Effective job applicant screening

Jason Ennor, Co-founder and CEO at MyHR
By Jason Ennor, Co-founder and CEO at MyHR

There’s a vacancy in your organisation. You’ve put an ad online, told all your networks, and the CVs have started rolling in. Next comes the daunting step of working through each Curriculum Vitae to identify a short-list of people to interview.

For New Zealand business owners with a million things on their plate, this step can appear daunting and time-consuming. But with the right approach you can find great people out of that pile of CVs.

A few lemons might also slip through the net and end up at your interviews, but such is the nature of screening applicants. It’s an imprecise process. CVs and resumes are very easy to “dress-up”; the truth is easily stretched, and a piece of paper doesn’t really tell you much about a person.

Also, if you’re hiring graduates or school leavers, there isn’t much to put on a CV. Work experience may be limited to some holiday work in unrelated industries and referees will likely be sports coaches, family friends etc. So a CV may have limited value.

For these reasons, you must be prepared for a decent interview process.

Remember: You are not looking to hire somebody straight from their CV. You are simply trying to identify the best potential applicants for your organisation and quickly get rid of those who don't fit your needs.

Of course, all this assumes you have some CVs to review! If nobody applied (or the wrong type of people applied), you’ll have to review your whole approach and start again.

Know what you want from the start

Before you start recruitment and then sit down to look at the CVs, you should have a really clear picture of what you actually want.

It sounds simple, but business owners are often not totally sure what they need and end up discarding potentially good applicants or interviewing people who are not suitable.

Using the interviews to help define your job needs is not an effective use of your time and it might cost you a quality person.

Specify the current needs of the company and its future goals first, then think how the position will assist in delivering on these, and then define the sort of person who will excel in the role. Do the groundwork before you even pick up the CVs.

Benchmark each CV against your checklist

Use a simple checklist to keep you focussed and start sorting through the pile. When you’re using a good checklist, 2 minutes per CV is plenty.

The “yes” CVs will have most of the skills, education, and/or experience you need, all articulated in a concise 2–3 page document that is easy to follow, with no spelling or grammatical errors.

The “no” CVs will have none of what you need (or not enough); possibly also badly formatted. You may like to build a “maybe” pile for the CVs that look okay and with applicants that may have some relevant experience, but not quite what you are looking for… difficult to make up your mind at first read.

If you don’t have enough “yes” CVs you might choose to look again at the “maybes”, but be very careful not to lower your standards too far. This could also be a symptom of not really knowing what you want. So it might be better to just start again.

Remember: It is much better to take your time during the recruitment process to find the best applicant than to hire somebody who is not right. In the long run, the work you'll put into managing a person who doesn’t meet your needs is far, far greater than keeping a job open for bit longer in order to find the right person. This is harder to do than it sounds.

WEBINAR 22 - Recruitment with special guest Emma Rowley from InITiate Recruitment

Now you have a short-list

Ideally, you want a short-list of 3 (or 5 in some situations) people for a job. You can then begin preparing for the selection process which should include phone screening, interviews, and maybe some form testing. Preparation for this process will require a more detailed re-read of the short-listed CVs.

If you’re struggling to do this on your own, consider engaging help. There are a number options:

  1. Online recruitment support - there are a number of cool and effective digital recruitment support tools that can provide cost-effective ways to help with the screening process and general applicant management. The pricing is often flexible and reasonable.
  2. Recruitment consultancy - small business-owners will often eschew this path due to cost. But you’re engaging a professional, so you should expect some cost. Also the applicants are guaranteed for a period of time, e.g. 12 weeks, so if they don’t work out the consultant must replace them for free. Paying a consultant will save you time on screening and will enable you to leverage their database and recruitment expertise. As with all industries there are dodgy operators out there, but a good recruitment consultant can really help.

If you hit the job market with a very clear idea of what you want the applicant screening process should be a piece of cake. Get through this phase quickly and you can start talking to the humans!

Find out more about getting employment agreements and onboarding right.

Frequently asked questions

Should I make a job offer conditional on reference checks?

You can make an offer of employment subject to satisfactory references.

This can work well where you are under some time pressure, either on the candidate’s side (e.g. the candidate is in hot demand and you want to get an offer in front of them before they’re snapped up by someone else), or the business side (e.g. you are critically short-staffed and willing to take a punt on someone before you check all their references).

Do I need to do police or criminal record checks?

It depends on the role. If prior criminal convictions are relevant to the job, then criminal history checks with the Ministry of Justice or NZ Police Vetting Service are a good idea.

Some jobs are legally required to have completed police vetting or criminal conviction checks, e.g. a core worker providing services or support to children must have a police vetting completed before they start work.

Applicants don't have to offer information about their previous criminal convictions if they are not asked to, but if you are planning to check criminal records, you must get the person’s permission (in writing) before you do. We recommend stating this requirement in your job application forms.

Can I put candidates through pre-employment work tests?

Yes, you can use tests to assess how well an applicant performs a particular key task or part of the job. Psychometric assessments (sometimes called “personality tests”) and knowledge tests can also be useful in choosing the best candidates.

Make sure you are transparent about any testing, administer tests properly, and don’t use the results to discriminate against applicants on grounds like age, gender, ethnicity, disability or religion. 

Your tests shouldn’t deliver any commercial benefit to the business, e.g. you can have a barista make a coffee, but drink it yourself or give it to your staff. Don’t serve the coffee to a customer.

Get more answers to common recruitment questions.


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