Screening Candidates

Don’t Overcomplicate Hiring! A Simple 5-step Screening Process You Need for Hiring Talent

Having hundreds to thousands of applicants for your job post is a great problem to have. On the one hand, there are so many people who want to work at your company and you can’t wait to sift through the applications. But then you realize – you have to sift through ALL of the applications.

Candidate screening is one of the hardest parts of hiring for any role, any many businesses struggle with it, regardless of the size and quality of their HR team. With this in mind, here’s a really simple candidate screening process for hiring that will make screening super simple, no matter the role or industry you’re hiring for.

1. Skills test

Wait, testing skills at the start of the screening process for hiring instead of the end? What’s that all about?

Truth is, many HR professionals leave testing for the very end of the pipeline. The reasoning is in place – if the candidate ticks all of the boxes, you test their skills to see if they can do the job.

There’s only one problem – many candidates can fake their way to the final stages of the hiring process. They can do this through:

  • Fabricated resumes
  • Excellent interview skills
  • Fake references
  • Persuading cover letters
  • And many other tactics.

In other words, by the time you find out someone can’t do the job they applied for, they’re at the very end of the pipeline. For this reason, testing candidate skills should be the very first step you take in your screening process for hiring.

For example, Toggl uses Toggl Hire as a tool to assess candidate skills early on. Using skills-based tests, they have been able to save 22 hours per single opening, as well as decrease the number of interviewed candidates by 72%.

Another reason why it’s beneficial to run a skills test at the very beginning is that there is no bias. As you only get to see the test results, there are no other elements to influence your decision, such as race, gender, age, education, experience, etc. All that matters is that the candidate can get the job done. After the test is done, you can move on to…

2. Resume check

In the world of recruitment, resumes are something like payphones in the world of communication. Sure, everyone knows their purpose, but they also know they’re far from the best way to get in touch with someone. Even recruiters don’t give resumes that much attention anymore – they spend an average of 6 seconds viewing each resume. With the average reading speed of about 300 words per minute, that means the recruiter can only read about 30 words on each resume.

most common lies on a resume
Source: CielHR

On the other hand, resumes are the mainstay of the HR world and they’re one of the best ways for candidates to show experience, education and relevant skills and a traditional part of the screening process for hiring. However, since you already know the candidate’s skills, let’s analyze the resume.


  • Work experience. Ideally listed with most recent in the first place. If the candidate listed their responsibilities in the position – even better.
  • Skills. Many candidates make a mistake and list character traits such as motivated team player in this section. It should contain actual work skills, such as specific IT skills (Photoshop, Microsoft Office) or foreign languages.
  • Education. A few of the most recent qualifications will do, there’s no need for the candidate to list their elementary school.
  • Contact information. The applicant should have an email address and a phone number for contact. Ideally, a professional email and not something like
  • Great length. One to two pages, anything more than that is overkill.
  • Catered to the job. The listed skills, education and work experience should be relevant to the position the candidate is applying for. If they’re using the spray and pray technique, they’re probably sending the same resume to all job applications.


  • Simple, clean structure. The resume should be fairly easy to read. Most recruiters will be content with a plain white background and Times New Roman, but candidates can go wild with resume templates.
  • Sharp spelling and grammar. A resume with a bunch of spelling mistakes and odd grammar speaks volumes about the candidate’s attention to detail… And the willingness to get the job.
  • A (decent) photo. If you ask candidates to include a photo, pay attention to their choice. While not everyone has to have a professional head shot, a selfie from a night out with the buddies simply won’t cut it.

Alternatively, you can run the resume through an applicant tracking system to save on time, but be aware of all the drawbacks of an ATS.

3. Scanning the cover letter

Similar to the CV, the cover letter has been around for so long that it’s become a natural part of the candidate screening process for hiring. Also, similar to the CV, not very many recruiters actually read cover letters.

As Ambra Benjamin (a recruiter for Facebook) states, companies with a large volume of applicants barely even have time to go over resumes, so candidate cover letters often don’t get read at all.

If you require a cover letter as part of your application process, make sure you actually do read it. Once you have your hands on it, here’s a few things to keep in check:

Originality. By this, I don’t mean that you should expect a story worthy of a Pulitzer. A lot of candidates use the same cover letter for each of their applications, and you can easily tell.

The cover letter should be suited for your specific job application. You can check this by making a requirement in the job ad, i.e. tell me about a situation where you had an outstanding performance at your previous job.

See what the candidate knows about you. The cover letter is a great opportunity for the candidate to sell themselves. However, it’s also an opportunity to show off how much they know about your company and what you do and ultimately, how interested they are in you as the employer.

See whom the letter is addressing. Following point number one, there are candidates who use an identical letter for each application, all the way down to the recipient’s name in the header.

If the job listing has information on the recruiter/HR manager who will be reading through the cover letter, it’s a nice touch if the candidate gets it instead of addressing “Dear Sir or Madam“ in the header.

Don’t be too strict. Not everyone has the literary skills of John Steinbeck. Forgive your applicants if they can’t write an ideal story, as long as they cover all the relevant details and their grammar and spelling are in check.

4. Online research

And now, the fun starts. You probably know a decent amount of information about the candidate, but it’s always good to find out some more. Since your pool of potential candidates is getting smaller, you can do a quick internet research before calling anyone in for an interview. And you won’t be alone either – 70% of employers use social media to research their candidates as part of the screening process for hiring.

First, a standard Google search. You can find out where the candidate is mentioned, if they have a personal blog or publication, if there are any relevant news about them, and so on.

The reason why searching online is in fourth place and not the first is because the information you get might influence your decision on whom you hire. In fact, in countries such as the USA, it’s illegal to make any hiring decisions influenced by candidate’s gender, age, religion or ethnic group. Your primary goal is to find the best person to do the job, which is why skills testing comes first.

Second, LinkedIn, as it’s naturally the first social media platform to look into. Pay attention to some of the profile basics, such as:

  • Headline
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Recommendations
  • Content that the candidate has published

At the same time, bear in mind that information on LinkedIn can be faked just as easily as a resume, so take everything with a grain of digital salt.

Third, Twitter. The candidate may not use it to tweet about industry-related topics, but you’ll get a glimpse of how they think and their overall personality before they even walk in for an interview.

Fourth, Facebook. The most revealing of all social media platforms, you should use it with caution. Monster suggests checking out an applicant’s Facebook profile only after you’ve met them for an interview, in order to avoid any legal issues.

However, there’s a multitude of information you can find out about a candidate from their Facebook profile that could affect your decision. Be it political incorrectness or lying about data relevant to the application, there is data that could be of great importance – provided that it’s public.

5. The interview

You’re getting impatient as your ideal candidate(s) have gone through 4 rounds of screening and it’s time to finally meet them in person. As we’ve mentioned in our previous article, there’s more than one way to go about it:

  • In-person interviews
  • Phone interviews
  • Video interviews
  • One-way video interviews

As many candidates may still be working with a different employer, or they have to travel to come in for an interview, in-person is the least practical method on the list. Whichever the option you choose, there are some general tips to keep in mind.

Learn more about the candidate. Just as you expect the candidate to perform well, the same will be expected of you. Do your research and look over everything the candidate has submitted – skills test, resume, cover letter, as well as the information from searching online.

Prepare your questions in advance. Once you look over the available data, ask about everything that’s unclear. Be it a work history gap, unusual career switch, a highly relevant skill, an interesting hobby – now is the time to ask. It’s also a great shot to discuss the results of the skills test.

Prepare to sell yourself. Interviews are like first dates, and it’s not just the candidate that has to woo you, it also works the other way around. Present the company and the position in the best light, outlining all of the perks, benefits and other information relevant to the position.

Have a plan. The average job interview takes 30-60 minutes, depending on the medium, position, industry and other factors. On the other hand, the candidate can spend years working for you, so use your time wisely. As you will be making a crucial decision based on the interview, ensure you take notes, ideally filling out a worksheet that you prepared beforehand.

To save time, have several people (recruiter, HR manager, CEO) sit in for the interview so everyone is aligned and there’s no need for additional interviews. Alternatively, you can record the interview, with the candidate’s consent.

If all goes well, you’re just about ready to make an offer, but first…

(Optional) Reference check

At this point, you should have all the necessary information to make an educated decision about your new hire. However, if you still want to ensure that the applicant performed well in their previous positions, you can always perform a reference check. This can be done by your in-house HR staff or outsourced, but the principle remains the same.

However, since you’ve already started the process with a skills test, you can leave reference checking as optional, as you should have a good idea about the candidate’s performance.

To recap…

If you have hundreds of job applicants, don’t fret, because there’s a simple 5-step process to make screening super simple, and it’s as follows:

  1. Skills test
  2. Resume check
  3. Cover letter check
  4. Online research
  5. Interview
  6. Reference check

If you want to make the most out of your hiring efforts, check out Toggl Hire to shortlist your applicants at the very start, using a relevant skills-based test. Happy hiring!

September 5, 2018