What is Candidate Shortlisting?

Candidate shortlisting is the process of identifying candidates from your list of applicants to advance to the next stage in the hiring process (which could be a telephonic, video, or face-to-face interview). Recruiters use a list of must-have criteria to shortlist candidates. They remove candidates who don’t meet the criteria and reduce the list to a manageable size for the interviews. 

With the vastly changed post-covid environment, people with a broader skill set are applying for all possible jobs, including those who are geographically farther off too. With the increasing volume of incoming applicants for a job, this can feel overwhelming. But if you can effectively shortlist, then identifying and closing those impeccable candidates wouldn’t be that difficult. 

Effective steps to candidate shortlisting Effective steps to candidate shortlisting

Why is candidate shortlisting important?

Candidate shortlisting is critical to having an effective recruitment process because it shapes the recruitment funnel and decides which candidates progress in the process to eventually be hired. However, there are many other benefits to candidate shortlisting.

1. Streamlines your recruitment process 

Candidate Shortlisting helps define the different stages in the recruitment process, and the criteria required to advance candidates through each stage. This becomes the first step in visualizing your recruitment funnel and controlling/regulating the flow of applicants through it.

Without the candidate shortlisting process, there would be a lot of chaos and conflict over who should be advanced and why. There will also be the risk of advancing too few or too many candidates to the interview stages, resulting in bad hires, or months of back-to-back interviews trying to find the right candidate.

2. Empowers you to choose the right candidates for the job 

A candidate shortlisting process ensures that you define the criteria for selection at each recruitment stage, helping you and your team stay objective and unbiased throughout the hiring process. Even the interviewers have better clarity on what they are looking for; therefore they can offer better feedback and clearly convincing hiring decisions.

3. Elevates the overall candidate experience 

The candidate shortlisting process clearly shows if a candidate is going to be advanced, rejected, or wait-listed at each hiring stage. This clarity makes communication a lot easier. As soon as you have the results, you can let your candidates know if they have been successful or not. If you are not taking their candidature forward, you can also let them know why (since you would have some idea from the defined criteria).

With more clarity and timely communication, it just becomes easier to elevate the overall candidate experience during the hiring process.

4. Optimizes the time spent on interviews

By shortlisting candidates at the earlier stage of the recruitment process, you can filter out candidates that clearly don’t meet the selection criteria. Therefore, only candidates with a real chance of being hired are moved forward in the hiring process to the interview stages. This way, the number of interviews is cut short, and the interviewer’s time is saved and can be spent on evaluating candidates who show the potential to be hired.

5. Helps define standards for your sourcing and hiring team 

If you notice that most of your incoming applicants do not meet certain shortlisting criteria, it’s time to go back and emphasize that on your job descriptions and communicate it to your sourcing team - it’s a great way to set standards for your sourcing team, while also accelerating the quality of your incoming candidates. Similarly, the candidate shortlisting process also helps set standards for your interviewing teams. It course-corrects your methods and techniques before it’s too late and costly.  

9 steps to effective candidate shortlisting (Infographic)

1. Determine the shortlisting criteria

The first step in candidate shortlisting is to create a list of mandatory criteria, a list of must-haves. Then, note down the desirable criteria, a list that includes what is not absolutely essential to possess, but if they do, gives them bonus points. 

Once both of these have been cleared with the recruiting team or hiring manager, it must be clearly explained in the job description. As it is only through a proper job description you will get a relevant applicant pool. 

The Mandatory Criteria required can include

The Desired Criteria can require:


2. Deciding on the Length of the Shortlist

Depending on the size of your company, you should be getting a huge influx of CVs in your inbox. Deciding on the length of the shortlist at the beginning helps focus the process. The number is dependent on whether you are recruiting for one role or many. Some aim to interview 50% of the applicants. That is higher than the average. 

Also, remember, that 75% of the applicants are unqualified and 88% are not ready for the position. The supposed benchmark is 12%. As in, to shortlist 12 candidates out of every 100. 

If you are trying to fill one position, interviewing about 4- 5 candidates is a feasible task, but if you are trying to fill multiple positions, a tool (like custom application forms) to help filter the candidates, and then use that to shortlist, would help greatly. Be flexible, but also not too strict. Err on the side of choosing a few more candidates than is necessary.

3. Check for errors and inconsistencies

If you can effortlessly spot a pattern of typos, grammatical errors, and poor formatting, it could be pointing to a lack of interest or seriousness of the applicant. Some companies remove such applicants in the shortlisting stage itself.

On the other hand, skim for any professional gaps that have not been explained or job-hopping patterns that may be a sign of lack of commitment to work.

4. Leverage pre-screening tests 

While you are shortlisting, it’s crucial to be objective and unbiased. A great way to do that is by leveraging pre-employment assessments to screen for skills. 

For example, when you are screening for a technical role, you can send potential candidates a test from one of the tech test providers like HackerRank, or HackerEarth of Codility. This not only helps you screen purely based on tech skills without any bias but also saves a lot of your interviewers’ time.

5. Have over-the-phone or video interviews before face-to-face interviews 

Another time-saving step in addition to pre-employment assessments is to have a round of telephonic or video interviews before you invest time and resources in face-to-face interviews. 

Telepathic and video interviews are faster, require less commitment from the candidate, and can be done in the comfort of your homes or offices.

6. Create Scorecards

Once the mandatory and desired criteria are decided upon and clearly listed in the job description, the CV's should come flooding into your inbox. Before this happens, make sure to create a scorecard. 

It should contain the mandatory criteria, desired criteria, and value-added skills. This helps you and your team speed up the process. makes it efficient and helps maintain objectivity as well as protection from possible lawsuits. 


7. Communicating throughout the Process

Communicating to the preferred candidates throughout the process is important. These are candidates who have the most potential and have most likely applied to others jobs as well. If they are not kept in the loop, they might get disinterested and move forward with the companies that have been keeping in touch with them.
Once you have your shortlisted and know the candidates that make it,  be sure to send out an email to the candidates that have made it and let them know what the next step would be, whether that be a phone call, or video call, or a face-to-face interview. 

And do be considerate and inform the candidates that didn't make it as well. You can also save such candidates for later on in your talent pool if you think they’d be a good fit for your future roles.

8. Reference checks 

If you have already not collected references from your candidates, just send them this simple email asking for references. A reference check is needed to validate the vital information submitted by the candidates on the resume or during the interviews - information about their date of joining, duration of work, the capacity of work, and more. 

9. Let candidates know if they are not moving forward

Your hiring process is a huge opportunity to build your brand as an employer by creating a delightful candidate experience. Timely feedback plays a crucial role in this, even if you are not advancing the candidate or hiring them. So make it a point to let them know if you are not proceeding with their candidature. 

Set up simple automation to take care of it. You’ll be amazed at how simple things like this can elevate the image of your employer's brand. 

Also, make it a part of the recruiter's KPI. Otherwise many teams may not see what they have to do to respond to rejected candidates. 


Who should be involved in candidate shortlisting, and Why?

So, the number of candidates required for Candidate Shortlisting varies according to the size of the organization.

Best Practices in Candidate Shortlisting

Organizations need to have a set of principles and a procedure behind their recruitment process in order to prevent discrimination in the shortlisting process and also to protect themselves from applicants who might file a discrimination suit.

Other frequently asked questions around candidate shortlisting

1. How many candidates should be shortlisted?

Usually, about 10% to 20% of the applicants are shortlisted. This can be tough to do sometimes if there are many talented applicants in the applicant pool. It is better to err on the side of having a little bit more than is necessary. It also depends on factors such as popularity and the number of candidates that apply.


2. How long does the Candidate Shortlisting Process take?


The entire Candidate Shortlisting Process varies with time, depending on the number of job vacancies, the size of the organization, and the type of position that is being filled. i. e. entry-level, mid-level or senior level. 

For a startup or small business, it is most likely that there are only one or two vacancies at a time. Depending on the area the business is located in and the name it carries affects the number of incoming candidates and its quality. 

With proper marketing of the job vacancy, it can take from 1 to 2 weeks to get applicants. Once the CV's come in, the process is not elaborate and only a handful of people are involved. It can take another week to finish the interviews and to decide on the final candidate(s). It takes about a total of 3 weeks if things go smoothly. A week to shortlist.

For a moderately sized organization, where there are between 50 and 250 employees, there are potentially one to three vacancies at a time that are looking to be filled. Being more established, there will be a good response rate to the job ad. If two weeks are given for the role(s) to be filled, then again, it shouldn't take more than 2 weeks to finalize the candidate(s). 

For entry-level positions, it would take about 2 weeks, and for mid-level and senior-level positions, about 3 to 4 weeks, after going through all the rounds of interviews.

For large organizations, where the employee count is 250 or above, the number of vacancies at a time is numerous. Once the CVs are in, with an efficient shortlisting strategy, it should only take 2 to 3 weeks. For a higher level position, between 3 to 4 weeks.

3. What is the difference between Screening or Candidate Shortlisting?


Candidate Shortlisting is the process of sifting through the incoming CVs in response to a job ad, to fill either one or a few vacancies. While candidate screening is a process that happens after the Candidate Shortlisting takes place. It is imperative to screen the candidates and the finalized candidates before they can move on to the final round of interviews.

Shortlisting starts when a list is created of mandatory and desired criteria even before the job ad is written. Once the job ad is written with the criteria listed, the CVs start coming in. The CVs are compared to the Scorecard, which is a list of the name of the candidates, important criteria, and checkboxes. A shortlist is formed from the results of the scorecard.

The screening follows as an essential step, especially for higher-level positions, and fields like Healthcare. It must be performed for the safety of the company, the employees, and for the customers or patients. This can be done by a government agency or a private company. 

For Candidate Shortlisting, it is most usually done in-house, unless it's a startup or small business.


4. What is the best way to Shortlist Candidates?


There are 4 steps to it.