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27.07.2023 Hiring process

How to screen applicants for a job: 8 applicant screening methods

How to screen applicants for a job: 8 applicant screening methods

Getting a thousand applications for a job opening might sound nice. But chances are only a handful are actually right for the job. So how do you go about filtering out those few great applicants?

This is where applicant screening comes in. With the right methods and tactics at your disposal, you can filter through applicants fast and efficiently. And by leveraging AI and other automation technologies, you can have software systems do most of the work for you!

Below, you’ll learn how to screen applicants for a job using 8 effective applicant screening methods. They’ll help ensure that your hiring process is not only streamlined, but fast, fair, and efficient!

Understanding applicant screening

Before diving into those tips, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what applicant screening is and why it’s important to optimise this process.

Applicant screening is the initial step in the hiring process, where recruiters evaluate job applicants based on their skills, experience, and expertise. The goal is to identify the best candidates from a pool of resumes and applications, while fostering diversity and ensuring fair hiring practices.

Effective screening methods go beyond just reviewing resumes. They provide a comprehensive assessment of a candidate’s abilities, enabling recruiters to make informed decisions. By combining multiple screening methods, recruiters can gain a holistic view of an applicant’s qualifications and potential fit for the role.

For a more detailed explanation of the general process, check out our Glossary about the candidate screening process.

Benefits of optimised applicant screening methods

Let’s say you receive only ten applications for your job opening (we hope not, but if so, be sure to check out these tips on how to attract top talent).

In that case, you’ll probably have time to go through each applicant’s CV and read every cover letter in detail. You might even have time to send some follow-up emails with clarifying questions before jumping on an interview.

But what happens if you receive one hundred applications? Or even more? Then checking every resume manually won’t be an option. By the time you finish going through them all, someone else might have already scooped up the best talent.

Research found that the average length of the hiring process is 36 days. But for the truly top talent, you’ll need to be a lot quicker than that if you want to get them on board.

And that’s where streamlined applicant screening plays a crucial role. Here are some of the main benefits of effective applicant screening:

  • Efficiency in recruitment: Screening allows for a systematic narrowing down of candidates, ensuring that hiring managers only invest time in interviewing those who genuinely fit the role’s criteria.
  • Cost savings: The direct and indirect costs of a bad hire can be substantial. By effectively screening applicants, companies significantly reduce the risks associated with hiring unsuitable candidates. This means saving on potential re-hiring and training costs.
  • Improved quality of hires: A structured screening process ensures that only the best-suited candidates progress further. This leads to a higher calibre of recruits and, subsequently, improved team performance.
  • Consistency in hiring: A standardised screening method ensures that all applicants are assessed on consistent parameters, fostering fairness and objectivity in the recruitment process. Also check out our article about fair shortlisting.
  • Boosted employer image: By adopting a rigorous and respectful screening process, you show you run a professional business. This can help boost your company’s image in the eyes of potential employees and stakeholders.
  • Reduced turnover: Effective screening can lead to more accurate matches between job roles and candidates. This compatibility tends to increase job satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of early resignations or terminations.
  • Cultural cohesion: By screening for cultural fit, companies can ensure that new hires align well with the company’s values and culture, fostering a harmonious and collaborative work environment.

8 applicant screening methods

Now you know about the importance of screening applicants both accurately and efficiently, let’s have a look at our top 8 ways to screen applicants for a job.

1. Laying the groundwork

When thinking of how to screen applicants for a job, recruiters tend to try to find solutions for screening applicants that applied. But what they often forget is the importance of what precedes the application. In particular:

  • Create a great career page, but ensure it accurately reflects your company, values, and what you offer to employees. If you make promises on your career page that in real life you can’t keep, you might end up hiring an applicant who has the wrong expectations.
  • Perfect your job ad so it best explains the job opening and the ideal candidate you’re after. A mismatch between the job description and the actual role is a common mistake that can lead to applicants dropping out of the process.
  • Post your job ad to the right, relevant job boards. For example, posting to a niche job board can be a great way to pre-screen your applicants, as you already know they at least work in the same niche or industry as you.

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2. Applicant screening questions

Another great screening method is to ask a few pre-screening questions already on the application form. These questions tend to include deal-breaker questions. Meaning, if the applicant can’t give the right answer, they are definitely not the right fit for your job.

For example, a common screening question is “Are you legally permitted to work in this country”.

If you use the right tool (like JOIN’s free recruitment software) you often have the option to select several application form questions to include in the application flow. If you want, you can even select that if an applicant gives a certain answer, they are automatically sent a rejection email.

For more information (and examples), check out our article Job application form questions: The best pre-screening questions to ask applicants!

3. Resume screening

Resume screening is a widely used method to screen applicants. It involves reviewing resumes and identifying suitable candidates based on their qualifications and experience.

Many applicant tracking systems (ATS) and similar hiring tools include a feature called resume parsing. This technology automatically screens resumes, extracting relevant information from them and presenting it to you in a more structured, easy-to-review format. CV parsing can really speed up your screening process.

However, bear in mind that relying solely on resumes can have its drawbacks. Resumes are limited in their ability to provide a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s fit for a role. They often fail to capture crucial aspects such as job fit and predictability of success.

Additionally, resumes can be misleading, with candidates sometimes exaggerating their qualifications or omitting important details. That’s why, although still an important screening method, you should not rely too heavily on (automated) resume screening.

4. Skills testing through assessments

One of the most effective applicant screening methods is skills testing. This approach allows recruiters to evaluate a candidate’s abilities and verify their expertise in a specific area.

Skill tests provide an unbiased way to assess an applicant’s potential and level the playing field for all candidates. By testing candidates early in the hiring process, recruiters can efficiently filter out unsuitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool for further evaluation.

Assessments can be customised to suit any position, ensuring that candidates are assessed based on the skills required for the job. To help you further optimise and automate this way of screening applicants, you can use dedicated assessment tools.

Alternatively, you can use a comprehensive recruiting software like JOIN, which includes a built-in assessment tool!

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5. Phone screening

Phone screening is still a popular screening method that allows recruiters to verify an applicant’s qualifications and assess their fit for a role. While it is a time-consuming process, phone screens provide an opportunity to ask high-level questions and weed out unqualified candidates.

During a phone screen, recruiters can ask questions that reveal a candidate’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. This approach helps recruiters gain insights into an applicant’s communication skills and professionalism.

While phone screening alone may not provide a complete picture of a candidate’s abilities, it can contribute to a better candidate experience and help set expectations for the hiring process.

6. Video screening interviews

Similar to phone screening, video screening interviews are used to quickly get a sense of whether an applicant meets the basic criteria for the job.

They’ve become particularly important in remote hiring scenarios. Videos allow recruiters to conduct interviews over platforms like Google Meet or Zoom, providing a similar experience to traditional in-person interviews.

In less common cases, you could also use pre-recorded videos as an applicant screening method. This type of screening method is often used for creative roles. For example, if you’re looking for someone to vlog to kickstart your company’s YouTube channel, you could ask them to send a video audition for the role.

Video interviews – whether live or pre-recorded – help verify a candidate’s communication skills, confidence, presentation, and body language. They can save time and resources while still allowing recruiters to evaluate applicants effectively.

7. Cover letters

Cover letters offer candidates an opportunity to showcase their writing skills and provide additional information about themselves. They can add more colour to a candidate’s application, enabling recruiters to assess their personality and attention to detail.

By requesting a cover letter, recruiters can evaluate a candidate’s ability to follow instructions and gauge their written communication skills. However, it’s important to note that cover letters may not be suitable for all positions. For roles that require specific technical skills, an assessment may be more appropriate.

Plus, if you received hundreds of applications, reading through each cover letter yourself quickly becomes too time-consuming.

8. Reference checks and credential verification

Checking references and verifying credentials is an optional but valuable step in the screening of job applicants. By contacting former supervisors and professional associates, recruiters can gather specific information about a candidate’s experience and qualifications.

Additionally, verifying degrees, professional licences, and credentials before extending an offer of employment ensures accuracy and reduces the risk of hiring unqualified individuals. And depending on the role, it might even be a legal requirement to fact-check credentials.

More tips on screening job applicants

The screening methods mentioned above will help you sift through the many incoming applications more quickly. Screening applicants is a critical step in the hiring process, and employing effective methods is key to finding the right candidates.

By using a combination of skills testing, resume review, phone screening, and all the other methods above, recruiters can identify the most qualified individuals for a role. But there are two more points worth mentioning here.

Ensure fairness and diversity while screening applicants

Throughout the screening process, it is essential to maintain fairness and diversity. You should regularly evaluate the applicant pool to ensure it is diverse and representative of the available talent.

You should also be mindful of any unintentional bias or narrow interpretations of criteria that may result in qualified candidates being overlooked.

By combining multiple screening methods, using blind hiring techniques, and focusing on the qualifications and fit of candidates, recruiters can create a fair and inclusive screening process.

Maintaining fairness, diversity, and compliance throughout the screening process is crucial. By following these methods and ensuring a thorough evaluation of each candidate, organisations can make well-informed hiring decisions and set their new employees up for success.

For more information, check out 13 steps to improve your diversity recruiting strategy.

Automate your process with the right software

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of a great recruitment tool. Applicant tracking systems and similar types of software solutions can not only help speed up your applicant screening process. They can also ensure fairness in the selection and reduce unconscious (human) bias to affect hiring decisions.

Through automation features such as resume parsing, built-in assessments, and pre-selected screening questions, you can filter through hundreds of applications in the blink of an eye. With JOIN, you get all these features in one free tool:

Sign up now – it’s free!

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