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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What does shortlisting mean?


Shortlisting is the process of identifying candidates from the applicant pool that best meet the requirements and criteria of a job posting and who will be moved forward in the recruiting process. In other words, creating a “short” list or narrowed-down selection of qualified candidates whom an organisation wants to contact.

Shortlisting occurs after candidate sourcing and before the interview process. Screening and shortlisting usually happen simultaneously. As resumes get screened, the best candidates are shortlisted and moved to the next stage.

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Why is shortlisting important?

Shortlisting will help to speed up and better manage the hiring process. One of the benefits is that it establishes standards for ideal candidates. It also gives an organisation valuable insight into the recruiting strategy.

If a company has difficulty finding applicants to shortlist, it can signal that expectations are too high or job postings are not on the right platforms. 

How to shortlist candidates

1. Determine your criteria

Before a job is posted, it’s necessary to determine the essential and desirable criteria required for the role. Essential criteria are often called “knockout questions” as they are what a candidate must have to move forward.

These vary from hard skills, to work visas or a driver’s license. Unlike the must-haves, desirable criteria are the nice-to-have, like proficiency in a foreign language or experience with specific software.

Most important is that whatever criteria you choose can be applied across all candidates consistently and fairly (also read: Fair shortlisting).

Some typical shortlist criteria include:

  • Education
  • Experience level
  • Skill set
  • Competencies
  • Personality traits 

2. Decide the maximum number of shortlisted candidates

The goal of a shortlist is narrowing down the talent pool into a manageable number of candidates.

Setting the maximum number of candidates to shortlist may depend on the resources available or how quickly a role needs filling. Some organisations choose a percentage of applicants to shortlist vs. a fixed number.

Analysing the outcomes of past interview-to-hiring conversions is also useful. 

3. Screening to shortlist candidates to interview

One way to screen applicants is by manually creating a shortlisting scorecard grid to rank and identify the strongest candidates to move forward.

These days, many organisations use Applicant Tracking Systems that automate parts of the screening process, weeding out applicants based on keywords or answers to screening questions.

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Best practices for shortlisting candidates

  • Watch out for biases and discriminatory practices: Make sure that shortlist criteria are fair and applied consistently across all candidates. 
  • Notify unsuccessful candidates: Send a short email to candidates who did not make the shortlist with a brief explanation of why they cannot be moved forward.
  • Screen candidates in, not out: Look beyond the candidates who are not a fit. Screening candidates “in” means giving attention to transferrable skills and taking a holistic look at your applicant pool to ensure you are interviewing a diverse group of candidates. 

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