Screening Your Applicants

Have you ever sat down with a manager who screens resumes for a position only to explain the reason they think  certain resumes qualify for interviews is because “these resumes are from nice people”? Or are you maybe one of the managers that look for “qualifications” like “ability to multi-task”? Is it right to not give someone the opportunity for an interview just because they don’t live in the same city or province? What do I typically say to people who suggest or are in the practice of doing these things? “STOP!”

We have gone through all the trouble of analyzing a job, creating a job description and advertising with a job posting. Don’t mess up the process by failing to create screening criteria that validates who the most qualified candidates are (on paper). Not only could you be missing out on some great opportunities to interview qualified people, but you also need to develop a means of remaining fair to everyone in the process.

How many times have HR professionals come across managers who don’t take the time to even consider what the screening criteria should be? Too many is the answer. What is amazing though is that if we have gone through the process mentioned above then we have already created the tools we will use to develop the criteria we’ll be using.

The job description is the basis from which many of the next steps in the process are derived from. We know the job posting is created specifically from the job description and the job posting is where we should find our screening criteria. Best practice is if we didn’t advertise it, we can’t screen for it.

It isn’t fair to screen out an applicant based on qualifications they didn’t know exist. Many people custom tailor their resumes to meet the qualifications that are advertised. If there is a particular qualification you want to see in a person’s resume but find the resumes acquired don’t contain what you are looking for, check your job posting to make sure it was advertised. If you find that there are qualifications missing from your job posting, cancel the competition and advertise again in order to provide the same opportunity to all applicants.

Presuming the job posting asked for all the bona fide operational requirements and qualifications that are vital to the role, these are what we can use to determine our screening criteria. Any of the qualifications that can be demonstrated and evaluated on paper make valid screening criteria.

Note: Bona fide operational requirements are requirements of the job that in some rare cases do allow for some level of discrimination thus far according to the Canadian courts. For instance is it a bona fide qualification to insist that an RCMP officer wears a uniform specific hat? No it isn’t, unless it is required by law to protect safety. Thus, under circumstances where someone is not able to wear a helmet could they be an RCMP officer on a motorcycle? Not if it prevents people to ride motorcycles safely and potentially limits the person’s ability to do the full scope of the job.  Thus, this bona fide qualification according to the Canadian courts would limit the ability for people to do the job of motorcycle RCMP but in no way should it impede the ability to perform other functions within the RCMP where it is not a bona fide operational requirement. (

Criteria that can be demonstrated on paper are experience and training. It normally isn’t possible to assess someone’s ability, knowledge or skill via a resume unless they have included a portfolio of their work. For example we can’t determine by reading a resume if someone is able to add 2+2. We can’t via a resume tell if an applicant has the knowledge that 2+2=4 and we can’t evaluate at what level their math skills are without a test.

If however, an applicant’s resume reads that during a period of time they were trained in math and in the course of their job had to add 2+2 to determine it equaled 4 we could evaluate their training and experience. We can see through this that they have received math skills training, have experience adding 2+2,  and they have experience analyzing 2+2 to determine it equals 4.

Measuring the criteria that is created can be done in a multitude of different ways. For our purposes we are going to use one of the more simple forms, a weighted point system. In this system it’s a matter of determining the value of each criterion as it relates to the job and then assigning a point value to it. For instance let’s say the qualifications we posted for a Chef were the following:

  1. Diploma
  2. Certified Red Seal
  3. Experience supervising staff
  4. Experience with Microsoft Office products
  5. Experience using kitchen equipment

Then you need to consider the value you place on the qualifications:

  1. Diploma – 2 points
  2. Certified Red Seal – 3 points
  3. Experience supervising staff – 5 points
  4. Experience with Microsoft Office products – 1 point
  5. Experience using kitchen equipment – 5 points

The values assigned may not be what all organizations would agree with but in this case they would provide us with some insight into our desires of what candidates to interview. The values show us that we value the experience in points 3 and 5 equally and above all other qualifications. In relation to training we would value certified Red Seal training over that of a diploma and experience with Microsoft Office products is valued the least, but would be nice to have. It doesn’t matter how many points you assign to the qualifications so long as they demonstrate the value you place on the qualification in respect to both the job and in comparison to the other qualifiers.

Once it is determined what value each screening criteria has then the system gets applied to each resume consistently. If more than one person is screening resumes it is suggested screening them together in order to ensure the criteria are being interpreted the same way. Clear understanding is the advantage to having systems that are not too complicated. The most important aspect of this part of the process is to remember to evaluate the resume and not the person.

People need to be aware of their personal biases and make sure not to let them influence their screening. It’s isn’t fair to make assumptions for one resume that are not going to be made for others. In some cases people might be familiar with the applicants who are applying for the role. In these cases be sure to screen based on what the resume is able to demonstrate, not what the person screening assumes or knows in their mind. The process must remain fair and consistent for all applicants.

Often in the hiring process we have a preconceived idea of who we envision might fill the role. This is often based on the current person who is in the role, or on past experiences we’ve had with similar roles. The results of this process sometimes can surprise us with who the lists of candidates are for the interviews. We may find that internal candidates did not even qualify for an interview, or we may find ourselves surprised at the quality of candidates that are listed.

It’s ok to double check the system in order to make sure you applied it consistently and in a fair manner.  If your system is fair, consistent and derived from a properly created job description you will find the best candidates. In the end, trust that the screening process was able to give you the most qualified candidates to interview.

So what do you need in order to be successful in the screening process?

  • Develop screening criteria that you can evaluate on paper
  • Devise a value based evaluation method that makes sense
  • Evaluate the resumes not the people
  • Be open minded and accept the results of the process

Now get ready to interview!

Did this post help you? Is there anything I might have missed? Do you have any screening tips or stories you want to share? Please leave a comment to let me know!


This entry was posted in Human Resources, Recruitment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Screening Your Applicants

  1. Pingback: Interviewing a Candidate | Colin Finlay, CHRP

  2. Kellie Auld says:

    Grreat article, clearly explains the proper way to do screening and illustrates how managers can make decisions based on criteria.

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