How short should your shortlist be?
When you’re hiring for a role, having gathered up a group of applicants with the right skills, experience and attributes to progress further is something to celebrate.

But how exactly do you build a strong candidate shortlist from those applicants, and just how short should your shortlist be?

“Creating a shortlist after the first interview round helps avoid a slow and prolonged hiring process,” says director at Robert Half, Nicole Gorton. “Your shortlist should only include candidates you genuinely believe could do the job and who would fit in best with your organisation's culture.”

What to consider when creating a shortlist

While there isn’t a fixed ‘right’ number of candidates to include on a shortlist, the ultimate goal for a shortlist is to narrow it down a to between three and five people.

That’s what both Gorton and Shay Peters, the managing director of Robert Walters NZ, say. And when deciding on how many names to have on your shortlist, the most important factors to consider include:

  • Competencies and organisational culture
    Considering culture is important during the hiring process, Gorton says. “Hiring managers should assess whether the candidates have the relevant skills and experience to fulfill the role, motivation and enthusiasm for the company and industry, alignment with the company culture and a rapport with the internal stakeholders,” she says.
  • Your ‘non-negotiables’
    According to Peters, it’s important to create three non-negotiables that an ideal candidate must possess. “Once you have the non-negotiables, be disciplined on screening interviewees against these criteria, otherwise inconsistencies will start to creep in,” he says.
  • How much time you have
    “How much time do you genuinely have?” asks Peters. “If you have ample time to see three people and provide them with the respect they deserve as candidates, but no more, then see three people.”

    It’s also worth considering how much time you have to give feedback to candidates. “Factor this into your recruitment and shortlisting process or else it could impact you or your organisation attracting candidates in the future,” Peters says.
  • Know your deal breakers
    Interviews can be stressful for candidates, and while you can make some allowances for nerves, there are behaviours or actions that are red flags when considering who makes it onto a shortlist.

    “Signs of an unprofessional attitude include arriving late to the interview, being poorly presented, not being familiar with the role or company or not being truthful about their experience or qualifications,” Gorton says. “These are shortlist deal breakers.”

Getting down to the right number

Referring back to your key selection criteria is critical to whittling your shortlist down to a strong selection. “Reassess your shortlist against your hiring criteria again to make sure those on your list closely match the job requirements,” Gorton says.

“This helps you eliminate any applicants who may not appear as strong when compared with other talent.” Screening questions in job ads can also save you time and energy in vetting appropriate candidates before you get to the point of shortlisting.

What if there aren’t enough quality applications?

Job ads are part of your overall marketing strategy and if you haven’t received sufficient applications, you may need to consider alternative hiring strategies rather than settling for a candidate who is not suitable.

“How are you standing out and what’s your employee value proposition?” asks Peters. “If you can’t articulate these things then you need to work with either your internal talent team or an external talent partner to ensure you’re getting the best message out to the market.”

You may also need to reassess your job description to make sure it mirrors market trends and realistic expectations. “Evaluate the ‘need to have’ skills compared to the ‘nice to have’ criteria,” Gorton recommends. “This may help you hire based on candidate potential with an eye to developing the ‘nice to have’ skills on the job.”

There’s no single ideal process for building a shortlist. Instead, weighing up the above factors and what matters most for your role can help you land on the right number of candidates.

By being clear on what you want to prioritise when shortlisting, you’ll be well placed for the next steps of the hiring process, and better able to narrow down to the right person.

Learn more about how a SEEK job ad can help you easily manage your shortlist and keep candidates in the loop.

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