How to Hire Employees: Define Your Hiring Selection Criteria

Apr 20, 2022
Recruiting Best Practices, Recruiting Software

This is the second post in our series: How to Hire Employees: The Ultimate GuideIn today’s post, we discuss how to create your selection criteria. This is one of the hiring process steps that is often overlooked. As with other components, the best practice is to create a standardized process and use it for each applicant.

How do you determine your hiring selection criteria?

Your screening criteria is the framework for evaluating and comparing applicants. It may include:

  • Resume review
  • Screening questionnaire
  • Prescreen phone call
  • Assessment
  • In-person or video interview
  • Social media review
  • Background check
  • Reference checks

Note that you can change the order or eliminate some elements. For example, some employers perform a reference check after extending the job offer.  And other recruiters talk to references before administering the assessment. Bottom line, build a recruitment process that works for your company, budget and hiring team.

Internal Hiring vs. Posting Publicly

Internal hiring makes sense in many situations. If you’ve been having trouble filling a position and have someone on staff with the necessary skills, for instance. Nevertheless, you’ll have to fill the internal hire’s original role. Another consideration is whether you are trying to increase diversity in your workforce. Internal hiring can reinforce the status quo.

Importantly, internal hiring is an essential part of a career advancement. Thus, you have to coordinate internal hiring with your career paths program as well as your hiring plan.

Who should be involved in the hiring decision process?

In addition to the hiring manager, who should have a say in which candidate is chosen? Some companies use outside recruiting firms. If you have a recruiter with a proven track record of finding star hires for your company, take their advice seriously. In addition, consider giving the new hire’s team a say in the selection. This can work as follows: have the team review the top three candidates (already approved by the hiring manager) and come to a consensus on which one to offer the job to.

Furthermore, some business owners (typically for smallish orgs) want to sign off on each hire. As mentioned, whichever plan you choose, document it and apply it consistently.

What is a screening questionnaire?

In this article, we focus on first-pass screening questionnaires. We discuss interviews, reference checks and background checks in subsequent articles.

A screening questionnaire is a first-pass filtering tool. It is used to isolate a subset of qualified candidates from the total applicant pool.

To create a screening questionnaire:

  1. Using the job description, identify the essential requirements and rank in order of importance
  2. Write a question for each of the selection criterion (skill, certification, years of experience, etc.)
  3. Determine the scoring system for the questions
  4. Organize questions and format in a document

Why does defining screening criteria come before posting the job? Once you begin the process, you are competing with other employers to find great candidates. Take the time up front so you don’t slow yourself down after the start.

Plus, you can still make changes to your job description if necessary because you haven’t already posted it. A good selection process requires a good job description. If you find yourself struggling to define your selection criteria, you probably need to go back improve your job description.

Write Your Screening Questions

As mentioned, you should have a list of job requirements from your job description. Now it’s time to write a question for each requirement. Remember, your job description splits skills into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” The “must-haves” are your essential, or key selection criteria. 

Skills Gap Analysis

A skills gap analysis can help you create a hiring plan and identify roles and responsibilities. If you do a skills gap analysis, use the findings to clarify job roles and the specific skills necessary.

Back to screening questions. You will probably need a question and answer for each requirement. The question should determine whether a candidate meets the requirement. Therefore, make it clear and concise with action verbs.

Types of screening questions:

  • Yes/No answer (binary choice, can be a knockout question)
  • Multiple Choice
    • Select one answer from multiple choices
    • Choose as many as desired from multiple choices
  • Essay

How do you choose which types of questions to use? The first consideration is the number of applications you expect to receive. If you are hiring for a niche, highly-skilled role and don’t expect to receive many applications, you might have time to read essay answers. Consider, though, if it would make more sense to discuss those questions and answers in the interview.

On the flip side, if you will be fielding hundreds of applications, you won’t have time to read essay questions. For high-volume hiring, consider automation. Inexpensive applicant tracking systems have templates for questionnaires. More importantly, they tally scores automatically. Therefore, in the candidate database, the highest scoring candidates will rise in the queue. If you use knockout questions, an ATS will mark eliminated candidates Do Not Pursue. Though you’ve eliminated them for the role to which they applied, you can keep them in your database in case you want to reach out to them in the future for another role that could be a better fit.

Clearly, spending time up front to create a thorough screening questionnaire will pay off by finding a qualified candidate more quickly than ever.

How does filtering automation save time?

It’s important to understand the order of operations. With an ATS, your application contains the filtering questionnaire. Therefore, applicants self-filter before you start reviewing  resumes and conducting interviews. Let’s do the math. Suppose your open position attracts 100 applicants. All of them complete the filtering questionnaire as part of the application process. Out of the 100, suppose 50 are knocked out because they lack the basic qualifications. If you generally take 5 minutes per resume when deciding which candidates to move to the next step, a filtering questionnaire saves you 250 minutes or a little over 4 hours. If you have 3 open positions simultaneously, that’s over 12 hours saved for just one step in the selection process.

Example Filtering Questions

Suppose you are hiring for a WordPress Web Developer. Let’s say your highest priority is whether the candidate has 4 years experience developing WordPress themes.

WordPress Web Developer Sample Filtering Questions

  • Do you have 4 years experience developing WordPress themes? Y N [KNOCKOUT]
    • If the applicant marks NO, they are knocked out of the applicant pool.
  • Do you have 4-6 years experience developing WordPress themes? Y N [2 POINTS]
  • Do you have 6-8 years experience developing WordPress themes? Y N [4 POINTS]
    • If the applicant answers YES, they receive extra points as indicated.
  • What is your salary requirement? [ESSAY or Y/N]
    • You can let the applicant enter an amount or list the maximum compensation budgeted and let the applicant mark Y or N regarding the amount.

Apply Scoring Criteria to Resumes

In addition to screening questionnaires, you can create scoring rules for resumes. For example, you can assign a numeric point value for skills, certifications or qualifications. Let’s say you’re hiring for a server in a restaurant. You could assign points for a valid food handler’s permit or number of years of experience.

Scoring Applicants

When the applications start coming in, you’ll need to score each one using your predefined criteria. You will calculate a total score for each applicant. This serves as a first pass assessment of the candidate’s match to the position. It will also eliminate applicants if you use knockout questions.

The mechanics of applicant management depend on whether you have a paper-based or digital process. If you accept paper applications, you can sort them in piles or folders by score. On the other hand, if you only accept digital applications, you can record scores in a spreadsheet. If you know how to create formulas in Microsoft Excel, you can let the spreadsheet tally scores.

Assessment Tools

Another option is to use professional assessment tools in the hiring process. If you have the budget, pre-employment assessments can save you a lot of time. Assessment tools not only measure aptitude and skills, they can predict how a candidate will perform in the position. There are hundreds of companies that create assessment software and tools–specializing in various job positions and industries. You can research them on Capterra, G2, or Software Advice.

Social Media Review

According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of companies look at candidates’ social media pages as part of their evaluation process. It’s safe to assume that number has risen since the survey was conducted.

Should you check applicants’ social media profiles? Sure, you may be able to find out a lot of stuff that you can’t legally ask on an application or in an interview. But is that a good idea?

Recruiter and researcher Atta Tarki advises against the practice. After his team reviewed 266 U.S. job applicants’ social media sites, Tarki said:

“…a significant share of profiles contained details that companies may be legally prohibited from considering, including gender, race, and ethnicity (evident in 100% of profiles), disabilities (7%), pregnancy status (3%), sexual orientation (59%), political views (21%), and religious affiliation (41%). Many of the job seekers’ profiles also included information of potential concern to prospective employers: 51% of them contained profanity, 11% gave indications of gambling, 26% showed or referenced alcohol consumption, and 7% referenced drug use.” Stop Screening Job Candidates’ Social Media, Harvard Business Review, October 2021

Another member of the research team added:

“You can see why many recruiters love social media—it allows them to discover all the information they aren’t allowed to ask about during an interview, but that’s a problem, because one of the hallmarks of legal hiring practices is that they focus on behaviors within the work context. There should be a clear distinction between what people do during work and what they do outside of it.” Chad Van Iddekinge, Professor of Management, University of Iowa

Work Efficiently as a Team

Finding the top candidate is more likely when it’s a team effort. But don’t leave collaboration to chance. When building your hiring process, be proactive and intentional about collaboration. The hiring team should be involved in:

  • Creating a hiring plan
  • Mapping the hiring process
  • Writing the job description
  • Deciding where to post the job
  • Identifying the evaluation criteria
  • Designating roles and responsibilities
  • Evaluating the candidates
  • Interviewing the candidates
  • Extending the job offer to the top applicant

It bears repetition: an applicant tracking system can streamlines the entire process and help you ultimately find the right candidate. First of all, you can write and manage screening questionnaires in the system. Secondly, you can build workflow checklists to show where each applicant is in the process. Thirdly, you can assign tasks to team members (and set auto-reminders) so everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Finally, each member of the hiring team can add notes for all to see.

Crafting Your Applicant’s Journey

The applicant, or candidate journey, is the total experience for the job seeker, starting with the application and continuing through every touch point. The applicant journey reflects on your employer brand. For example, a confusing, disorganized process will give candidates the impression that your company is disorganized. In a tight labor market, you can’t afford to neglect the candidate journey if you want to compete for top talent.

How do you ensure a positive applicant journey?

Here are some tips:

  • Make your application process mobile-friendly and painless
  • Text or email your candidates frequently to keep them updated on their status
  • Make it easy to schedule an interview by texting the candidate a link to a shared calendar
  • Write interview scripts and ask the same questions of every candidate
  • Use applicant tracking software to make the hiring process as quick as possible

For more information on improving the applicant journey at your organization, see The Ideal Applicant Journey in 3 Steps: Use Hiring Psychology Like a Pro.

Let’s review where we are in the series:

Liz Strikwerda

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