8 min read

How To Screen Applicants For Employment: A Guide

Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale June 01, 2021
How To Screen Applicants For Employment

Posting a job application and receiving hundreds if not thousands of applicants can be satisfying and exciting – until you are faced with the daunting task of finding the diamond hidden in those applications.

How do you choose the perfect candidate when they are buried in an overwhelming pile of CVs and application forms?

The best strategy for selection will depend entirely on your business and the type of role you are recruiting for, but you will need to have some sort of replicable and reliable process to screen potential candidates and make talent pools that are small enough to properly assess.

Knowing which screening process works best comes from understanding the pros and cons of each, as well as how they work for the business (and for the candidate).

Quality of hire

Before any screening starts – and probably before you have even posted the job advert – you will need to set the criteria for shortlisting, so that every decision made through screening is made with the ideal employee in mind.

The criteria you choose for that perfect hire might include:

  • Qualifications
  • Skills
  • Location
  • Experience
  • Personality

The reasons behind your essential criteria for the role should be based on what you need from the candidates, whether that be a specific degree, a professional qualification (or relevant experience) or maybe a number of years of experience.

For some businesses, this can be achieved by creating a persona that encompasses skills, aptitudes, knowledge, experience, personality and work behaviours. Then use screening tools to discount candidates who do not meet the essential criteria.

Benefits of screening applicants

Screen Applicants For Employment benefits

The right pre-employment tests will allow for simple and straightforward evidence-based selection of the best candidates for the role. Without a reliable screening process, you might end up making decisions based on incomplete or incorrect information, and this could have a huge impact on the business.

Hiring the right candidates leads to increased productivity, lower turnover and less cost – whereas the wrong hire could be an expensive mistake.

Screening applicants in the most appropriate way for your business reduces the cost in both time and money, and means that the experience is the best for both the organisation and the applicant.

Types of pre-screening

The application process is rarely as simple as handing in an application and getting the job offer. For businesses, taking the right screening steps at the right time is essential to ensure that only the best candidates move forward through the application process.

There are several types of pre-employment screening that can be used simultaneously or separately, depending on the needs of the business.

Job Application Forms

Often the first step in the application process, a form offers bespoke data collection points that make automation simple. Using particular closed questions can help recruiters discount applicants who do not meet basic requirements (like holding a driving licence or the right amount of experience).

These are usually simple ways to gather initial data, although it is worth noting that they can cause frustration for candidates who are simply regurgitating the information already in their CVs for much of it.

Resume screening

Although it might seem a bit outdated these days, there is a wealth of information about candidates that can be gleaned from a CV and cover letter. However, it is the initial 'paper sift' part of the application process that can be the most time consuming.

CVs can be badly formatted, contain incomplete or unnecessary information, and be littered with spelling and grammatical errors. The criteria that you are using to select your candidates might not be included in the resume, and there is a risk of unconscious bias in the personal details available from a resume.

There is software available that can reduce the time spent manually reviewing resumes by picking out key words and phrases, but this is not infallible and the best way to ensure consistent results is to check each one out manually against the pre-agreed criteria for the role.

Phone screening applicants

Telephone screening is a common step in recruiting because it opens a dialogue with the candidate and allows for further assessments. Although phone interviews might be more prevalent in sales and other customer-facing roles, they are useful in all recruitment processes because they are not as time consuming and allow for a recruiter to 'get to know' the candidate.

Telephone interviews are great for confirming details from the application form and resume of the applicant, as well as asking motivational questions but they are not always reliable indicators of personality and behaviours. They can, however, provide a quick and easy way to see how a candidate comes across and sounds from the point of view of a customer.

Video interviews

Screen Applicants For Employment video

There are two types of video interviews that are traditionally used in application processes. The first is a video conference-type interview, where the candidate 'meets' with the recruiter and/or a panel to complete a face-to-face yet virtual interview. These are usually easier to organise than a physical interview and can often be used to replace them when the situation calls for it.

The second type is a pre-recorded video interview. The applicant uses a video platform to record their answers to a set of (usually) competency based questions.

Video interviews give recruiters a chance to 'see' the applicant and how they answer questions, as well as opportunities to assess communication skills and personality.

A live video interview allows for real-time assessment but can prove difficult to arrange a suitable time for the meeting if there is a panel involved, as well as allowing for connection issues and problems with equipment.

Pre-recorded video interviews can be easier to manage in terms of timings – the answers can be viewed as and when the recruiter is ready – but the platform is likely to have specific software and related costs.

Pre-screening tests

pre-employment test

A popular choice for many recruitment teams, pre-screening tests can be used to assess a large number of candidates on specific and measurable data points.

Pre-screening tests can range from essential skills to personality, behaviour and aptitudes. They are often easy to administer at scale and provide quantitative, unbiased evidence about the suitability of candidates.

Pre-screening tests are only useful, however, if they are reliable and valid. This means that the right tests need to be selected at the right time to find the right candidates and this is only achievable through verified test publishers.

Using the right tests, recruiters can easily turn a large candidate pool into a manageable pool of applicants that have the required skills and aptitudes, and demonstrate the preferred personality traits and work-related behaviours according to the ideal candidate persona.


As technology moves forward and the nature of work evolves, gamification becomes more and more involved in the recruitment process. Gamification refers to pre-screening tests that are presented as a video game, assessing candidates on a number of aptitudes and skills as they navigate gameplay.

Gamification in recruitment is a more interesting and involving way of testing applicants, but it could add a layer of bias against candidates who are not au fait with online games. However, it is often seen positively by candidates who enjoy something a bit more exciting in the application process.

Reference / background checks

Getting a full picture of a candidate in a work-based situation needs to include their previous performance, so a reference check from their last employer is a great addition to a screening process.

In most cases, reference checks happen once a job offer has been made, but increasingly recruiters are approaching past employers earlier in the process. This can be time consuming though, as employers may not respond straight away, and the information they give might not be that enlightening.

There are other checks that can be done as part of the recruitment process. For some roles where safeguarding is important, a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check should be completed to ensure that the candidate has no relevant criminal history.

Social media searches and typing names into search engines is also something that the recruitment team might do when they are assessing candidates, although this might not offer relevant or up-to-date information.

The best method for screening applicants is…


Is there a definitive answer to this? In most cases, the answer is no. There is no one particular screening method that will guarantee the best candidates for your role. Instead best practice is to use the tools that make the most sense for your business.

In most cases the usual order of application screening looks something like this:

    1. Application form/CV/cover letter
    1. Pre-employment aptitude tests
    1. Phone screening
    1. Video screening
    1. Assessment centre
    1. Face to face interview
    1. Job offer
    1. Reference check

To make your screening process work for you, select the most appropriate methods and be sure to track metrics. Each stage should narrow the candidate pool and ensure that only the top applicant gets through to be offered a role.

Tracking the key performance indicators of the recruitment process will highlight what works in the process and allow you to change what does not work.

Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale June 01, 2021

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