Screening is the process of checking a candidate’s eligibility for a particular role: an efficient way to reduce a stack of applications to those best qualified for the role. In a globalised job market, pre-screening establishes whether they have the right to live and work in a particular geographical jurisdiction and whether their language skills are good enough. Pre-screening also determines whether candidates have the essential qualifications and experience, and (for example) good communication skills. This can be done with a review of CVs; and technology now enables us to do this electronically with the use of effective candidate management and applicant tracking systems.
However, this will not be enough to ascertain the candidate’s true motivation: are they genuinely interested in the position? There is nothing more frustrating than getting a long way down the hiring process only to discover that the candidate was only using the process in order to secure a counter-offer from an existing employer, or that they are not really serious about relocating, or their family and personal commitments would make it difficult. We refer to this as “candidate control” and it is best done with a short telephone call or online questionnaire, asking questions such as “Why are you applying for this job?” and “Is the salary range acceptable?”
Increasingly there is a requirement to dig a little deeper before sending a candidate for a first interview, for example to verify educational achievements or to ask the candidate’s permission to contact former supervisors on work performance. Compliance screening is now a frequently demanded by banks and other financial institutions. For audit purposes they want to know the candidate’s credit history and it is best to introduce this early in the process, but be aware that there may be local legal and regulatory limits on what you can and cannot do.
Some organisations will also look at social media: it is very easy to find out a lot about a candidate by looking at LinkedIn, for example. On the other hand many other employers give are reluctant to rely on this approach because of concerns about the accuracy of the information gained, invading the privacy of the applicant or creating an inadvertent issue of job discrimination.
Experience or competence-based screening?
Screening of professional and senior candidates will focus on validating claims of experience stated on a CV, for example to establish some firm metrics (e.g. What were your targets? Were you on time and on budget? What was your team size?) When it comes to the screening of emerging talent, by contrast, candidates typically have little or no work experience so you might focus on what they did at university (activities, societies etc.) though you may also want to conduct some competency and behavioural tests.
With the globalisation of talent, video interviewing (e.g. via Skype) makes it easier to screen physically remote candidates. Unlike conducting a phone interview or reading a CV, a video interview lets the employer or agency observe a candidate’s body language and how they answer questions; however, its other key advantage is a reduction in travel costs and a more efficient use of time for both the recruiter and candidates.
For the best candidates, who succeed in passing these screening tests, some kind of job simulation can help establish the final shortlist.
Screening is a vital ingredient for filtering through a pile of applications to identify suitability and willingness to take on a role, and to identify any red flags as early as possible. There are additional benefits beyond accelerating time to hire, reducing cost of hire and eliminating the wastage of precious HR and TA resources, however. Screening not only helps the process of filling a vacancy; it can also help to build a talent pool for the future.
At every level, screening must be carried out with sensitivity and the candidate’s interests at heart. This starts with doing the screening at the agreed time. You would not think highly of a candidate who cancelled an interview at short notice without good reason – but it works both ways.
It also means asking fair and focused questions. Can you demonstrate a job-related necessity for asking the question? The intent behind the question, as well as how the information is used, may have implications within the equal opportunities legal framework. As a rule of thumb the employer or its agent must be able to demonstrate that the questions have a direct bearing on ability and willingness to do the job. It is in any case worthwhile asking if every question is really necessary, to keep each screening exercise time-efficient.
Next, keep the entire end-to-end process as short as possible and give rapid, constructive feedback to both successful and unsuccessful candidates.
Candidates who feel they’ve been treated fairly by your company – whether they’re hired or not –will give your company’s employment brand positive marks and be solid sources for future job openings and referrals. Candidates who have been treated discourteously or simply ignored may disregard future openings at your organisation. Worse yet, they may decide to use social media to spread their negative experience.
Given that HR and TA departments are working with limited resources, it therefore makes sense to partner with a reputable organisation to help with screening processes that are responsive to both your needs and those of candidates.