your company in your adverts, jobseekers might be interpreting this as an indication that you have a high staff turnover. This might be putting them off applying.
  • Your advert diverts jobseekers to a career page. If your advert takes applicants from the job site to your company careers page then you’ll tend to lose over 90% of them. Don’t do this!

How to Track Applications

  • Suppose that you do have a good flow of qualified applicants. Now you need to keep track of them.
  • If you only recruit now and again you can probably make do with simple existing tools, such as spreadsheets or folders containing qualified, possibly qualified and unqualified applicants. You can add information as needed on the status of each applicant, such as whether a Telephone Interview has been arranged, whether they’ve been given a job offer, and so on.
  • Larger firms with more regular hiring needs, sometimes use Applicant Tracking Software. These often contain advanced features which are hard to learn and which you might not use. They’re also expensive. In the end, the simple solutions are often the best.

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p><ul><li>When filtering applicants, work hard to avoid all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race and sexuality.</li><li>Shortlist applicants every day.</li><li>To draw up your shortlist, do the following steps: review your Great Performance Profile, compare applicants to your required competencies and probe any areas on CVs that need exploring, divide applicants into qualified, possibly qualified and unqualified, and take action immediately.</li><li>If you don’t get enough qualified applicants consider whether you need to use more Applicant Attraction Channels, lower your expectations, improve your advert, offer more money, stop displaying your logo or stop directing applicants to your company career pages.</li><li>Keeping track of your applicants can usually be done perfectly well by means of simple tools like email and spreadsheets.</li></ul></p></div>

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Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

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We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment