7 Top Applicant Screening Tips

A hiring manager writes a user experience engineer job description.

You’ve posted your job description and the applications are pouring in. The good news is that it’s likely that dozens or even hundreds of qualified candidates applied. The “bad” news is that you need to go through the time-consuming applicant screening process.

Instead of spending hours reviewing each resume, you can use these tips to streamline the process and find qualified candidates faster. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Applicant Screening?

It’s the process of reviewing job applications so you can easily recognize which applicants are qualified to advance in your interview process and which are not. Though it’s tempting to consider each application and interview everyone who applies, an efficient screening process will help you focus on good-fit candidates only.

The goal is to easily weed out bad-fit candidates and identify candidates who are more likely to succeed in the role. As a result, your business will hire better employees and reduce employee turnover rates.

The Society for Human Resources Management estimates that each employee you lose costs approximately six to nine months of their salary to replace. An effective screening process will help you ensure that your recruiting resources are used wisely and pay off in the long run.

How Do You Screen Applicants Successfully?

Now that you know why it’s important to screen candidates, how can you make sure you do it properly? These tips will help you create a system for screening applicants quickly and effectively.

1. Write Effective Job Descriptions

An efficient applicant screening process begins with your job description. Not only will you receive fewer applications, but the ones you do receive will be more qualified.

To do this, be clear about everything you’re looking for, including the desired education level, experience, and skills. Add an extensive list of the job responsibilities so potential candidates can assess whether they are interested in the role and have the necessary skills. It’s also beneficial to include the salary range so candidates only apply if it meets their expectations.

2. Use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

An ATS can automate some of your steps, including scanning resumes for relevant experience and organizing documents. You can enter keywords like the job titles, skills, and qualifications that you want the ATS to look for. It will then scan all the resumes for the relevant keywords so you only have to read the resumes of candidates who are likely to be a fit.

This method also simplifies the applicant screening process by making it easier to consolidate applications that come from various job boards, assess the candidates’ qualifications, and keep applications on file. Some platforms will even allow you to rank candidates based on the number of keywords in their resume.

3. Require a Cover Letter

Cover letters help hiring managers learn more about a candidate’s communication style and professionalism long before an interview. Be specific about what you want candidates to include in their cover letter by using open-ended questions, such as what motivated them to apply or why they’re a good fit for the position.

4. Conduct Introductory Phone Interviews

Before you ask candidates to come in for an in-person interview or longer video interview, set up a phone screening so you can save time on the front end of your recruitment process. Ask candidates questions that will help you discern whether there are any deal breakers, such as whether the salary expectations match up or if the work culture is a fit.

Ask why the candidate is interested in the role or invite them to talk about their relevant experience. Ask if they have any questions or concerns.

5. Ask Better Interview Questions

Great interview questions help hiring managers decipher who is and isn’t a good fit. To run an effective applicant screening process, ask a range of questions, such as:

  • Background interview questions: Uncover details about the candidate’s experience. Examples include, “Tell me about yourself,” and “What made you choose this field?”
  • Behavioral interview questions: Learn more about a candidate’s skills by asking how they typically react to specific scenarios. For example, you can ask how they’ve handled challenging situations, such as conflicts with coworkers or getting information from someone who isn’t responsive.
  • Situational interview questions: These are similar to behavioral questions, but instead of asking questions about how the candidate had reacted to a past situation, these focus on what the candidate would do in a hypothetical scenario.

Use the same interview questions for each candidate you meet with. This will make it easier for you to compare answers.

6. Contact Your Candidates’ References

Reach out to your candidates’ references to assess their hard and soft skills. This will help you get a more well-rounded understanding of the candidate’s strengths and limitations. However, keep in mind that some company policies specify that references can only share the employee’s dates of employment.

It’s best to save time by only calling references for your top two or three candidates. Otherwise, your application screening process can get unwieldy.

7. Collaborate With Your Team

Bring your findings to the team and get their input on which candidates would make a good fit. It will lend you yet another perspective and the chance to gather information about the candidate you might have missed.

It’s always good to get everyone’s feedback — especially from the team who will be working with that person directly. You might also find it useful to invite other team members to interview the candidate as well. Not only will this applicant screening strategy show that you value their opinions, but it will also help the candidate get a better idea of the team dynamics and work culture.

Find Your Next Great Hire

Use these tips to speed up your applicant screening process. Save even more time by reaching qualified candidates quickly with a free job posting on Monster.