How to Shortlist the Right Candidates?

When it’s time to shortlist the top candidates and decide who you want to have an initial conversation with and/or invite in for an interview, we all know finding that one great candidate who is the right fit for your company can be time-consuming.

However, if you perfect your shortlisting strategy early on, this can be a much smoother process.


Learning how to shortlist candidates is a huge part of creating a more efficient recruitment strategy. Follow the practical steps below to help make this part of the process a little less intimidating, and more manageable.

Identify essential and desirable criteria  

To start, assess key criteria that you feel are needed for the role and categorise these into ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’. For example, if you were hiring for a developer position within an IT department, they will need to be proficient in certain areas in order to be successful in the role. This would therefore be an ‘essential’ requirement.

On the other hand, ‘desirable’ criteria could be that the candidate needs to have a degree in a particular subject, or to have a certain amount of experience in your industry. While you want to find the perfect candidate, being too strict could prevent you from hiring someone with great potential. Therefore, it’s all about striving for the right balance.

By splitting out your criteria into these categories, you’ll be able to find the candidates that tick all of the right boxes. Plus, this is a great way to compare candidates more easily.

Consider further screening tests

Alongside this, it’s worth considering what aptitude, competency, or other skills tests you can implement to see whether your candidates have the right skills. Many companies will use these throughout the application process. So it’s up to you whether you want candidates to complete them when they apply, or after you’ve reviewed their application.

With this information at hand, you can create a no, yes and maybe pile to help make the shortlisting process easier.

Be vigilant when reviewing the CVs

Poor attention to detail is a red flag with any candidate; sift out those whose CVs appear to use poor grammar and are riddled with typos and errors. After all, this shows that they haven’t proof read their CV properly. Other issues, such as poor formatting, should be a focus if you have a lot of CVs to work through.

You may also want to watch out for inconsistent fonts, a poor structure and an overall unprofessional feel. These mistakes may show that your candidate isn’t taking the role seriously.

Look into any inconsistencies

We’ve all come across the professional job hopper. While moving jobs more frequently is becoming increasingly acceptable in today’s working world, it’s worth watching out for those with unexplained gaps or inconsistencies on their CV. These could indicate an uncommitted attitude which is best avoided if you’re seeking a long-term reliable asset to your team. Taking a proactive approach to this ensures that you’ll have the confidence to put them in your ‘no’ pile.

Think about how many candidates you want to interview

Having a clear idea of how many people you want to interview is important when perfecting your recruiting process. This ensures that you won’t be left with too many, or too little, candidates at the end. Think realistically about how many people you can feasibly meet with and consider what’s worked well in the past.

Be strict with this number, but don’t limit yourself too much if you’re bombarded with candidates who all seem like they could be the right fit. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss out on someone simply because you set yourself a cut-off point.

Screen candidates before face-to-face interviews

Interviews can be time-consuming so it can be helpful to have a short Skype chat or a phone call before you commit to a face-to-face meeting. This could not only save you time but also enables you to address any burning questions you may have for the candidate. The phone call doesn’t have to be long. It could be five minutes or so for you to check that they’re worth inviting in to meet.

Check for the red flags

While you may overlook certain mistakes made by a candidate that appears to be the perfect fit, there are certain rules that are unforgivable during the recruitment processes. Red flags include dis-organisation or uprofessionalism, so if your candidate takes a long time to reply, misses your screening telephone call and appears to lack common decencies over email, these could be cause for concern.

After all, these suggest that the candidate isn’t taking the position seriously and that they could have a bad attitude.

Check up on references

References are a great resource for some extra reassurance on your candidate. Having another opinion about a candidate’s work ethic could be helpful to decide if they are the right fit for your company culture. Plus, checking this avoids any serious issues such as those who lie about where they previously worked or their current position.