How You Should be Using Screening Questions to Improve Your Hiring Processes

We know that reading through lots of CVs and cover letters can be time-consuming, especially when not all applicants may be appropriate. So many charities use application forms with specific questions to quickly assess whether a candidate might be a good match. But application forms come with a down side: they can strongly deter candidates. Research has shown that 60% of candidates have abandoned a job application they found too long or complex. So what’s the answer? Enter screening questions.

We’ve recently added customisable screening questions to our site to allow you to efficiently screen candidates on important criteria. This means you can quickly assess their suitability without using lengthy application forms. So what exactly are screening questions? And how can you use them most efficiently to streamline your recruitment process?

What are screening questions?

Screening questions are typically a short set of questions at the start of a job application process, used to highlight applicants who have the right skills and experience for a job, or to filter out those who don’t.

This feature can be used in a number of different ways.

How can you use screening questions?

There are many ways to make the most of these questions. You can use yes/no responses or open text answers in long or short formats, with a variety of different question types.

1. Skills-based questions

These questions can be used to measure if applicants have the desired work experience or specific skills for the job.

Do you have experience working with PowerBI?

Which specific coding languages do you work with? Please explain your level of confidence with each language.
[Short text answer]

2. Behavioural questions

Behavioural questions are used to show a candidate’s level of experience or knowledge based on their past behaviour. These can work well when used with an open text response option.

Explain how you have written and edited social media posts or blog posts to increase traffic to a charity’s website.
[Long text answer]

Describe a project that you’ve managed from start to finish, including any problems and how you resolved them.
[Long text answer]

3. Work-scenario questions

These are questions specific to the role you’re shortlisting for and they assess how a candidate would respond to a realistic work scenario.

A fundraising officer you line manage tells you in a 1:1 that they don’t feel supported in their team. How do you approach helping improve this situation?

[Short text answer]

4. Eligibility screening questions

These questions measure if an applicant is eligible for employment and may cover training, qualifications, salary expectations or notice periods etc. They are used to disqualify applicants from the process.

Do you have a current driver’s license?

Do you have the right to work in the UK?

When would you be available to start work?

Woman sitting looking thoughtful with pencil and paper in hand


Top tips for getting the most out of screening questions

Using screening questions

  1. Use instead of application forms
    We encourage charities to use these questions instead of application forms. Be aware that if you use them in addition, the application process will take longer and you risk losing candidates.
  2. Keep it short
    With the above in mind, don’t be tempted to ask too many screening questions. We recommend a maximum of five to seven. This will encourage more people to complete an application.
  3. Stick to essential criteria
    Only ask questions that relate to the essential skills and experience required for the role, otherwise you will put off some groups of candidates. For example, women are less likely to apply for jobs when they don’t feel they meet 100% of the criteria. To encourage women to apply, be mindful of whether your requirements are must-haves.
  4. Don’t be sector-specific
    Almost two thirds of our candidates are currently working outside the charity sector, but are looking to transfer their skills in. Avoid asking questions that would rule-out this large group of potential candidates.

Writing screening questions

  1. Use a marking framework
    Create a clear marking framework to score responses as objectively as possible. Work with others beforehand to decide what top, good, acceptable and poor answers each look like.
  2. Be focused
    Write clearly and succinctly and keep questions focused on a single attribute or skill.
  3. Be specific
    Be specific about the requirement, skill or behaviour you want to find out about. This will make it much easier to compare and assess answers. For example, replace ‘Describe your proficiency level in Microsoft Excel?’ with ‘Have you ever used a pivot table in Microsoft Excel?’
  4. Use the ‘action, object, purpose’ formula
    For behavioural questions, follow the action, object, purpose formula to define the behaviours needed from applicants.
    Action (e.g. writing and editing)
    Object (e.g. social media posts, blog posts)
    Purpose and context (e.g. to increase traffic to the charity’s website)
    You can then use these to ask applicants to describe their experience of the behaviour, using an open text answer box.

Are you using screening questions?

We’re continuing to look into the use and effectiveness of screening questions. To have your say and talk to us about how you use them, please email [email protected].

Related article: The Candidate Experience

Tags: charity recruitment, charity sector recruitment, diversity in recruitment, equality diversity and inclusion, finding the right people, hiring process, hiring the right people, inclusive recruitment, screening questions

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About the author

Lucy Hardy

Lucy Hardy is Research Manager at CharityJob.