Hiring Interviews: 3 Practical Steps To Choosing Your Interview Shortlist

So, you’ve done all the planning, you crafted a great set of structured questions and even gone as far as plowing through that pile of resumes, so you have a manageable number to now choose from. So, what’s next? How do you get to that magical 3-5 key candidates that you’ll be super excited to meet in person during your formal interviews?

Let’s say after all your initial resume/application ‘culling’ you’ve now got about 8-10 quality candidates you think would be qualified to take to the formal interviews, but you want to screen them just a little more to get to that final interview shortlist. Many recruiters will tell you to just interview them all! But I say, whoa! Why spend your time on additional interviews that may or may not be appropriate for the role, when there might be additional time-saving steps you can take to reeeeellllyyy make sure you’ve got the top candidates to choose from!? Here are 3 practical steps you can take to ‘discover’ the real job candidates you’ll want to get to know better in person:

Step One – Conduct Screening Interviews

Include a round of initial Screening Interviews with the goal of taking down your candidate list to between 3-5, candidates. Your screening interviews should consist of the following:

  • Screening Objective: To identify and/or confirm general candidate skills, qualifications and logistical & salary expectations for the role.
  • Screening Questions: This is your opportunity to confirm all the basic technical points for the role with the candidate, to ensure there is a quality fit. The screening interview should be approximately 80% Technical questions regarding candidate skills, education, qualifications and logistical or hygiene questions specifically related to the role and the organization. The rest of the interview is your opportunity to be very informal and candid with the candidates, using approximately 20% open-ended or conversational questions that aren’t necessarily related to the role. Yes! This is THE ONE TIME I’m going to give you permission to talk about pretty much anything (if it’s legal and ethical to do so!). During this interview you can ‘get-to-know’ the candidates and find out whether you’ve got a good ‘vibe’ from them. Just remember, in the end, you want to make your final hiring decision, based on more weighting to their technical qualifications related to the role!
  • Candidate Questions: The final aspect of a good screening interview is to assist the candidate in familiarizing themselves as much as possible about the role and the organization. This is their opportunity to interview you to find out if this role is a potential match from their perspective! Make sure to allow ample time for this and invite the candidates to ask their own questions regarding things like company history/vision/mission, who their manager and direct reports will be, any logistical/hygiene questions about the role such as hours of work, expected salary (and their expectations regarding this), company benefits plan, workplace questions such as potential remote work, travel expectations, work commute conditions, relocation package (if applicable). This list can go on, but you get the general idea!


Step Two – Do a Candidate Fit Profile

Here’s a tool/hack you can use to get a quick view of how well a candidate will fit with the role:

  • Using this model, do an individual assessment of the screening and/or the formal interviews for each candidate, based on how well the candidate answered your technical questions. It’s a great tool to help you think clearly about prioritizing candidates during the hiring process.
  • Use a rating system/tool to measure, score and rank the candidate on technical skills, educational qualifications & other competencies the role may require. Download my free 5 Step Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing for an example of what a scoring tool would look like.
  • Be prepared to discuss/share your ratings with other Interviewers or with key people who can give you good & honest feedback.

The general rule of thumb in doing these candidate/role fit exercises is to get at least a 75% match between the candidate’s skill/technical/educational fit and the role’s requirements. This ‘overlap’ percent can go up or down depending on the role and its level of complexity.

Step Three – Conduct Reference Checks

Most times, employers opt to leave the reference checking of candidates until either the last step of the hiring process or to leave it out altogether. Because reference checking can be time consuming and sometimes, a hack I recommend is to get someone qualified, who can do the reference checking for you. There are many companies or services out there that will gladly do your reference checks on your behalf for a reasonable fee and they will be able to do them professionally and within all applicable legal and ethical guidelines! Here are some good reasons to do reference checks early and to do them always!

  • Reference checks will confirm information on the application or resume. Take time early on to make sure the information depicted on the application and/or resume is accurate and truthful.
  • Ensure the quality of the references your candidates supply is up to snuff. Someone’s grandmother (even if they were employed by them!) is NOT a good quality reference, compared to an actual former employer and/or manager.
  • Avoid asking for ‘opinions’ from your references. Depending on national, state or local law, you could be jeopardizing yourself and possibly opening yourself up to discrimination complaints or even law suits. Another reason to use a professional reference checking agency or service.

Overall, references can provide the final technical pieces of the puzzle when it comes to shortlisting candidates. Your job is to use the references as one of the tools to help you shortlist!

Thanks for reading again and happy shortlisting!

If you need more inspiration, watch some of my highly inspiring (said with a wink 😉 Vlogs here: Lee’s Highly Inspiring Vlog Collection!


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Lee Hodgins, CPHR works with entrepreneurs, business owners & hiring managers to leverage the power of hiring interviews to dramatically boost their effectiveness and accuracy in finding the most qualified job candidates. More information is awaiting you online at www.guerrillainterviewing.com

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