Screening Candidates The Right Way

What’s the most important stage in a high quality job pipeline? Screening. By screening well, you increase the quality of the applications that make it to a phone interview and decrease the time it takes to make an actual hire.

No matter how well written your job description is—and you should strive to write a good job description—you will always have applications that aren’t up to the mark, applications that just don’t meet the requirements. A good screening process will ensure that these don’t get to the later stages.

How do you screen well?

To start with, you need to understand what you are hiring for. What are the traits you are looking for in the candidate? What are the things that you don’t want?

When the requirements aren’t clear, a screening step isn’t going to be very helpful. It will still help you get rid of filler applications but that’s about it.

Reviewing the application

Once you know what you are looking for, it’s time to start reviewing the applications. If you asked for a cover letter (hint: you should), that’s a good place to start.

A cover letter can reveal a lot about a candidate. Resumes help you glance over the key achievements and skills of a candidate, but a cover letter can do a lot more.

What should you look for in a cover letter? For starters, is it well written? Is the writing succinct? Does it convey why the candidate is applying for job, why he thinks he’s a good fit? A good cover letter should check all of those boxes.

Once you have reviewed the cover letter, it’s time to look at the resume. Resumes often aren’t the best way to judge an application but that’s fine. They can still tell you a lot and—especially if you know what you’re looking for—you can disqualify candidates who don’t meet your criteria.

Get on the phone

A phone screening is your first interaction with the candidate. You have looked at the cover letter, you have looked at the resume, and you have decided that the candidate gets to the phone screening.

What do you do there? One thing you shouldn’t do is ask what you already know. A phone screen should be to understand the candidate, their interests and their communication skills better.

Allow them to be comfortable and ease into the important questions. You could start by asking them about their current work, their goals, things that they have learned recently, etc. Focus on their life and their projects at the start. You have all the time—and interviews!—in the world to understand if they are a technical fit.

Take good notes

A screening step should help other interviewers understand the candidate better, too. So, whatever you do, make sure you take detailed notes after every interaction with a candidate.

It’s especially important to take notes when you are dealing with a high-volume pipeline. You will forget important details, you will misremember phone calls, and you will end up losing good candidates.

Qualify well

Going by a well-defined process can feel robotic, so, often, bias creeps in unnoticed. An application has some red flags but there are a couple of standout qualities. You get on a phone call and you are undecided. Should the application make it to the next stage?

It depends. You are in the best position to judge, of course, but more often than not, and especially if you have no shortage of good, highly qualified applications, the answer is no. You shouldn’t move ordinary applications into the key stages of your job pipeline.

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