The Brief Guide to Candidate Shortlisting: Tools, Tips & Techniques
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The Brief Guide to Candidate Shortlisting: Tools, Tips & Techniques

James Elliott James Elliott Last Updated:

Shortlisting candidates is one of the toughest yet most beneficial parts of the hiring process. Get candidate shortlisting right, and you’ll be well on your way to hiring a superstar. But, get it wrong, and you won’t just waste time and effort, but you’ll increase your risk of a bad hire.

In this article, we’ll look at all things candidate shortlisting. First we’ll explore what it is and why it’s so important. Then, we’ll show you what good shortlisting looks like and introduce you to some tools that make it simple, structured, and risk-free.

Let’s go!

What is Candidate Shortlisting?

Candidate shortlisting is the process of reducing a large volume of candidates down to a small list to take forward in the hiring process. Shortlisting comes after the sourcing phase (typically a job advert/social media campaign) and is part of the wider screening process, where all your applicants are evaluated and filtered down to a select few.

To do this, recruiters assess the applicant pool against a shortlist criteria. This is essentially a list of skills, knowledge, competencies, or experiences that a candidate needs to have to do the job. You’ll make the list if you meet all/most of the criteria. If you don’t, you’ll be rejected for the role.

But it isn’t always that cut and dry. Shortlist criteria are often broken down into essential and desirable criteria to give recruiters some flexibility when hiring the right person.

As we’ll see later on, the way businesses complete their shortlisting process is very different. Some of the variables include:

  • How companies shortlist – technology vs. manual
  • What they shortlist on – skills vs. experience vs. personality
  • When they shortlist – straight after sourcing or later on

But one thing they all have in common is structure. However or whenever you decide to do your shortlisting, it needs to follow a consistent process. Don’t believe us? Read on to find out why!

Why is it Important to Have a Structured Screening and Shortlisting Process?

It sounds like common sense to have a structured approach to shortlisting, right? Well, you’d be surprised how many companies don’t have a consistent way to create a shortlist, assess qualified candidates against a set of criteria (not opinions), and move forward the right candidates to the interview stage.

If that’s you, here are some of the key benefits you’re missing out on:

  1. It speeds up your recruitment process. Having a structured, streamlined approach to shortlisting helps your recruitment process go faster. It’s easy for recruiters to pull up a checklist of criteria, score candidates against that checklist, and then move on to the next one. And when over half (52%) of talent acquisition professionals say screening candidates is the hardest part of recruitment, it just makes sense to make it faster.
  2. It helps you choose the best candidates & reduce the risk of a bad hire. After speed comes quality. Having a consistent shortlisting process will help you better spot top talent within your applicant pool and decide who’s moving forward. That improves your hiring success rate and reduces the risk of a bad hire.
  3. It helps you waste less time on bad interviews. As a recruiter, your biggest time investment is supporting the hiring manager with interviews. That’s especially frustrating when the candidate shouldn’t have been there in the first place. A consistent approach helps weed out poor candidates and leaves you with the best applicants for the rest of the recruitment process. And hitting the primary recruitment KPIs becomes that much easier when every hiring pipeline stage is optimized for best performance.
  4. It improves the candidate experience. The benefits aren’t just one-sided, as a consistent approach to shortlisting creates a smooth, seamless experience for candidates too. That means whatever the outcome, the candidate comes away impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of your organization.
  5. It helps to align your hiring team and establish standards. Lastly, consistency is great for the working model of your team too. Not only does everyone know exactly how things should be done, but it also establishes a good standard of operation and keeps everyone honest and transparent.

What Does a Great Shortlisting Process Look Like? Essential and Desirable Criteria

So, now that you know why shortlisting is essential, it’s time to see how it’s done. If you’re building a process to shortlist candidates, here are some things to consider to make it a great one.

  1. Have strict criteria and stick to them. When screening, it’s essential to have a robust set of shortlisting criteria. These will cover several things, but skills, abilities, and experience are some of the main ones. That’s also why writing a strong, tailored job description that clearly outlines key requirements is crucial, or you’ll end up with a high volume of irrelevant applications. And once the criteria are established, the key is to stick to them, regardless of the number of candidates in your pool or how many candidates you want to progress.

    Candidate shortlisting - essential and desirable criteria
  2. Select your screening method. There are many ways to go about screening and shortlisting. Traditionally, recruiters would sift through CVs and manually tick off the relevant essential criteria until they reached the bottom of the pile. That’s pretty time intensive. So nowadays, recruiters use technology to make the process slick, utilizing ATS systems, skills tests, or pre-recorded video interviews.

    With Toggl Hire, hiring teams have the ability to screen and shortlist candidates based on performance. With the option to stack different types of skills test into a role-specific assessment flow, recruiters and managers can rely on test scores to spot the most qualified candidates.
  3. Decide on how big your shortlist will be. Next, think about how many candidates you want to take forward into the rest of your process. This will largely depend on the role and the number of applicants, but the best practice is to shortlist 2-5 candidates.
  4. Decide on how you’ll score candidates. To create that consistency, you’ll need a way to score candidates against the shortlist criteria. Most people do this on a points-based system, also known as a candidate scorecard. If a candidate fully meets the criteria, they score one point. If they partially meet it, they score half a point. Add points together, and the top scorers make up the shortlist.

    Example of a candidate scorecard if you're screening applicants manually.
  5. Remember to create a great candidate experience. Running through all of this is the candidate, so take some time to consider them and their needs. Shortlisted candidates need to receive a slick experience when progressing to the next stage, with rejected candidates being let down gently. Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes on how you’d like to be treated, and create a shortlisting process that’s fast, full of feedback, and engaging.
Example of a candidate rejection email in the Toggl Hire email library.

3 Innovative Shortlisting Tools You Probably Didn’t Know About

If you’re looking to level up the way you shortlist candidates, then you need to leverage the power of recruitment tools. Luckily, there are loads of great systems out there to help you separate qualified candidates from the rest.

Here are some of our favorite tools.

#1 – Toggl Hire – Use Skills Assessments to Screen & Shortlist Candidates

When it comes to shortlisting candidates, there aren’t many better ways to improve your hiring process than to adopt skills testing. Not only is it a great way to automatically shortlist candidates, but it’s also fun and engaging for candidates.

With Toggl Hire, you can launch skills tests in 2 clicks with pre-built assessment templates. Screen and shortlist on autopilot.

At Toggl Hire, we’re all about skills assessments. In just two clicks, create tests for roles from software development to HR, with hundreds of questions to choose from, all created by industry experts. From there, invite as many candidates as you like to take the test. Then our analytics dashboard makes applicant tracking easy, with a clear view of who scored best and who to take forward.

If you like the sound of that, see how we do it below with our Hiring Pipeline.

#2 – Tap Into Specialized Learning Programmes to Find Great-Fit Candidates

If you want to help your candidates through the shortlisting process, BitDegree’s training-led screening could be for you. Their innovative approach to the hiring process means you educate candidates to a point where they have the skills you need.

That makes shortlisting candidates easier as you actually teach the candidate the knowledge they’ll need to meet your desired criteria. Because of this, the engagement approach is different, too. Here, traditional job descriptions are swapped out for a marketing campaign that targets passive candidates.

You can learn more at the BitDegree TAP homepage.

#3 – Use AI to Shortlist Candidates in a Scientific Way

If you want a way to revolutionize your talent acquisition pipeline, then Plum.io could be a great option for you. Based on AI algorithms, Plum helps you identify the personality, problem-solving, and social intelligence traits required for any role. And through their data-driven tests, the tool helps you shortlist and move forward with the best-fit candidates.

The platform also has several anti-cheating measures, helping you remove bias against protected characteristics, basing decisions solely on ability. That means no more wasting time with people you don’t really want to interview.

If you’d like to learn more about Plum.io, visit their website here.

Summary – Use Smart Shortlisting to Hire Better Candidates

If you need ways to hire better candidates, getting on top of your shortlisting is the best way to move forward. After all, shortlisting is the process of identifying your best-fit candidates from a pool of applicants, helping you take the right candidates forward to interview.

But with so many applicants and so little time, shortlisting accurately and consistently is a difficult task. That’s why the best companies turn to tools like Toggl Hire. They use skills tests to screen candidates on their actual knowledge and abilities to create a shortlist of high-quality talent.

If you want to speed up your recruitment process while improving the quality of your candidates, why not check out Toggl Hire right now by signing up for your free account?

James Elliott

James Elliott is a Strategy Manager and Writer from London, UK. When not working on the day job, James writes on a variety of business and project management topics with a focus on content that enables readers to take action and improve their ways of working. You can check out James’ work on his website or by connecting on LinkedIn.

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