Harnessing The Power of Inclusive Shortlisting

You’ve advertised your position, received upwards of 100 applications – how do you screen the candidates to bring in the best ones for an interview.

What we know, based on “eye tracking” research undertaken last year, is that on average, recruiters spend six seconds looking at each resume to make an initial judgement. That’s right, just six seconds! Those recruiters were shown, during that brief scan of the resume, to focus on the candidate’s current and previous positions, companies and dates of employment as well as education.

I know that time-to-hire is important, but I find it curious that the initial decision as to whether a candidate is included or excluded from consideration is based on this extremely brief review of a resume and such a narrow subset of information. As well, using such limited information opens the process to implicit biases, i.e. applicants with any divergence from the “norm” in these areas are easily excluded (e.g. career gaps, unfamiliar work/educational locations and “foreign-sounding” names) . This is why I describe the resume review as an exclusive process – in other words, the focus is often looking for a reason to put candidates in the “no” pile.

Would spending more time on each resume help? The answer is “somewhat.” Spending more time on each resume will give rise to a more considered yes/no decision. More important, is to use a structured approach with pre-defined criteria as to what makes a resume “good”. This will reduce the risk of implicit biases affecting the selection. These improvements can be time and labor-intensive, however, and even with them, the resume still only tells part of a candidate’s story.

There is a better way – inclusive shortlisting – considering a broader range of factors for each applicant and focusing on reasons to progress, rather than reasons to reject.  There have been some great examples of jobseekers promoting their “reasons-to-include”, with this Amazon page being one of my personal favorites. While very effective for one jobseeker, novel and customized applications are, by definition, not scalable. The issue is identifying the highlights of all the applicants to a specific position.

In addition to ensuring that any resume review process is objective and structured to remove implicit biases as described above, there are some other tools to make the make the shortlisting process more inclusive and more effective. These include:

  • Adding personality or attitudinal questions as part of the initial screening process. This allows the “soft” skills of the candidates to be taken into consideration.
  • Tell applicants what the job/team/company is about and have them respond with how they will contribute when they submit their initial application. This is a powerful tool in understanding the motivation and passion the applicants have for the type of work and the company.
  • For certain technical or highly skills-based roles, ask for a work sample and/or integrate a short skills assessment as part of the initial application process.

There is obviously a trade-off between the amount of work applicants must do in order to apply and the number of applicants who complete the process. As a rule of thumb we find that 10-15 minutes of effort is acceptable to most jobseekers.

Try it! With these changes you may find yourself interviewing people that you otherwise wouldn’t have and find that they actually are a great fit for the role and ultimately perform above what you’d expect from the resume alone.

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