Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

Fast and Accurate Candidate Screening

  • Who it’s for: 
    HR managers, recruiters
  • What you’ll get: 
    A customizable worksheet for creating a well-defined, structured candidate screening process
  • Why you need it: 
    Narrow down to the best applicants fast while remaining compliant
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 
    After you post a position and have a pool of applicants


An effective screening process helps you to recruit more A-players by enabling you to move faster and get interviews with top applicants and send offer letters before your competitors do. Studies indicate that top candidates are on the market for as few as 10 days, so it’s vital to move quickly once your investment in good job descriptions and employer branding have succeeded in attracting an A-player applicant to your inbox. A well-structured screening process also saves time by reducing the number of unnecessary phone screens and interviews your hiring team conducts with candidates who don’t actually meet the requirements of the job.

This article guides you through creating an efficient and repeatable candidate screening process and introduces several tools and technologies that can help you to make accurate and compliant decisions faster.

Determining Your Priorities

To start, you will first want to clearly define the role’s qualifications. Ideally, you defined these during the creation of the job description. Next, you will want to prioritize these qualifications from absolutely crucial on one end of the spectrum to “nice to haves” on the other.

For a Sales Representative position, for example, your priorities may look something like the following:

From there, it will be easy to divide the qualifications into two main groups: Minimum Requirements (those that are absolutely crucial) and Ideal Qualifications (the “nice to haves”).

Sanity Check: Do all of the above qualifications directly correlate with your job description? And do they support the accomplishment of the role’s outcomes?

Developing Screening Questions

Now that you have a clear-cut idea of the position’s qualifications, you can develop targeted screening questions for candidates to answer when filling out your application. In general, the fewer questions you ask candidates, the more you will get to complete an application. The upper limit for most circumstances is around 10, according to research from Indeed (10 screening questions lead to a 17.2 percent abandonment rate whereas 20 screening questions lead to a 44.1 percent abandonment rate).

To spend your “question budget” effectively, it’s useful to think of questions as one of three types:

  1. Knockout questions: These are strict and unambiguous must haves, like possessing a security clearance or being authorized to work in the U.S. Candidates who fail on any one of these cannot be considered for the position, or possibly for any job in the company.
  2. Core requirements: After passing the knockout questions, successful candidates will generally meet all or most of these. Typical examples include educational background, experience, or professional certifications.
  3. Ideal requirements: These are nice to haves that, while not strictly required, give qualified candidates a leg up. Examples include highly specific industry experience, previous employment with a competitor, or advanced educational or professional certifications.

In all cases, questions should be very specific and clear-cut in order to eliminate ambiguity in candidates’ answers. Multiple-choice questions are almost always better than open-response ones, because they’re faster for candidates to answer and make comparisons and automated scoring possible. Lastly, to keep things compliant, make sure every question clearly ties back to a legitimate qualification for the position.

Filtering Candidates

With the position qualifications and screening questions now clearly defined, you are on your way to being able to quickly and accurately filter candidates. A clean and straightforward approach is to sort candidates into four tiers, as follows:

One thing that is extremely important to note is that this is an absolute ranking, not a relative one, since it’s based on objective criteria (the minimum and ideal requirements for the job), not how strong one candidate looks relative to the applicant pool. This provides a number of important benefits:

  1. It enables you to compare applicant pools among offices or across roles to better understand which sources work better for a particular opening.
  2. “X” candidates are unambiguously bad — anything that reduces their number or the time you spend working with them is good for you and the company.
  3. “A” candidates will represent a small fraction of your applicant pool, perhaps 10 percent or less for more challenging roles. When you do find one, you’ll want to move faster and more decisively to maximize your chances of hiring them.

It’s appropriate to adjust candidate grades upon more detailed screening, but you should resist the tendency to increase a candidate’s grade simply because you’re deciding to move ahead with them. While you likely wouldn’t make an offer to a candidate you think is likely to fail on the job, most companies in reality hire a lot of “B” and “C” candidates whom they hope to grow through training and on-the-job coaching. To achieve talent success, you need to begin with accurate data.

Two Advanced Screening Tools

Though the technique above can provide a sound baseline for any role, many recruiters and managers struggle to accurately identify the best candidates when presented with large applicant pools and difficult-to-assess skills. Others are looking to broaden their reach to ensure that good applicants aren’t overlooked by focusing too narrowly on education or previous employers. If these apply to you, then two advanced tools worth looking into are video screening and assessment testing. They’re not a magic bullet, but when appropriate, they can help you to make better decisions faster.

  1. Prerecorded Video Screening Questions

    While using live video for remote interviewing is now common, a growing number of employers are also using video as part of the initial application process. In this approach, employers will typically ask applicants to record brief (30 seconds to two minutes) responses to a few questions when they apply. This provides much of the same information about an applicant that you get in a phone screen in a lot less time. For employers, they are able to review 10 one-way interviews in the time it takes to complete one phone screen, allowing them to identify top candidates faster and decrease their time to fill.

    Although some HR professionals have hesitated to employ video screening tools out of compliance concerns, research has shown that video interviewing can actually increase the diversity of candidate pools. Every recruiter has encountered plenty of candidates who present much better — or worse — in person than they do on a resume, and video screening can improve your initial intake to get more of the good.

  2. Pre-employment Assessment Tests

    Pre-employment assessment tests are another powerful tool for screening, especially when gauging proficiency for a specific competency or skill set that is needed for the role. These assessments can evaluate candidates’ cognitive abilities, domain-specific knowledge, work skills, and personality traits. Professionally developed and validated assessment tests are far more accurate at measuring specific characteristics than interviews.

    Assessment testing is especially worth considering for roles with high hiring volume and a strong understanding of what skills or other characteristics differentiate a higher performer from a lower one. While the process of adopting and using screening tools can be a bit more data- and research-intensive than many recruiters are accustomed to, these tools can also pay large dividends as part of a focus on skill- and competency-based recruiting, with results including reduced turnover, lower employee theft, and improved diversity.

    Bersin by Deloitte has developed a four-step process for selecting and implementing pre-employment assessments:

    1. Define the competencies required to successfully perform the job.
    2. Create (or find) a series of assessments to effectively measure the elements defined in Step 1.
    3. Empower your decision-makers to use the assessment results to make data-driven decisions.
    4. Evaluate organizational, team, and personal performance data to measure the overall value and impact of the assessments.

Scoring Your Screening Process

What a good screening process looks like is fairly simple: It provides an accurate initial assessment of each applicant, quickly. To understand how your team and processes stack up, look at the following:

  1. Time to screen: How long does it take for an initial application to be reviewed and moved forward (e.g., manager review, phone screen, or interview) or rejected? The faster this happens, the sooner you can engage with the best applicants. Compare this time across roles and recruiters to see if the right priorities are being set and followed.
  2. A/B/C/X distribution: Assuming that all or most applicants get scored into these groups (or using another scale), how do the initial applicant pools look?
  3. Conversion ratio: Compare the number of people who pass initial screening (mostly A/B candidates) with the number who pass secondary screening, such as a phone interview. If any “A” candidates or a significant number of “B” candidates are not being invited to continue, consider why.