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Screening candidates prior to interviewing: a primer for recruiters

By Elaine Boylan

As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, the outlook for job seekers is considerably more positive than it was just after the financial crisis which – according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research ( – ended in 2009.  So, while the brighter outlook is good news for jobseekers, the same set of circumstances that benefit candidates may be adversely affecting your recruitment efforts. For you, the time frame needed to rein in the top performers is considerably more fleeting than it was just a few years ago. Therefore, outreach must be spent on quickly targeting your best contenders. If your hiring process drags on unnecessarily – while great candidates clinch deals elsewhere – your ability to remain competitive will be affected.

It’s important to stop for a moment to ask yourself:  What is under your control in the recruitment process and, conversely, what is out of your control? Though you cannot do anything about the fact that more opportunities exist, accompanied by a rise in competition for top candidates, you do have control over the goals that you set, the resources you choose and your methods of engagement. Start your approach by targeting qualified applicants where you’re most likely to find them since, as the adage goes, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Posting recruiting blasts to aspiring degree candidates through social media outlets during strategic time periods (during winter break, for instance) is one way to potentially increase receptivity and response rates from students who may be otherwise distracted during the academic year.

Your strategy should be fleshed out before you start posting positions on external job boards or even on your own company website. Keep in mind the particular qualifications and attributes that are vital to the role you are attempting to fill, and incorporate specific skill sets, degrees, and certifications into well-thought-out job descriptions. Using vague terminology such as “strong candidates with good skills only need apply” will ensure that you will be inundated with resumes. Woven throughout your job description should be an indication of the culture and values of your business, perhaps even its mission and goals. If candidates cannot differentiate between your offerings and that of similar firms, an inordinate number may jump into your applicant pool, which may at first seem like an advantage. The additional work of culling through the barrage of less-serious applicants, however, will create a drag on your long-term strategy, and will make you feel as if you are spinning your wheels.

Keyword software can help you identify candidates with technical or language skills, managerial or sales skills, and other must-have qualifications, so that you don’t get flooded by responses from candidates without the requisite background. Once you have pared down the resume influx through the use of technology, now it’s time to review for specific criteria. Refocus on the job description to guide your decision-making process. For instance, determine whether prior supervisory experience would qualify a candidate for an assistant manager role. Prioritize the top contenders and reach out to a preliminary group of applicants, setting up meetings to take place in a compressed time frame, so that initial interviewees are not overlooked because too much time has elapsed between first and final interviews. Some hiring managers prefer initial phone or Skype interviews to screen applicants, ultimately maximizing subsequent focus on only outstanding candidates. To streamline the process and have data to share with other decision-makers within the company, standardize evaluations across the board for each position, so that each candidate is being assessed on comparable criteria, which will make the entire process easier for you in the long run.

Elaine Boylan
Senior Associate Director, Center for Career Development
Adelphi University

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