The Screening Process: Prescreening and Screening Candidates

May 28, 2019
Applicant Tracking, Recruiting Best Practices, Recruiting Software

A manual candidate screening process make hiring harder than it needs to be. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to create a formalized process. Does your candidate screening process affect quality of hire? Absolutely!

What Are the Challenges of Manual Candidate Screening?

Before we dive into the details of formalized screening, let’s explain why manual screening will stymie talent acquisition.

The Problems With Manual Candidate Screening

No way to compare one applicant from another

If you don’t have a screening process and resources, it’s difficult to compare candidates. This is one of the easiest ways to let bias creep into your process.

Inability to identify a pool of qualified candidates quickly

You don’t have time to engage with everyone (especially those without minimum qualification), so you need to isolate the cream of the crop. Application questionnaires are a great automated pre employment screening tool. When candidates apply, they self-filter by taking a carefully-designed questionnaire based on the job description and each necessary skill.

Difficulty keeping track of multiple job boards and sources

If you promote your job well, applications will flow in from many sites–careers page, social media, job boards, employee referrals and internal job seekers, outside agencies. if you don’t set up a process for organization, you may lose track of some great applicants.

No tool for tracking applicant stages

A candidate screening process is essentially a workflow that includes stages. These may include Application Received, Resume Review, Do Not Pursue, Phone Interview Complete, Pending Live Interview, etc. With no workflow, you have no hiring stages, and this will make it hard to know the status of each job seeker. To screen candidates efficiently, build a workflow based on your needs.

Inability to filter out unqualified candidates

In today’s competitive hiring environment, you and your Human Resource team are in a race against time–spending precious hours engaging with unqualified applicants leaves less time for the top job candidate. Screening candidates automatically during the first pass gives you a head start. Using a formalized method for phone screen and interviews keep you on track.

EEOC compliance risks

If you can’t document a fair evaluation process, you are at risk of an EEOC challenge if a rejected job seeker suspects bias. In a way, this is a self-fulfilling disadvantage. Without a formal screening method, you ARE more likely to have a biased process. Consider, for example, if your hiring manager uses a ‘gut feeling’ to judge which applicant is a qualified candidate.

Difficulty collaborating with the hiring team

If each decision maker is using their own evaluation criteria for screening resumes or interviews, there is no way to tell which candidates are the most promising. In addition, as mentioned previously, this puts you at risk of bias, or at least the perception of bias. A disorganized team can’t identify a suitable candidate if they don’t even have a common benchmark.

What is Prescreening?

Now, let’s discuss the components of candidate screening. The first step is prescreening. This refers to evaluation that happens before any communication from the hiring team. As mentioned previously, this step can easily be automated. Using the job description, create a questionnaire that candidates will complete when they apply. Include elimination questions that filter out those who don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

Should you review resumes as part of the prescreening process? It will depend on the open position. If you are hiring for an entry-level opening, the questionnaire may suffice. Furthermore, if you are hiring for a high level position with relatively few applicants, you may want to take a look at the resumes. An applicant tracking system ATS can help you organize resumes and applications. Remember, however, not to base your decision solely on resumes–unless you are hiring a resume writer.

ATS search functions can help with resume review. Suppose you have 100 applicants and want to identify those with particular skills. Use keyword and boolean queries to zero in on your applicant pool.

Social Media Screening

Should you look at applicants’ social media sites? There isn’t a consensus among talent acquisition specialists. However, many employment law experts counsel waiting until after interviews if you insist on doing a social screening. A review of a candidate’s social media will reveal demographic information which shouldn’t be used in the hiring decision. If a rejected candidate accuses you of bias, you will have an easier time defending your decision if you interviewed all the top candidates–including those from underrepresented groups. For more protection, don’t have a decision maker do the social review. Bottom line, seek legal counsel to design a policy.

The First Screening Interview

Most hiring teams do the first interview as a phone call. The purpose of this interview is to isolate the group of candidates to move to the next step. For example, verify the skills and qualifications listed on the candidate’s resume. It’s also an ideal method to evaluate communication skills.

Useful questions for the phone screen include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you applying for this job?
  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • (For jobs that require travel) Are you willing to travel?
  • What type of work environment are you looking for?

Notice that you can eliminate even high quality candidates if their salary expectations don’t match up or if they don’t want to travel and the position requires it.

Additional Screening

Every company has different hiring needs. Some do verification of the candidate before the first interview. These may include:

  • Calling of references
  • Background checks
  • Credit history checks
  • Education credentials
  • Prior work performance

How do you know which screens to perform before the interview? Review previous hiring experiences. If a relatively high percentage of previous candidates have failed the background screen, move that up in the process. It will save you time in the long run. If something in a job seeker’s application raises a red flag–say educational experience listed–check it out.

In-Person or Video Interview

At this stage, you should have a pool of great candidates: 1. They weren’t eliminated by the filtering questionnaire due to lack of qualifications, and, 2. They weren’t eliminated in the phone screen.

The best practice for all interviews is structured interviewing scripts. They allow you to compare candidates using the same yardstick and protect you legally.

Before we continue, let’s review where we are in the series:

Liz Strikwerda

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