It’s a competitive landscape out there for recruiters. Amid rising costs and an ongoing candidate shortage, hiring talented candidates is not easy. On these pages, we’ve spoken before about the benefits of outreach to passive candidates, of building talent pipelines, getting the interview process right, and about the importance of onboarding.

But a frequently overlooked step is candidate screening. Sure, it can feel like a rather mundane administrative task, the least exciting step in the recruitment process. But it is clearly necessary: hiring managers can’t possibly interview every single applicant for every single position. When you’re dealing with tens or hundreds of applications, you need to be able to sift through them; to sort the wheat from the chaff as it were.

Yet, this isn’t a simple task – it’s a unique balancing act: trying to be restrictive and selective, but not so much so that you fall prey to unconscious bias or let outstanding candidates slip through the net.

The benefits of candidate screening go beyond simply saving recruiters time, and the price for getting it wrong can be substantial. It has greater financial implications than simply increasing the cost-per-hire. The cost of hiring the wrong person is estimated to be 30% of their annual salary, but this does not take into consideration the amount of time wasted, the lack of productivity, or the drain on other employees, who are left to deal with someone who is not fit for the role, and underperforming.

Screening is vital, finding qualified candidates to take through to the next stage of the recruitment process, and one that organisations can ill-afford to get wrong. So, let’s look at what candidate screening is, explore the many benefits of getting this process right, and how the right technology – such as an Applicant Tracking System – can help.

What is Candidate Screening?

Let’s start with the basics: candidate screening is the process by which recruiters or hiring managers review the applicants for an open role. Typically, this involves reviewing the CVs and cover letters that have been submitted, but could also include other documentation, based on what was required for the application process.

At this stage of the recruitment process, employers determine which of the applicants they would like to carry forward to the next stage and who will not. Generally, it involves assessing the skills, qualifications, and experience of the applicants, as well as determining whether they would be a good fit within the culture of the organisation.

Candidate Screening: The Good and the Bad

Candidate screening is essentially the gateway to recruitment. Failure to get through the screening process means the end of the line for applicants.

It is crucial for saving time during the recruitment process. One of the easiest ways to screen candidates is to use specific questions with the purpose of filtering out applicants who do not match the criteria for the role or who are not eligible for the position.

Using a question such as ‘Do you have the right to work in the UK?’ can immediately filter out anyone who is very basically unsuitable for the role based on their location or other factors. These types of questions are generally benign and function to automate the steps required to quickly weed out those who are not right for the role.

However, eligibility questions can have an undesired impact on the screening process, and in some ways, can entrench certain biases for recruiters.

For instance, some eligibility criteria can lead to less diverse hires. If a university degree is not specifically relevant to the position you are hiring for, including it as part of the screening process can limit the types of talent you are able to attract.

Choosing candidates based on their academic background or on their internship experience can result in you screening out candidates from less privileged backgrounds. Some applicants may not have been able to afford to take unpaid internships, so be aware that certain criteria can limit diversity.

Another example would be screening out candidates based on gaps or breaks in their employment history. This might – on the surface – seem like a good idea, until you realise that you have now potentially screened out any women looking to re-enter the workforce after giving birth. Hiring managers must be aware that privileging certain criteria can exclude people or groups of people who would otherwise be perfectly suitable for a role.

CV or resume screening is another practice that can be beneficial – filtering out candidates based on their skills and experience. If you’re looking to recruit for positions where certain skills are a requirement, this can be a simple but effective way of whittling down the applicants.

Yet this also risks limiting the diversity of talent that you can attract, because it can skew results based on the unconscious biases of those filtering through the CVs. It may benefit candidates who are more experienced at putting together a CV, a skill which could have limited bearing on their suitability for a position.

CV or resume screening also does not scale well for positions with high volumes of applications. It can be an extremely time-consuming way of handling the screening process, which may not be manageable if you have hundreds of applications.

Organisations looking to automate much of the steps of candidate screening and ensure a fair and equal opportunity to all candidates must turn to technology solutions like an Applicant Tracking System to manage the screening and selection process.

Candidate Screening: How an ATS can Help

Ask the right questions

Hireserve’s Applicant Tracking System includes automated screening tools that can both streamline and maximise the effectiveness of your hiring process.

You can set up killer questions – mandatory questions to evaluate the suitability of applicants for the role.

You can also set up job specific questions, configuring a unique set of questions to match the roles you are looking to recruit for. With these questions, you can also score and weight responses, providing flexibility and customisation to the screening process.

Remove Unconscious Bias

The CV anonymisation tool in Hireserve ATS can also be used to help remove any bias from the screening process.

By removing personal info such names and addresses, along with career and education timelines, and even the names of universities and previous employers, this tool allows recruiters to assess applicants based only on criteria that is relevant to the role.

These career and education history timelines, images, names of universities and previous employers all go some way to add to unconscious bias during screening and shortlisting.

By customising what hiring managers and recruiters can see, the potential for bias to impact the screening process is minimised.

Ultimately, tools that can boost automation are key to improving the ways in which you are able to screen candidates. Assessing applicants and finding the talent that best matches the job description for a role can be difficult to get right, but with an ATS, you can reduce the time it takes to screen candidates while avoiding many of the pitfalls that can limit diversity and inclusion.

If you would like to find out more about how Hireserve’s Applicant Tracking System can boost your recruitment and candidate selection process, book a demo today.

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.