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11 min read

The essential guide to shortlisting candidates for interview

Shortlisting candidates helps to eliminate the risk of bias and speed up hiring. Learn more about the shortlisting process in our comprehensive guide.

What is candidate shortlisting?

Candidate shortlisting, also known as candidate screening, is the process of reviewing job applications and using predetermined criteria to create a list of candidates most suited to a role. This list of qualified candidates will then proceed to the next stage of the process.

Why should recruiters shortlist candidates?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as job applications pile up. The process of shortlisting candidates can help, whittling down the numbers to just those suitable for the role.

Shortlisting in the recruitment process can also provide insights into your hiring practices. You may not attract enough suitable candidates, which could mean you need to rethink your job advertisements and sourcing methods.

How long should your shortlist be?

Numerous factors will influence the number of candidates you shortlist, including:

  • Applications received: More applicants should mean more suitable candidates for you to choose from.
  • Shortlisting criteria: The more specific the criteria, the shorter the list will be. If you have niche requirements for a technical or specialist role, it is unlikely a large number of applicants will satisfy them.
  • Interviewing: Your organisation may have an approach to conducting interviews that involves a large or small pool of talent. Looking back at previous recruitment drives can help determine the best shortlist size for your organisation.
  • Historic hiring: Key stats from previous recruitment can help inform future hiring. For example, you might have an application-to-interview conversion rate of 20%, an interview to offer rate of 25%, and a 50% likelihood of interviewees accepting offers. So, if you receive 100 applications, you should shortlist 20 and have 5 to attend the interview stage.

How to shortlist candidates

Let’s look at how you can easily identify the most suitable applicants for your vacancy and create a shortlist that allows you to find the ideal candidate.

1. Ensure you have a clear job description

A well-written job description can help determine your shortlisting criteria. So, when writing your job descriptions, always consider:

  • Which skills and traits are desirable, essential or required
  • How many years of experience are necessary?
  • What are the key day-to-day responsibilities of the role?
  • What benefits are on offer?
  • What are your company values?

    2. Establish your criteria

    Key to any shortlist is the criteria for selecting candidates, which is usually split into essential and desirable categories. Both are important for differentiating between candidates.

    Candidates must meet essential criteria to be considered for a role. These are non-negotiable for applicants to carry out the job effectively. Essential criteria could include:

    • Academic qualifications (GCSEs, A-levels, etc.)
    • Industry experience
    • Relevant skills and knowledge
    • Willingness to relocate
    • The legal right to work in the UK

      On the other hand, desirable criteria comprises the ‘nice to haves’ that help candidates stand out. Desirable criteria for a role might include:

      • Access to transport
      • Soft skills (like good communication)
      • Specialised industry knowledge
      • Additional languages
      • Willingness to travel

        Let’s look at the example of the essential and desirable criteria for a financial controller at a healthcare service provider:

        • Candidates must hold a professional accountancy qualification (essential)
        • 5+ years post-qualification experience (desirable)
        • Extensive experience in financial systems, accounting processes and controls (essential)
        • Experience running payroll processes and systems (essential)
        • Excellent verbal and written communication skills (essential)
        • Advanced Microsoft Excel skills (essential)
        • Knowledge and experience of healthcare or related sectors (desirable)
        • Experience in NetSuite and Sage Payroll (desirable)

          3. Create a candidate scorecard

          A scorecard is a simple table that records the extent to which each applicant meets the specified criteria. The higher the candidate’s match the more points they receive.

          Once your criteria is defined, creating a scorecard for each candidate is easy, and this can be done anonymously to avoid bias or prejudice. You simply rate each candidate by score, with no other information, such as age, gender or name impacting the process.

          Let’s look at an example of how a scorecard system works. First, you need to assign a numerical value to each criterion depending on its importance to the job. In this example:

          • Essential criteria = 3 points
          • Preferred criteria = 2 points
          • Desirable criteria = 1 point

            You can then review candidates and assign them points based on whether they meet each criterion, as shown in the below table:

            Candidate IDEssential CriteriaPreferred CriteriaDesirable CriteriaTotal Score
            1. Degree-level education / 2. 1+ years experience in journalism1. Advanced experience with Microsoft Office1. Speaks a second language / 2. Clean driving licence
            Candidate A6/62/20/28
            Candidate B3/60/21/24
            Candidate C6/60/21/27

            4. Reduce bias

            To ensure exceptional candidates aren’t overlook, recruiters should remain objective throughout the shortlisting process, not allowing their perception of a candidate to cloud their judgement. Under the UK Equality Act 2010, eliminating candidates under a protected characteristic is forbidden. This includes:

            • Age
            • Disability
            • Race
            • Religion or belief
            • Sex
            • Sexual orientation
            • Pregnancy and maternity
            • Gender reassignment

              To ensure you avoid accusations of unlawful discrimination, you should look to actively reduce subconscious and conscience bias. Involving two or more experienced HR or talent acquisition specialists in the process can help with this.

              5. Select your top performers

              Once you’ve eliminated the candidates you feel aren’t qualified you can begin to add the strongest candidates to your shortlist. The list may have some exceptional candidates, or you may be able to assess their skill sets and pick those with the most potential.

              ‘Screening in’ rather than ‘screening out’ is a positive way to approach hiring and can help diversify your talent pool.

              6. Notify candidates

              All applicants should be notified whether they are shortlisted or not. Timely and transparent communication helps support your employer brand and ensure a positive candidate experience.

              Below is a sample email for a successful candidate you have decided to invite to interview:

              Subject: Invitation to interview at [company]

              Hi [candidate name],

              Thank you for applying for the [role] at [company]. After reviewing your application, we are pleased to say you have been shortlisted for the position.

              We would now like to invite you to the interview stage. You will meet with [interview name and job role] to discuss the role’s responsibilities and your suitability. Please let us know your availability on [interview date], and we can arrange a suitable time.

              We look forward to hearing from you.


              [Recruiter name]

              While it is disappointing not to be shortlisted, candidates appreciate being informed so they can continue their job search. The below email is an example you can send to unsuccessful candidates:

              Subject: Your application to [company name]

              Hi [candidate name],

              Thank you for your application for the role of [role] at [company]. After careful consideration, we will not be moving forward with your application. We will keep your application on file for future opportunities and encourage you to apply for future roles when they become available.

              Again, thank you for taking the time to apply.

              Kind regards,

              [Recruiter name]

              Best practices to streamline shortlisting

              Whilst new tools like ChatGPT can be leveraged for manual tasks like creating outreach copy and preparing interview questions, there are a variety of tried and tested methods to enhance the process of shortlisting applicants. Let’s look at some of these in detail.

              CV screening

              A comprehensive review of each candidate’s CV allows you to determine if they meet the criteria for the role. To carry out effective CV screening in the hiring process, recruiters need to:

              • Spot errors: Obvious flaws and errors can help reveal undesirable traits in a candidate. Keep equal opportunities in mind, however, as some individuals with specific learning disabilities may have affected writing skills.
              • Find inconsistencies: CVs with missing information may indicate career-related issues, which should be explored further. There can be valid reasons for job hopping, for example, especially in a post-pandemic world where careers have been impacted unexpectedly.
              • Identify red flags: Beware of CVs overloaded with jargon or buzzwords, as candidates can use this technique to deceive AI-based applicant tracking systems. As a result, these CVs may not accurately reflect a candidate’s true experience.
              • Check references: While it’s not necessary to contact the referee of every candidate, you can search for them online or check their LinkedIn profile. While candidates are unlikely to fabricate references, it doesn’t hurt to check.

              Blind applicant screening

              Everyone has biases, but if they influence the hiring process you could be contravening the Equality Act 2010 and breaking the law on top of missing out on top talent.

              Blind applicant screening removes candidates’ identifying features from their application, helping reduce the risk of bias creeping in and ensuring candidates advance to the next stage of the hiring process purely on merit.

                Open-minded applicant screening

                Research from the University of Oxford found applicants from an ethnic minority background had to send 60% more applications to get a positive response from an employer compared to white British jobseekers. Further to this, our research found it takes Black and South Asian women one and half a more months on average to secure their first job compared to white men.

                An open-minded, competency-based screening approach can help reduce prejudice. No assumptions should be made, only the information provided should reflect how the applicant is viewed. This screening of candidates may also involve the input of more than a single hiring manager to ensure impartiality.

                Psychometric testing

                Psychometric testing allows employers to assess a candidate’s intelligence, potential and personality, checking whether what the candidate says on paper can be transferred to the workplace. It can measure various characteristics, from verbal reasoning to personality and situational judgement.

                It can also reveal aptitudes a candidate might not be aware of. These tests are also particularly good for highlighting soft skills in high demand in many workplaces, functioning as a great additional screening method for borderline candidates whose capabilities you want to explore further.

                Shortlisting FAQs

                How do I determine the most important shortlisting criteria?

                Most recruiters will argue experience is the most important criteria of all. For some professions, a specific qualification is required. However, many employers are more interested in skills candidates have developed during their careers.

                Skills-based hiring allows you to minimise biases and ensure inclusivity. For example, a clean driving licence is more important than high-level academic qualifications for a delivery driver.

                How many recruiters should work on a shortlist?

                It’s important to have more than one person working on your shortlists, as this helps reduce the potential for bias. Where this isn’t possible, it is even more important to consider screening techniques like blind applicant screening and anonymous scorecards.

                Should I use software to create my candidate shortlists?

                There is a growing range of software applications designed to help with shortlisting, including tools utilising artificial intelligence to scan CVs and recognise candidates that meet the shortlisting requirements. There are also tools like our CV database which utilise the latest smart technology to match candidates to their ideal role.

                Remember, relying solely on technology for your shortlists may mean you miss out on fantastic candidates with relevant experience and skills the software doesn’t recognise. Even as candidates become comfortable with the utilisation of AI in the early stages of the hiring process, the human touch remains vital for fair and effective shortlisting.

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