Pre-screening job applicants allows employers to narrow down the pool of applicants to those who are the best fit for the position—without spending hours doing in-depth interviews. Anyone can look good on paper, but a thorough pre-screening can separate the most appropriate applicants from all the rest and enables employers to save the lengthy interview process for only the very best.
Pre-screening begins with a brief review of all the job applications. Once a shortlist of applicants has been selected for pre-screening, one of the following methods can be used:
Methods of pre-screening job applicants
- Cover letter: The applicant’s cover letter should be a concise and well-crafted overview of their most relevant work experience for the job. It should neatly summarize why the candidate is well qualified for the position, and should be free of errors and easy to read. Poorly constructed cover letters are generally considered grounds to eliminate a potential candidate.
- Resume: The applicant’s resume should reflect the skills and experience listed in the job posting. Look for keywords that match the qualities you are seeking. Be attuned to potential red flags such as long gaps in employment and spelling errors. Ensure the candidate’s educational background is in line with the position. Look for a well-organized resume that has been customized to the specific position.
- Assessment tools: Some companies use assessment tools to evaluate a candidate’s potential fit with the company. These often measure specific personality traits along with the candidate’s approach to relevant scenarios, and allow employers to automatically eliminate those who don’t provide the desired responses.
- Phone interview: You may wish to interact briefly with potential candidates by phone in order to get a better idea of their ability to present themselves verbally. Select a few key questions, no more than five, and keep the conversation brief. Take notes so that you can compare candidate responses later. Be sure to evaluate both the quality of the responses, as well as the candidate’s understanding of and enthusiasm for the position.
What to look for when pre-screening job applicants
What you look for when pre-screening applicants depends on the hard skills an applicant will need to do the job. However, there are other additional factors you will want to consider that may make or break an applicant’s chances of getting a full interview. These include:
- Salary expectations: Some employers ask for salary expectations immediately, in order to ensure the candidate’s expectations are in line with the budget. If you have a wide budget range and are willing to negotiate for the right applicant, then this might not be an appropriate factor to screen for.
- Personal attributes: Characteristics like work ethic, integrity and personal values go a long way toward setting candidates apart—and ensuring the best fit with your company’s work culture.
- Soft skills: The ability to communicate clearly, to work well with others and to problem solve are examples of soft skills that don’t necessarily come across effectively on a resume. However, a pre-screening assessment or interview can identify whether a candidate’s skills in these and other critical areas match the job requirements.
A well-conducted pre-screening process should give an employer a solid list of applicants to interview more thoroughly, and some initial insight into those applicants, allowing the full interview to probe more deeply into each applicant’s most relevant skills and experience.
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