We thought it was worth revisiting selection and screening again.  It is somewhat of a perennial topic within recruitment and HR - but an important one nonetheless.  You can find lots of, well intentioned, advice on the web for how to go about screening candidates once they apply.  However, its difficult to present any single "method" that will work in all cases.

So, with this in mind, in this post on Selection and Screening, much of our advice is based on: what not to do.  It can actually be easier to, in more general terms, look at what does not work, rather than particular items that will.  Choosing specific tools and techniques for screening and selection depends very much on context.   So for this post, we are choosing to keep it high level and thus hopefully appropriate for the majority of recruitment and staffing situations. Also, most discussions round selection and screening focus on screening the people you don't want out.  We think however, it is instructive to look at it the other way.  Instead of focussing on screening out, we will focus on attracting and managing the better applicants through your recruitment process.   

So with this in mind here is our list of things that we recommend that you address - if you want to attract the "better" candidates:

Needs Analysis

Yes, we have said this before and it's still true:  "If you don't know what you are looking for you you are most unlikely to find it".  Put simply, "Needs Analysis" is an articulation of 'what' characteristics you need from your prospective candidates.  It's as basic as what might a "better" candidate look like or what does the bare minimum look like. 

When working with employers and managers over their hiring requirements we would also add: 'why'.  Asking 'why' a particular; attribute, qualification or skills should be a requirement - can in our experience be most revealing.  It's amazing how often when a requirement gets some more consideration round 'why it's a requirement' that the real requirement can then surface and be something just that bit different.  Try it and see...

The Advert

Lets face it; many recruitment adverts are grey and boring.  In between the silky positive sounding language (take note recruitment agencies) they mostly list 'what' a candidate should bring to the job.  Not many seem to place equal focus on 'why' a talented and experienced person should show an interest in this position and make their application.  And, talking about lists of what a candidate should bring to the job;  how many essential requirements do you really need to add?  Have a look at your adverts, how many requirements do you list?  Here is a thought.  If your Needs Analysis (see above) says you really have to have something, then by all means list it.  However, consider this; if you get your Advert right and it engages with the talented people you are looking for - is it not likely that they will have these requirements anyway?  Perhaps you don't have to list everything.  Try focussing on the 'why" rather than just the 'what'.

While we are on Adverts:  perhaps you need to use different advert copy for different channels?  E.g. a referral advert on a social media platform does not need the same factual content as one on your careers website.  It the same with jobboards.  Remember also on the jobboard, your advert will be sitting beside those of your competitors.  Do you really need that long list of requirements? 

The Application Process

The best candidates i.e. the ones working in similar jobs, organisations and with marketable skills will look negatively on any system that makes it hard for them to apply.  It is however true that applicants who are desperate for a job will put up with a lot. They are the ones who will put up with a long winded application process with many questions and boxes to fill in. We suggest however, you keep your 'eyes on the prize' and have your application process (and systems) focus on those who have got choices and need wooing - not those just desperate for a job.

This means make sure your recruitment systems can capture an application easily and without a candidate having to spend 30 minutes (or more) wading though all your questions.  Don't make your system a test of perseverance - all that will do is mean you will lose out on those candidates who have choices - i.e. they will choose to go elsewhere.

If you are not convinced, think of your recruitment system a bit like an online store.  If its confusing or takes too long, people will simply drop out and not purchase.  

Automating CV Search 

Just don't do it. Yes, you can still buy software that will keyword search applicant CVs.  However, it's a false economy and employers who have used it, in our experience, find it just does not, deliver better outcomes.  Here's one issue;  it is very likely that the requirements you have determined from your Needs Analysis will be able to be expressed in several different ways.  You will thus likely find it very difficult to produce a single search algorithm that covers all your requirements.  Another issue:  anyone can stuff keywords within a CV.  Without having the context, keywords are close to meaningless.  It's also good practice to look at what sorts of people are responding to your adverts.  If they are the wrong people then you should know this and consider that you might not be appealing to those whom you are really after. If you don't look at the CVs you will never know.

So, use your Recruitment System to do some basic scoring against your base requirements.  However, everyone passing these should, in our view, have their CV looked at - and by a human. This way you will not miss those golden nuggets of great candidates, the ones with that little bit extra.


We are advocates of testing.  However, we suggest; don't do it all upfront.  Also not all tests are useful - at least within a recruitment context.  Only test where it will actually be useful and can separate out good candidates.  For example,  there is little unbiased solid evidence that psychometric tests are useful in recruitment terms.  They are not great predictors of performance.  So, if you are still a believer in in the predictive power of psychometric tests just consider when best to use them.

So suggest, applying for a job is a little like starting a relationship. You need to get to know each other a bit before getting serious. You can really switch a candidate off by trying to force them into testing too early (plus it tends to cost more money as you will likely be testing a larger cohort by doing it earlier in your process) .  Those candidates with options can just switch off and withdraw their applications.  From we have seen, where this is the case it seems to often happen with the "better' candidates - the ones your managers want to interview - particularly those with experience and already in good jobs.

By way of an example.  If the top salesperson at your main competitor expressed an interest (tentative or otherwise) in one of your sales vacancies.  Would you; (a) tell him/her to get in line, force him/her answer a raft of questions on your recruitment system after they have got their CV updated, then wait a couple of weeks to then complete some tests and then if he/she is lucky (and have not taken another position) they might get an interview?  Or, (b) get them straight in for an interview?  If your system and process cannot handle going straight to (b) where its warranted, we suggest you get a new system, devise a new process or get a new recruitment team.  After-all you can pick up the other process bits later on.


In our view, your line managers have to be engaged and involved when it comes to interviews.  Whilst your HR or recruitment team will very likley be more skilled in interview techniques (and their limitations) and will follow the process.  They don't know what the job is really like.  Candidates will have their own questions.  Those hard to find candidates with those demonstrable skills and experience that you are after. They will have questions they expect to ask.    The interview is a key event for them and their opinion of your organisation will be strongly influenced by the experience and what they hear and see.  

So, don't delegate initial interviews all to junior staff.  Make sure a manager from the business area that they will be working in is at the interview and can answer questions.  If you can - do some interview and selection training with your managers.  When you think of the costs of the process and of the costs of not doing it well, it should be no-brainer business case to give them some training.  Buddy them up with the Recruitment team or HR if you can.  We think you will find, both sides will learn a lot.

Time to Hire

The old adage; 'Hire in haste, repent at leisure" is well known in HR and management circles.  However we suggest it can also be overdone.  You should always keep a close focus on how long the process is taking.  Firstly, your organisation needs it's positions filled.  Additionally, taking a long time may then see those candidates whom you are interested in, simply drift away.  After-all it's very likely that; if they are considering moving to your organisation that they will also be open to other opportunities as well.  The longer the process goes on, the more likelihood also that their current employer may get wind that they are looking around.  If their current employer then gives them a rise, or a promotion or makes some other accommodation to keep them - you will lose out.

Candidates withdrawing after attending interviews, or not taking an offer, is by no means unusual.  Called 'latter-stage attrition' it can also really frustrate your managers.  After-all, when you get near to Offer stage managers have spent a considerable amount of time and attention on the process.  If their chosen candidate is now not available they will likely feel they are hiring second best.  We have seen managers in this situation lash out in frustration and blame it all on HR.  If the candidate is not right - don't hire them.  We are not suggesting you do.  But likewise don't keep your candidates waiting longer than is necessary.  


The good candidates, those with options and who may already be in good jobs will want to know where they stand on this very early on.  In our view, having job adverts that say "competitive remuneration" is sub-optimal at best.  You may get away with it where you are attracting candidates that are just desperate for a job.  But, will this really engage and attract the good candidates?  We do note however this can also be a cultural thing.  In Australia and New Zealand for instance, job adverts generally do not state the remuneration.  However even there, candidates will clearly not move from one job to another unless their salary package and benefits are right.

So be prepared to have this conversation early on.  Ideally make it explicit if you can.  It will also make you face up to, and research, what the job market's view of a competitive package really is.  


We hope this take on screening and selection proves useful.  We have tried to cover the main areas of the recruitment process, and in a manner that can be applied by almost any recruitment or HR operation whatever your business.  As a closing final summary point; consider keeping your focus on attracting, screening and selecting the "better" candidates rather than managing for the lowest common denominator.  It's the quality of that one candidate that you hire that should be your focus - not the hundred you reject.