The 8 best practices being used to screen applicants

The 8 best practices being used to screen applicants

Finding the best methods to screen applicants can seem like a balancing act.

With job positions receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants, you have to find the sweet spot between the quality of hire and time to fill.

You, as a recruiter, have the tough but important responsibility of restricting the talent pool to avoid getting overwhelmed. Yet, you must ensure you aren’t unnecessarily eliminating qualified candidates. (Maybe a candidate doesn’t have the right background but excels in developing an engaging content strategy?)

Screening is a complicated job that even the most experienced HR managers struggle to get right.

This article helps you navigate these difficult decisions by describing the eight best strategies companies are using to screen applicants. You can use these best practices to hire the right candidate in less time.

Table of contents

What do we mean by candidate screening?

The process of screening and evaluating candidates refers to all the recruitment efforts that happen before the full interview. The screening process aims to shortlist the best candidates as efficiently as possible.

As a recruiter, you need an efficient screening process to find the ideal person for the role quickly. However, you must also strike a balance between:

  • Exclusivity – filtering out unqualified candidates and ensuring you aren’t overwhelmed with applicants
  • Inclusivity – taking care not to be unnecessarily restrictive and keeping the door open for qualified candidates without certain degrees or professional experience

Evaluating job candidates can include online skills assessments, video interviews, phone screening, sample job trials, and much more.

Why is screening and evaluating candidates important?

It may seem obvious why it’s crucial to screen job candidates, but it’s much deeper than “to get a good employee.”

Properly evaluating job candidates saves you time, effort, and a lot of money.

Here are a few benefits of screening and evaluating candidates:

Image showing list of reasons why screening and evaluating candidates is important
  • Find candidates with the right skills and experience (or transferable background) for the job
  • Eliminate poor matches straight away to save time and costs
  • Learn more about applicants before the interview stage
  • Focus on candidates who can add to your company culture
  • Reduce your team’s workload to a manageable level and maintain hiring standards and fairness 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a bad hire can cost a business up to 30% of that employee’s wages for the first year in lost productivity, coaching time, and rehiring and recruitment efforts.

This means that an employee with an annual wage of $100,000 can cost the organization up to $30,000.

Jorgen Sundberg, the chief executive officer of Link Humans, says the cost can get as high as $240,000 for a second-level management position.

In this estimate, Jorgen includes:

  • Hiring costs
  • Total compensation
  • Cost of maintaining the employee
  • Disruption costs
  • Severance
  • Mistakes and failures

It’s an impressive list, but there are a few more costs he doesn’t mention:

  • Staff time
  • Training fees
  • Outplacement fees (separate from severance)
  • Disruption to team performance and current projects
  • Opportunity costs

We cover this topic extensively in our article on the cost of a bad hire.

Considering the best ways being used to screen applicants can also prevent unethical practices, legal issues, and limited diversity in hiring.

For instance, heavy reliance on AI and automatic software can inadvertently filter out excellent candidates. The Harvard Business School reports that it is responsible for the exclusion of more than 10 million workers from hiring discussions.

In some cases, AI hiring software can have a racial bias based on the pre-existing hiring patterns they learn from, showing that computers inherit their creators’ biases.

AI software completes application and resume screenings and searches for relevant keywords and credentials. This not only filters out great candidates but also means that many people can “cheat the system” by simply inserting certain words into their resumes.

Properly evaluating job candidates is non-negotiable to your efficacy and efficiency, so let’s take a look at the best methods being used to screen applicants.

The 8 best practices currently being used to screen job candidates

Let’s take a look at the main methods being used to screen candidates in today’s recruiting efforts.

They also happen to be our top recommendations for recruiters refining their hiring processes.


1. Make sure to enforce fair hiring practicesMake a conscious effort to view objective data and treat all candidates fairly
2. Kick resumes and cover letters to the curbReduce the need for CVs and cover letters wherever possible
3. Ask candidates to complete a job application formCreate a quick and mobile-friendly application process
4. Take a skills-based approach to hiringAssess and evaluate your candidates’ skills to find an ideal match
5. Use personality testsGain insights into applicants’ personalities and culture add
6. Run short phone or video screening interviewsGet to know candidates better through phone and video screening
7. Give the applicants a paid trial assignmentTest role responsibilities by having candidates complete a paid trial
8. Check your candidates’ internet presenceCheck candidates’ social media presence for professionalism and appearance

1. Make sure to enforce fair hiring practices

Keeping things as fair and even as possible during the hiring process leads to hiring more suitable candidates. It’s as simple as that.

However, it isn’t always simple to determine what “fair” is. Here are a few ways to enforce fair recruitment efforts:

Graphic showing a few ways to enforce fair recruitment efforts
  • Work with clear, objective screening criteria
  • Focus on skills as much as possible (more on this below)
  • Conduct brief, relevant background checks
  • Try to reduce unconscious bias

Unconscious bias factors include, but aren’t limited to, the candidate’s name, the school they attended, their hometown, and their photo. 

Dawn Gilfillan, a content writer here at TestGorilla, experienced having numerous potential employers ignore her application because of an unfair bias against her age, even though she had the skills to do the job.

Read Dawn’s story and nine more in our article on skills-based hiring stories.

It’s also important to follow fair-chance hiring practices and give an equal chance to people with a criminal record.

Fair hiring is not only a discrimination issue but potentially a legal one, depending on where your company operates. This is because many countries and regions have developed “ban the box” laws that prevent employers from refusing a candidate solely because they’ve been previously incarcerated.

You must have a relevant justification for refusing a previously imprisoned candidate a job, or it isn’t a fair practice.

2. Kick resumes and cover letters to the curb

Resumes are quickly becoming archaic and a thing of the past. They can be unreliable at best, a waste of your time as a recruiter, and a poor indicator of quality of hire.

It’s common for a candidate to seem like a great match for a role based on their resume, only to end up being unqualified because of other factors, like attitude and soft skills.

One study showed that the wrong soft skills are the reason for about 89% of hiring failures.

Plus, over-reliance on resumes, CVs, and cover letters excludes outstanding candidates who have the right skill set and expertise but not the desired background (or talent for formatting those application documents).

Laura Donovan, the head of customer success at TestGorilla, experienced issues with resumes firsthand when she worked in recruitment. 

In the same post on skills-based hiring stories we mentioned earlier, Laura talks about refusing candidates over issues like resume formatting or incorrectly uploading a file. Hundreds of candidates were dismissed because of points that had nothing to do with quality, capability, or job performance.

Many organizations, such as the multinational technology corporation IBM, are hitting the ground running with skills-based hiring.

IBM has a firm stance on skills over college degrees, opting to choose candidates who have technical expertise, completed a coding boot camp, or attended a vocational class.

Other big-name companies like Google and Apple are also taking a skills-based approach, with many of their positions ditching the requirement for college degrees.

Skills-based hiring simply makes sense. If the candidate has the talent to perform the role and its responsibilities well, what does their background matter?

3. Ask candidates to complete a job application form

Yes, job applications are still necessary and helpful. However, we can take steps to make them more effective and accessible.

The following are the best top best practices for modern job applications:

  • Make it mobile-friendly
  • Make it quick to fill out

One report found that in 2021, 67% of job applications were completed on mobile devices, so you can widen your talent pool greatly by ensuring your application process is mobile-friendly.

It’s also a great idea to incorporate qualifying questions into your application process.

Qualifying questions enable you to list the must-haves of the role to ensure all applicants meet the bare requirements. They’re especially useful if you have a public link to your assessments and don’t want to be flooded with unqualified applicants.

A candidate must answer qualifying questions before the assessment begins to determine if they meet minimum requirements, such as:

Graphic showing the minimum requirements a candidate must meet before the assessment
  1. Language proficiency: It’s vital to specify the language and fluency level required to perform the job (we recommend asking for fluency instead of “native speakers” since the latter can rule out many excellent candidates)
  2. Certification or degree: Some roles require certification, such as medical, legal, or engineering degrees or a driver’s license 
  3. Physical ability: Labor-intensive jobs like warehouse positions may require workers to lift a certain amount of weight or walk significant distances
  4. Location: Some roles are restricted to certain areas with no option for remote work
  5. The legal right to work in the area: Some positions require candidates to have residency or the legal right to work in the region

Job applications should aim to gather the key requirements and be kept simple and quick. Make sure the applicant hits all the minimum must-haves so that you can move on to deeper assessments.

4. Take a skills-based approach to hiring

What matters more than getting the job done? If a candidate has the skills to complete the role’s responsibilities, they deserve the role as much as any other applicant.

Skills-based hiring relies on expertise and talent and minimizes the importance of past experience and educational qualifications while reducing unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is one of the biggest problems in the hiring world. Recruiters and interviewers often unintentionally judge candidates based on age, schooling, gender, and race.

According to a study conducted by the recruitment agency Robert Walters, 81% of employers recognize that unconscious bias affects their decisions, but 42% of organizations take no steps to reduce it. And 19% of businesses don’t even recognize that they hold unconscious biases.

Pie chart showing employers who recognise unconscious bias and those who don't. Source Robert Walters agency

So, what’s the best approach to assessing capability and reducing biases?

Use screening tools to focus on online skills testing to evaluate a job candidate’s hard and soft skills.

Skills testing enables you to build the perfect job assessment to find a candidate who matches your ideal candidate persona.

Here’s an example assessment for a chief marketing officer:

Using a skills-based approach enables you to find someone with transferable skills that may make them the most qualified candidate, even if they don’t have the right background.

Sheena Muirden, the content marketing co-ordinator at TestGorilla, is a real-life example. Sheena’s background includes many jobs, such as waitress, bartender, and car part salesperson, but none of these roles would imply that she has skills as a content marketer.

Nonetheless, a skills test showed her capabilities: She scored the highest out of several hundred other candidates.

Sheena is now essential to the TestGorilla marketing team, and without skills-based hiring, she says she’s sure that HR would have thrown away her CV!

5. Use personality tests

Personality tests are another useful tool in the screening process.

They help you find out key information about a candidate, such as how they process information, how they interact with others, and what drives them to achieve their goals.

Here are a handful of TestGorilla’s personality tests:

Personality testHow it helps
Enneagram testAssesses an applicant’s core beliefs and worldview and how they manage their emotions
16 Types testGives insight into a candidate’s source of energy, how they make decisions, and how they interact with colleagues
Big 5 testAssesses a candidate’s emotional intelligence and stability, helping promote empathy and resilience
Culture Add test Evaluates how a candidate’s values and beliefs align with your organization’s

Determining whether a candidate adds to your culture is more important than we once thought.

Modern job seekers examine your company culture closely, making it a critical part of your organization’s branding and marketing. 

A Glassdoor survey also rated it as one of the top job satisfaction factors, next to senior leadership and career opportunities.

Notice that we’ve said culture add and not culture fit

Culture fit focuses too heavily on ensuring a candidate is exactly the same as the rest of your employees. On the other hand, culture add focuses on making an addition to your culture.

Workers who weave into your company culture add a wide range of thoughts, ideas, and opinions and improve your overall diversity.

To read about this in depth, check out our blog on culture add versus culture fit.

6. Run short phone or video screening interviews

Phone and video screening interviews help you get to know the candidate a little better.

Phone interviews enable you to request basic information, like location, salary expectations, and availability. They also give you an opportunity to ask candidates in-depth questions about their work experience and how they got it, such as through a lifelong hobby or skill camp.

Ask all candidates the same questions to create an equal playing field, and ensure you discuss all important topics.

You can also consider asynchronous videos, which are especially useful for remote jobs.

This is easy with TestGorilla’s video responses, which enable you to create custom questions for your assessments that require candidates to give their answers in a short video recording.

Video responses let you see the candidate in action and are particularly helpful for roles like sales. For example, you can prompt the applicant to sell you the nearest object in their office.

7. Give applicants a paid trial assignment

This is a useful strategy in many industries, especially creative fields. You can send trial samples to candidates to see their skills put to direct use.

For example, send a potential content writer a brief for an article, including a basic outline and some style requirements. The writer must complete the trial and send back their work.

You then evaluate the sample and pay the candidate for their time.

A trial assignment helps you assess the candidate’s performance, the quality of their work, their turnaround time, how well they follow brand voice and instructions, and their personal style.

Some candidates may have the required skills and expertise but still not match your company’s style.

Paid trials are especially helpful when hiring:

  • Content writers
  • Editors
  • Programmers
  • Software engineers
  • Graphic designers

Paid trial samples are a popular method being used to screen applicants for editing roles. Great editors are hard to find and assess because their portfolio pieces may be the work of a great writer rather than their own.

This is a top recommendation of ours in our blog post on how to hire an editor.

As useful as they are, remember that paid trials can be resource-intensive and time-consuming, so it’s best to use them after filtering and shortlisting your candidate pool.

8. Check your candidates’ internet presence

The practice of reviewing a candidate’s internet presence, such as their social media channels, has been around for a while – not to mention the butt of quite a few jokes we’ve all heard.

Checking an applicant’s social media can be helpful and is quite common. There’s a reason 71% of hiring managers screen candidates by checking their social channels.

It helps you determine how the candidate speaks in informal situations and gives you a way to check for red flags, such as profanity and inappropriate photos.

However, there are also a few cons to this method.

Some of the 71% of the hiring managers mentioned above say they aren’t happy that checking candidates’ social media is their job responsibility and claim the practice isn’t fair or accurate.

Recruiters might find the process invasive and a little creepy since people often use social media to relax and let their hair down, so they may not always be acting in a strictly professional way.

If you aren’t careful, looking over someone’s social media could cause too many unconscious biases to crop up as you see their personal life, interests, and hobbies.

We recommend reviewing your company culture and processes and the role in question. Is it a role in which professional relationships and public appearance are important, like B2B sales? Then you should check applicants’ internet presence.

But if it’s a role for a back-end developer who will remain nearly anonymous in the final product, it’s not necessary to browse their social media.

The secret to screening and evaluating candidates

Our best advice for recruiting teams is to understand that using only one of these strategies won’t solve all your screening problems.

Rather, you should combine many of the best practices we’ve discussed to get the best candidates to the interview stage at the lowest cost and in the shortest time possible.

Here’s a sample screening process that uses the methods above:

  1. Use qualifying questions before the application to filter out unqualified candidates at the start of the hiring process
  2. Have candidates fill out applications
  3. Assess candidates with skills testing and personality tests
  4. Give qualified candidates a paid trial
  5. Do background checks on successful candidates
  6. Proceed to the interview stage

This process streamlines your recruiting efforts, making them quicker and more affordable while ensuring the best candidates reach the interview stage.

You’ll then have a shortlisted talent pool that contains only the ideal candidates, and you can choose the best from there.

Conduct structured interviews after evaluating candidates

Fair, effective methods being used to screen applicants are slowly taking over the hiring world, and you can take steps to take advantage of them yourself.

Strategies like skills testing, personality tests, and kicking the CV to the curb help you recruit the right person faster and more inclusively.

After the screening process, you’ll move to the interview stage. Is there a better, more effective way to conduct interviews?

You bet there is, and it’s called structured interviewing. Read our article on unstructured versus structured interviews for more information.

To assess your candidates’ communication skills, check out our Communication test. or sign up for your free plan to get started on building a skills assessment.

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