Top Tips for Shortlisting Candidates

So you’ve posted a stellar job ad and your applications are rolling in. But the process of shortlisting candidates can feel daunting. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, 80% of businesses reported facing challenges when it came to recruitment in the first quarter of 2023, and 92% of these are small or medium-sized organisations.

Shortlisting the right candidate can be a tricky task but, once you put in the time and effort, you’ll see the benefits for your role and organisation.

So how do you go about selecting which candidates to prioritise and who should ultimately be called for an interview? Here are our five top tips that will lead you to the perfect hire.

1. Screen against your required skills 

At  job ad writing stage, consider separating the skills that you’re looking for into two groups —required and desirable. Make it clear you’re willing to consider people who don’t have all the skills if they can show a clear ability to grow.

The first step in the process of shortlisting candidates should then be based on whether the candidates possess the required, non-negotiable skills that you outlined. But consider whether what you’re asking for is really necessary. For example, maybe someone doesn’t have a degree but has proven their skills in other ways. Rather than asking where this person went to university, ask whether this person has shown demonstrable growth in their career.

2. Consider the unconscious bias in your process 

All of us have some degree of unconscious bias, which can take the form of discrimination based on ethnicity, race, age, gender and other factors. Biases lead us to make less than perfect hiring decisions, meaning that some top candidates can fall through the cracks.

Those with ethnic names are less likely to be invited for an interview, compared to those with white British-sounding names. That’s why it’s worth making your recruitment process anonymous.

When you post a job using CharityJob Recruiter, you have the option to anonymise the applications you receive. Our platform will remove key personal details, such as names and email addresses until first contact with the applicant.

Empathy and recruitment

3. Use screening questions for filtering candidates

Using two or three screening questions to assess applicants along with their CV is a great way to help you shortlist the right candidate.

Asking screening questions allows you to assess candidates’ responses against the skills and experience that are required of the role. It may also draw out relevant skills and information from the candidate which may have otherwise been excluded from their CV.  An example of a screening question for an admin or data role could be, ‘Do you have experience using Excel?’.

You could also ask a very brief task-based question to get a better idea of their working style and thought processes when it comes to approaching a task. However, it might be more suitable to wait until later in the process to ask candidates to complete longer tasks, so as not to put them off from applying.

Implementing screening questions helps identify potential candidates who you may have missed out on if you were to only look at their CV. This also gives candidates a quick and easy chance to sell themselves.

4. Have a diverse panel

To reduce bias when shortlisting candidates, it’s best to involve a diverse selection of people. Having diverse representation and diversity of thought within the panel means that there will be reduced bias, as the decision is not based on just one person’s subjective interpretation.

Providing hiring managers with regular training and refreshers on shortlisting candidates can also be beneficial and effective. This means they are kept up to date with the most effective methods and best practices on how to review candidates effectively and fairly.

Thoroughly going through the job description before reviewing applications means that you’re aware of the criteria and what to look out for in a prospective candidate. It’s a good idea to create a scoring scale for this criteria. For example, you could score candidates out of three for each essential skill or experience level, where one means they partially meet the criteria, two means they fully meet the criteria and three means they exceed it.

Each member of the panel should review the applications individually before you discuss and combine your scores. This allows for a more subjective judgement of the candidate, as you’re less likely to be influenced by each other.

Spending time and effort carefully reviewing each application in this way means that you’re much more likely to choose the best talent out of a pool of candidates.

Diversity in candidates

5. Be sure to let candidates know your decision either way

Take the time to contact candidates directly if they’ve been unsuccessful at any stage of the recruitment process. In the early stages, a simple email is enough, but if you’ve put them through to interview stage, it’s best practice to give them feedback on why they weren’t selected for the role. This should ideally be done over the phone.

Being professional and honest will leave a lasting positive impression on the candidate—they’ll be more inclined to recommend you to their network or to apply for other relevant positions in the future.

A survey we conducted revealed that a huge 79% of applicants would be less likely to apply for a role with an organisation that hadn’t responded to them in the past. This indicates how important it is for charities to respond to candidates so that they’re updated on the job application process. Because of this, we launched the #GetBackToMe campaign, encouraging recruiters to always get back to candidates, no matter what stage their application gets to.

It may be that some of these steps require more effort than others but, once put in place, they’ll have long term positive outcomes. Implementing these steps for shortlisting candidates means that you can fairly and effectively recruit the best candidate to fill your role.

CharityJob Recruiter allows you to filter CVs with keyword search, easily communicate with candidates, evaluate applications and, perhaps most importantly, to help remove unconscious bias from your process. Why not try it today? It’s free with every job posted.


This post was originally published in 2021 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience.


Tags: attracting the right candidates, diversity in recruitment, finding the right people, hiring process, shortlist, shortlisting

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About the author

Jinsha Joshy

Jinsha is Research Executive at CharityJob.