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Why candidate screening is the gateway to successful recruitment

Why candidate screening is the gateway to successful recruitment

Recruitment is becoming increasingly competitive, with companies paying close attention to their outreach, pipelines, and onboarding. But candidate screening often receives little more than cursory attention.

So, what is so important about candidate screening, and why should you care?

What is candidate screening?

Candidate screening is the process of whittling down the vast number of applications you (hopefully) receive to a manageable number of the best candidates.

It’s the first hurdle that your ideal candidate needs to clear on the path to getting the job.

Great candidate screening picks out the exceptional candidates quickly, saving recruiters time and increasing the chances of hiring the best candidates for your company. Poorly executed screening means that your dream candidate might apply and get rejected… and you might never even realize it.

Why is candidate screening so important?

Calling candidate screening the gateway to recruitment isn’t hyperbole. If a candidate doesn’t get through screening, that really is the end of the story.

Screening is ultimately a balancing act. You are trying to restrict your pool of candidates enough to make it manageable – this is essential when you’re dealing with hundreds or maybe even thousands of applications.

But your screening cannot be so restrictive that you lose high-quality talent from that pool. The smaller your pool, the more chance someone spectacular has passed you by.

✱ Screening is a balancing act. You are trying to restrict your pool of candidates enough to make it manageable, but your screening cannot be so restrictive that you lose high-quality talent.

Despite candidate screening having this make-or-break effect, the techniques and criteria used to screen candidates are often legacy techniques (from who-knows-when) or a rushed response to a sudden influx of applications.

These approaches to screening can be hasty and outdated and can lead to missing out on great candidates.

Unethical and illegal screening

Overlooking incredible talent is already a good reason to care about your screening process. But there are other, more serious consequences for employers who don’t take candidate screening seriously.

Some forms of candidate screening require significant justification to be legal, and others may not be legal at all.

For example, some companies carry out blanket criminal records checks and credit checks on potential employees. In the US, some states have banned these outright. Other states allow employers to carry out these checks as long as they are based on a personalized assessment of the specific job being applied for.

Bad screening limits diversity

Candidate screening can also negatively affect DEI efforts and create a bias if employers don’t think clearly about their screening techniques and criteria. For example:

👉 Screening in candidates based solely on academic qualifications or internship experience can skew your recruitment towards those from privileged backgrounds 

👉 Screening out candidates with long breaks in employment may make it harder for mothers to re-enter the workplace.

To learn how unfair screening criteria can limit social mobility, read our in-depth report: CLOSING DOORS: A Report on Social Mobility in Recruitment.

Candidate screening is clearly essential, but it’s also potentially tricky. So, how do we go about it?

Types of candidate screening

Let’s get familiar with the most common ways to screen applicants and why you might want to use each of them.

Eligibility questions in the application process

One of the simplest ways to screen candidates, especially if you are using an online application process, is to have specific questions designed to filter out candidates who don’t meet your criteria.

Simple questions such as “do you hold a valid visa to work in this location” can be used to automatically screen out candidates who are not suitable for the role. You could also ask about specific ‘must-have’ skill sets or qualifications.

Including eligibility questions requires minimal effort from employers, but it can also come off as rigid and impersonal.

We have written before about using proxies to find desired qualities in candidates and how it often leads to less diverse hires.

To keep your candidate screening process fair, eligibility questions need to be both specific and relevant.

If a college degree is not specifically required for a role, do not use this as eligibility criteria as this will restrict you to certain types of talent.

With Headstart you can add custom eligibility questions to your application process, so you can get the information you need to screen efficiently while treating candidates to a fair, inclusive application experience. Learn more »

✱ Resume screening

Resumes offer candidates the opportunity to highlight their skills and suitability beyond a simple yes or no question on an application. 

In return, resume screening gives recruiters insight into what a candidate sees as important, both about their own experience and about the job role you are offering.

Some HR professionals, for example, will reject any generic resumes they receive, believing that those candidates lack the commitment needed to personalize their applications.

This approach can benefit candidates who understand the system. But it doesn’t benefit everyone.

✱ Diverse talent in particular, may not know how to optimize their resume for a specific job, or even that they’re expected to.

Being alert to the potential of diverse talent takes more than the 6 seconds recruiters spend on each resume on average. Assuming an outstanding reading speed of 500 words per minute, we’re still only reading 50 words of a two-page resume.

Screening by reading resumes is manageable for jobs with minimal applicants, but it scales poorly and risks introducing bias.

Instead, it’s a good idea to incorporate impartial, time-saving technology, like Headstart’s candidate screening software, to help give everyone candidate a fair chance.

✱ Phone screening

Phone screening or interviews are used relatively late in the screening process, as a step before more in-depth interviews and assessments.

Phone screening is an excellent way to offer candidates the opportunity to explain their situation and abilities in their own words. It is quicker and easier for both parties than attending a face-to-face interview but allows you to gauge a candidate’s interest and ability level.

Phone screening can make it less likely that you miss great diverse talent, but it’s essential to ensure that the process is fair and transparent.

Following an interview script that asks all candidates the same questions can help. So can clear screening criteria that are less susceptible to unconscious bias on the interviewer’s part.

You should also bear in mind that certain types of candidates — for instance, neurodivergent individuals — may struggle with this format of interview. Focus on the substance of the responses, rather than the confidence with which they’re delivered.

✱ Social media screening

Reviewing a candidate’s social media presence has become a regular, but sometimes controversial part of recruitment. Gen Z are digital natives and will often be alert to the importance of social media presence for employers.

However, using social media to screen candidates should be done with care. 

Some companies value social media screening as it helps them identify traits and attitudes in prospective employees.

For instance, applicants who are overwhelmingly negative (or positive) about their work and their employer. It can also help them recognize which candidates will thrive within their company culture and who will reflect their company values.

But when done poorly, social media screening can be overly invasive, with employers policing the personal lives of their staff.

It can also penalize candidates from troubled backgrounds, reducing social mobility and the opportunity for personal growth.

Social media is a valuable resource for screening candidates, but a responsible employer will think carefully about what they’re looking for and why it’s important to them.

Invasive or insightful? Read our blog on the dos and don’ts of social media screening.

✱ Candidate screening technology and A.I.

The screening techniques described above can be time-consuming, especially for large numbers of applicants.

That’s why hiring managers and talent acquisition professionals are increasingly turning to technology to facilitate the candidate screening process.

Artificial Intelligence, in particular, has made substantial advances in recent years to overcome some of its previous limitations.

In the past, automated systems might exclude candidates who don’t use a specific phrase or keyword on their resume, even if they’re a perfect match in every other way. Semantic analysis and A.I. now allow us to better identify the many different ways candidates might express themselves or show their skills.

Using technology to screen candidates will never be as nuanced as the human touch, but it does offer an opportunity to manage volume and reduce bias.

The bottom line? Be balanced and be intentional

Ultimately, many recruiting teams will find that combining technological solutions with human screening offers the best balance of adaptability and effort.

Whatever your candidate screening process, it’s crucial that you be intentional about your approach.

Relying on traditional, manual processes and subjective screening criteria can negatively impact your hiring outcomes. That’s particularly true when you’re dealing with a large volume of applications.

We encourage every organization to choose a process that helps their recruiters excel at their jobs and gives all types of candidates a chance to shine.

Looking for ways to make your candidate screening approach faster and fairer? Headstart is here to help.

Get a demo today to find out how easy it can be to screen thousands of applications, identify the best candidates, and create a more inclusive candidate experience.

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