Shortcuts to shortlists

Posted by | February 18, 2020 | Employers, How to change jobs, Recruiting tips

Shortcuts to shortlists

Often when you list a job, you will be flooded with applicants – some perfect for the role, and some….. not so perfect. The more applications you get, the more overwhelming it can feel when the time comes time to filter out your faves.

Putting in place a good system to deal with applications and to screen CVs starts to become important – especially if you are doing it often.

Good screening processes can bring many benefits to a company including:

  • Increased productivity from having the right new employee join your team
  • The time you will save by streamlining your hiring process. Estimates suggest that for just one new hire, it can take 20+ hours to screen CVs and identify those to bring in to an interview.
  • The money you save by NOT hiring the wrong employee, and then having to go through the process of either training or letting them go.

Below I discuss some steps you can take to optimise your screening process and get the right talent, faster.


Criteria and must-haves

 Get some of the hard work out the way first, by making sure you attract the right candidates in the first place. A well thought through job advert should be super specific around the criteria you’re looking for, and the kind of person that would thrive in your organisation.  

These criteria should be the framework of your entire decision-making process.

So, start by making a sheet that organises your criteria in order of importance. Often criteria will include:

  • Previous work experience
  • Skills
  • Quantifiable past achievements
  • Educational or qualification requirements 
  • Certifications
  • Good spelling and grammar

For example, quantifiable past achievements are particularly important in fundraising. For a fundraiser, helping another organisation raise a certain amount of money is an important figure. Likewise, lifeguards might not have saved a certain number of people from drowning, however, the right safety certificates are a key factor when evaluating someone for this role. 

Make sure you’ve already thought long and hard about who the ideal candidate for the job is before CVs start rolling in. 


Yes, Nope and Maybe  

The average job opening gets many applicants, as you’ve likely noticed. You’ll want to start thinning the herd into three piles: yes, no and maybe.  Look at things like: 

#1. Who followed instructions

One way to eliminate CVs is to see who has followed your application instructions – did you request they fill in an application form, apply through a certain page, send you a video, add a cover letter? If the candidates didn’t meet these criteria you may want to move them to your No or Maybe file pretty quickly.

#2. Who shows attention to detail

Depending on the job criteria and the type of role, one quick way to reduce your pile of CVs is to look for simple mistakes. Getting hired is a big deal, so it makes sense that the right candidate would at least double-check their CV, put effort and time into an application for a job they really want and pay attention to detail. So, toss all the CVs that look a bit hurried, have loads of spelling mistakes, and the general formatting is inconsistent, into your maybe pile for now.

#3. Who has shared too much or too little

Too much or too little information are things you should look out for. If the candidate shares a lot of information (more than a 3 page CV) make sure you give it a look to make sure that it’s all important. If they are just stuffing pages full of insignificant factors, they may be worth adding to the maybe file. Likewise, if it’s a bit sparse and doesn’t give you the kind of information you need, put them on the maybe file. While they could be the ideal candidate, they are not selling their skills enough, or you may be left with lots of unanswered questions. 

#4. Who meets the minimum qualifications

You may have set some kind of minimum qualifications – not necessarily academic ones – but if you are recruiting for an intermediate or senior level role, you might have set a minimum level of experience in a similar role in your job description. E.g 3+ years of experience in fundraising, or management. If they are on the fringes, move them to the No or Maybe pile for now.

#5. Whose employment history fits

The resume should give an outline of the candidate’s employment to date.  They may have some breaks in their employment history – which is pretty common in today’s world – but a good jobseeker will often try to explain these gaps. Look for references in their cover letter or application. 

#6. Culture/ passion fit

In the for-purpose sector, you also want to be looking for people with not only the skills for the job, but also an interest in what you do and why. If they don’t mention in their cover letter anything to do with your organisation and its mission, you might want to put them in the maybe file. You want people who are motivated to see your organisation thrive, right?  

Now, while one red flag in the above categories doesn’t have to be the be all and end all, if the candidate waves multiple red flags, it might be best to toss their CV onto the NO pile. Those maybes can be assessed if your remaining CVs are limited.


Keeping track 

Now, you may get lots of great candidates that don’t raise too many red flags. In this case, you’ll have to look at the candidates that are simply better than their competition. This can be a simple process, but if you want to be precise, there are a few things you can still do. 

 There are two ways to use the information you’ve now gathered: 

  • Manual Spreadsheets: A good spreadsheet can do the trick. You will have to fill the sheet with job-specific details you need to track. Apart from that, manual tracking offers more personal control and leaves less room for certain mistakes that software can make. I recommend you get someone else in the organisation to look over and score the candidates separately, and then meet and compare notes. Download the Do Good Jobs Screening Template here.
  • Tracking Software: You can also use applicant tracking systems (ATS)  to track candidates and to make your first cut. This kind of software will take CVs and put them in a database and then, based on whatever specific criteria you add, the software will automatically rank your candidates and filter out those that don’t match your needs.  Humans can definitely fill this gap, but it’s a weigh up between the time you might need to do this, and what a computer can do for you. While large organisations tend to have these, they are increasingly accessible to smaller organisations too with various one-off pricing, and even some free offerings. Examples of various ATS systems include: workable (US$99 per job) and freshteam (offer 3 x free jobs).


Phone screen

Once you’ve narrowed down your pool of candidates sufficiently, it’s time to get on the phone and talk to your top picks. A phone screen is often the best place to identify candidates who look good on paper, but won’t make the final cut. It guarantees you’ll get the best candidates in an in-person interview, and saves both you and management time. 

Things you might want to ask on a phone screen are around skill history, salary expectations, when they can start, and clarifying anything you were uncertain about in their CV.

Conducting phone and in-person interviews is a different subject for a separate time. For now, use these tips to help you get a great shortlist. Anything else you’d add? Let us know in the comments! 

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