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How to Create an Effective Applicant Screening Strategy


“Time spent on hiring is time well spent.” – Robert Half.

Are you struggling to create a successful applicant screening strategy? You’re not alone. Many organizations find identifying the best candidates when filling job vacancies challenging. But with the right approach, you can streamline the process and improve your odds of finding the right person for the job. This blog focuses on recruitment activities that occur before formal interviews. The goal of applicant screening is to ensure that hiring managers are introduced to strong candidates that meet the company’s criteria.

What is applicant screening? 

“People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” – Jim Collins.

Applicant screening involves sorting through applications to determine which individuals are qualified to move on to the next phase of the recruitment process. The objective of screening is to eliminate applicants poorly suited to the position and retain only the best potential candidates. 

Why is an applicant screening strategy necessary?

An applicant screening strategy is essential because it outlines hiring criteria, objectives, and a timeframe and then provides a process for success, for example:

  • Criteria: Employee traits screening priorities: 1) qualifications, 2) attitude and 3) commitment.
  • Objectives: Screen & schedule 3-5 candidates that meet the minimum criteria or higher
  • Timeline: Screening and schedule will be completed during the following dates “XYZ: at “ABC” times. 

Sample Applicant Screening Process:

  • Step 1: Screen cover letters and CVs for the applicants that best meet the job description. A) Make a list of qualified candidates; B) From the list of qualified candidates, choose the top 20 CVs.
  • Step 2: Via email, set up phone interviews with candidates using the list from step 1. The goal is to set up 8-12 phone interviews.
  • Step 3: Conduct phone interviews with candidates selected in step 2. Ask questions utilizing the “applicant screening checklist.” Schedule 3-5 short-listed candidates for first-round interviews. 

Why is it essential to develop screening criteria? 

“Hiring the wrong people is the fastest way to undermine a sustainable business.”- Kevin J. Donaldson.

Applicant screening means assessing prospective candidates against the essential and preferred criteria guided by the job description. The purpose of applicant screening is to select applicants who best meet the defined organizational/job criteria. Then, the top candidates move to the next stage in the recruitment process, narrowing the number of eligible applicants at every stage. for screening to be successful, recruiters need to know the Knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes hiring managers are looking for.

Strategic Screening Criteria

The following are examples of criteria that recruiters screen for when selecting candidates for each successive stage. The purpose of strategic screening criteria is to eliminate applicants considered a poor fit for the position or company culture. This is achieved by evaluating applicants’ against priority criteria and selecting candidates based on fit:

  • Qualifications: A qualified individual is a person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that s/he holds or seeks and who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • Attitude: Employee attitude is the positive or negative display of motivation a prospective candidate demonstrates. It can be displayed toward individual job duties, products or services, coworkers or management, or the organization.
  • Commitment: A committed employee adds value to an organization. During the screening process, recruiters should look for evidence of  commitment; meaning candidates that intend to stay at the organization. These candidates typically identify with the organizational goals, job and organizational fit, as well as fulfilling work.
  • Work Experience: Work experience is any time spent in a work environment, in any sector. Applicant work experience  can include information about their professional history; previous titles, employers, job tenure, duties, skills, knowledge and accomplishments.
  • Work Motivation: work motivation is a set of energetic forces that originate within individuals; through research with thousands of employees and leaders, studies discovered that five significant motivators drive people’s actions at work; Achievement, Power, Affiliation, Security, and Adventure.

Note: some organizations may focus on specific traits more than others, depending on the position and company goals.

Cover Letter & Resume Screening

Resume screening determines if an applicant is qualified for a position based on their education, work experience, and other information (hobbies, association members, sports) provided on the resume. In addition, recruiters generally compare resume content with the job’s requirements and qualifications. The presentation and organization of the resume also plays a role in gaining the attention of recruiters.

  • Research shows that, on average, recruiters spend 6-8 seconds looking at a CV before deciding if the candidate is suitable for the position.

Screen Resumes for the following criteria.

  1. Assess the resume for the required education and formal credentials
  2. Select resumes that have the desired skills, Knowledge, experience, and abilities
  3. Select resumes that are customized for the job and eliminate general resumes
  4. Resumes can be used to assess other parts of the recruitment process, for example, the interview process.

Application (Phone) Screening Checklist

A screening checklist assists recruiters or hiring managers to determine which candidates will be considered for an interview. The screening checklist should reflect the minimum job requirements and the organization’s preferred criteria. Application screening checklist is appropriate for phone interviews. The following is a sample applicant screening checklist that focuses on qualifications, attitudes, and commitment levels: 

Qualified Candidate Screening Questions:

    1. Does the candidate have a relevant Degree/Diploma? (Yes/No)
    2. Does the candidate have XYZ certification?
    3. Does the candidate have JKL license and are they in good standing?
    4. Does the candidate have 3+ years of work experience in the ABC field?
    5. Does the candidate have Knowledge of the industry? 

Attitude Screening Questions:

    1. Does the candidate have Knowledge about the company? (yes/no)
    2. Does the candidate seem enthusiastic about the job?
    3. Is the candidate presenting themselves professionally?
    4. Did the candidate ask any thoughtful questions about the position?
    5. Was the candidate punctual and prepared for the interview? 

Commitment Screening Questions:

    1. Do you have long-term career objectives? (What are they?) (Yes/No)
    2. Do you plan to work at this company for the long term?
    3. Have you ever worked at the same company for more than 3 years?
    4. How long have you worked in the XYZ industry? (Confirm 3 years minimum)
    5. Why did you choose this career path? (Do they have a reason)

Note: The questions elicit definite answers, for example, yes, no, or a number (years). The higher the interviewee scores, the more likely they will make it to the next stage.

Reference checks: Is the Candidate Being Consistent and Genuine?

Reference checks help to verify that the information provided by a job applicant is consistent and genuine. References are people who can talk about the candidate’s work experience, work behavior, character, and abilities. Applicants should provide references from previous employers or from someone who knows the candidate professionally.

Employers may also contact past employers to ask why the applicant left their previous position. Some employers may also conduct credit and criminal record checks as part of the reference check process. The following are some questions that employers may ask for references:

  • How would you describe the applicant’s skills?
  • How would you describe the applicant’s character?
  • Is the applicant reliable? Punctual?
  • Can the applicant take criticism?
  • Can the applicant work under pressure?
  • Can the applicant handle difficult situations? 

Social Media Screening

Recruitment professionals often do social media screening searches of prospective candidates. Social media screening includes looking at prospective employees’ social media accounts to confirm details, search for additional interests, and ensure that their online behavior will not damage company interests. If there are any red flags, this could be grounds to disqualify a candidate.

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.” Red Adair

Applicant screening is a necessary process that helps companies identify the best candidates for a position. By eliminating unqualified applicants, hiring managers can save time and resources while narrowing down the pool of potential candidates. The goal of applicant screening is to ensure employers meet their high standards and find the most qualified employees. Have you ever been screened out of a job opportunity?

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