Top tips for creating a great candidate shortlist

Hiring Guides


You’ve advertised the job, got some applications in and now you need to sift through the candidates. You want to find the right person for the role but you have very little time. 

You also don’t want the cost of hiring via a recruitment company. That’s why it’s vital to create a strong shortlist so you can go on to hire a brilliant candidate who will be an asset to your company.

Creating a high quality shortlist can feel like a lot of pressure but it doesn’t have to be daunting. We have a wealth of executive search experience and we’ve honed the process so that it’s relatively straightforward. Here’s 2to3days' guide with advice from some of the many experts in our network.

What are you looking for?

Creating a great shortlist starts with being sure of what you’re looking for. That’s why the essential first step is to spend time creating a job description that clearly sets out what your criteria are for your candidates.

From that you can begin to craft a well targeted job advert that makes it obvious what type of person, background and experience you’re after. You’ll also be able to write it in a way that is attractive to the calibre of talent you’re looking for.

“You want the job description to pique their interest,” says Sara Hurd, Director of Taylor Bennett Heyman headhunters. “If your advert isn’t written clearly - explaining what you really want - then you risk attracting candidates that aren't right for the role.”

Your advert should be clear about the essential skills and experience, as well as the nice-to-haves. This will help you start the shortlisting process when the applications come in.

Get your priorities straight

Knowing what your deal breakers are will help you begin the process of filtering out candidates that aren’t suitable. As a baseline you’ll want to look for those who have done their research, tailored their CV to the position, avoided careless mistakes and so on.

You can also use a scoring system to prioritise the qualities you’re looking for. By doing this and measuring each candidate against the same criteria, you’ll be able to get an objective view of how various candidates compare.

But don’t just think of this as a process of deciding who doesn’t fit the bill. Stephanie Dillon, Founder and Managing Director at Inclusivity Partners, says it’s essential to take time to read the CVs with a view of looking at how you could include rather than exclude the candidate from the shortlist.

“My top tip is to read the CV once and then read it again from the bottom up,” she says. “A good CV shows someone with drive and determination who has demonstrated personal competencies. I’m looking for a ‘story’ on the CV. 

“Don’t look at their most recent role, look at the whole story. This is especially important in the mother market. Sometimes the candidate has taken a step down in order to move up so it’s critical you look at the whole CV and don’t make assumptions.”

Where someone has had a career break - whether to have children or for any other reason - remember to look at what they have achieved and the work they are capable of doing rather than focusing on the gap. They won’t have lost knowledge while away from work, instead they will have gained life experience.

Don’t forget the records

It’s important to keep a paper trail of the shortlisting process. “The process needs to be completely fair and legal,” says Sara. “You cannot discriminate. In today’s world where people want increasingly more control of their data, make sure all internal communication is able to withstand external scrutiny.”

When you’ve got a final shortlist, go back and check over the essentials and make sure everyone on the list meets the basic requirements to do the job. That way when it comes to the interview stage, you’re really just having to decide who can do it best.

Whether or not you’re hiring on a regular basis, by following these tips you will be in a strong position to whittle down prospective employees to a sparkling shortlist, one of whom will hopefully go on to be the perfect fit.