6 simple steps to build a candidate shortlist
Building a strong candidate shortlist is a critical step in the recruitment process. It saves time and money and will help you to find the most prized candidate for your role. Here are some simple steps to help you get it right.

You’ve done a lot of the hard work by writing up the job description, setting up recruitment timelines and advertising your role. Now it’s time for you to wait for the applications to hit your inbox. But what exactly do you do when they come flooding in and how do you build a strong candidate shortlist that will help you find the perfect person for the job?

According to Clare Vague, Head of People Partnering at Tennis Australia, the answer is simple: “candidate shortlists should be about quality over quantity.”

The ideal application to shortlist ratio

Striking the right number for a shortlist is challenging, as you want to have a small enough pool where you can efficiently manage the recruitment minutiae but enough options to ensure you extract that prized candidate.

Higher volume roles may require you to shortlist all candidates who satisfy your criteria, but for more niche recruitment Vague advises that the initial shortlist should consist of no more than ten candidates.

“This shortlist should then progress to a phone interview and then ideally no more than six should move to first-round interviews,” she says.

How key are the competencies?

It’s imperative that you define exactly what you want your perfect candidate to look like from the get-go. Your job description should clearly articulate a set of essential and desirable criteria and a minimum level of skill needed to do the job, “so that candidates understand the role they are applying for and how their experiences match,” Vague comments.

Use these criteria as a yardstick for whether or not candidates make the shortlist and set up a scorecard where a weight is attributed to each criterion. This will ensure you are being objective with each application and will help identify who is ranking well from the outset.

Deal breakers

Major warning signs like a poorly presented resume, no transferable skills or too much job hopping should automatically set alarm bells ringing but, according to Rachel Handasyde, Director at Copper Road Consulting, red flags can also include the reasons they left their last job.  “How a candidate speaks about their former employer and the tone of voice they use can tell you a lot about who they are,” she adds.

The right fit

According to Vague, “cultural fit is the most critical part of the recruitment process,” so including your company values in a job description is paramount.  It doesn’t matter how great a person sounds on paper if they don’t align with the behaviours and beliefs of your organisation they won’t stick around for long.  Or, if they do they are more likely to produce poor quality work or create a toxic work environment.

Copper Road Consulting also places a big emphasis on cultural fit. As Handasyde comments, “you can train, refine or improve technical or hard skills however you can’t do this with soft skills.” That’s why it is so important to consider things like “how this person would work with the others in the team around them and whether the core values of the business match up with theirs,” she says.

Considering what a candidate will bring to the team in terms of diversity, specialised skills or even alternative viewpoints should also be explored.

Above and beyond an application

Testing measures can also be useful if you receive a glut of strong applications or where all candidates interview well, and you are struggling to narrow the shortlist down.

Psychometric testing helps you to identify capabilities and working styles and case studies give you great insight into how someone will perform in the actual role, given they usually mimic real workplace scenarios.

Many large organisations now have their own assessment centres and online pre-employment tools as a way of screening applicants coming through the system.

Communication is key

Once you’ve worked through the sourcing phase, it’s important to manage expectations and keep preferred candidates in the loop.

To achieve this, Vague sets timelines at the start of a recruitment process and aims to stick to these. She also tries to be creative in the styles of communication. “If it’s short and sharp, use text message, everyone has a phone on them,” she says.

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