How to choose the most appropriate candidate for the job

With the increasing uncertainty in the jobs market, it is no surprise to find that many employers are becoming swamped with applications, while at the same time, struggling to filter candidates for their suitability. This is especially critical if there is a deadline looming (such as lockdown easing).

So, how do you ensure you select the most appropriate candidate for the position while at the same time ensuring legal compliance and fairness?

Shortlisting is the answer. But where do you start?

If you are replacing a staff member, you may consider a simple ‘like for like’ criterion but what if they’ve been there some time; things have changed, not just from a job description point of view but the increasing number of legal obligations now involved in the recruitment process?

So, you’ve identified a vacancy, produced a job description, and embarked on recruiting the best person for the job. What do you do first?

Step one is to define your criteria. In other words, what kind of person do you wish to recruit and what skills and experience do they require.

Start by using your job description and person specification to create two lists – Essential and Desirable. These are the requirements you’ve decided a candidate should have before being selected for interview. However, the key to success, when creating these, is to be strict and not inflate them with ‘it would be good if they could also etc.’ Aim to identify half the number of essential requirements compared to desirable qualities.

The first part of shortlisting is fairly straightforward. This is where you sort through the applications and score each one against the set criteria. Those that meet all (or most) of the ‘essential’ criteria can then be moved forward to the next stage.

At this point, it’s also worth mentioning that if more than one person is involved in this part of the selection process, it is crucial that they are working to the same format and terms of reference.

Also, remember when sharing information with colleagues and be aware of the implications of GDPR when disclosing personal data. Even though we are no longer part of the EU, the full GDPR act still applies in the UK.

To manage the shortlisting process, we find it easiest if employers create a spreadsheet with both criteria listed and what they involve.  Also, when deciding what skills / knowledge a candidate needs, it’s worth considering what ‘on the job’ training will be offered. This may have an influence on the final selection, where any missing ‘essential requirements’ are compensated from the ‘desirable’ list.

The essentials

Essential requirements are the must haves, and depending on the sector or industry, this could include:

  • Skills and experience (and length of service with previous employer)
  • Qualifications (especially those mandatory to do the job such as ACS gas certification)
  • Knowledge of specific IT services (such as first and second line experience in Windows infrastructure or experience of supporting Windows 10 and MS365)
  • Customer Service (front facing or desk based)
  • Attributes such as team working, time management and organisational abilities (e.g. proven / certified etc.)

This list will be the easiest to filter by eliminating those that don’t fit the criteria.  This is another reason why it is important that everyone involved in the process is working from the same template.

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The desirables

The desirable list is more complex and comprises attributes that candidates may possess that give them the edge and bring something extra to the organisation. This could include:

  • Having a full and clean driving licence
  • Being able to speak a second language
  • An in depth knowledge of trending commercial opportunities for the business
  • A qualification that’s useful but not essential to do the job
  • Knowledge of a specific software package (that may not be directly involved in the job description)
  • Flexible working hours

Scoring the candidates

Once you have created a spreadsheet with essential and desirable qualities, you can then score each candidate based on your criteria and whittle your list down to a manageable number. 

This is probably the hardest part of the whole process. In fact, even with a comprehensive shortlisting process in place, most employers would agree that choosing the most appropriate candidate from the pool of applicants can be somewhat daunting.

There’s no doubt that having a shortlisting process in place does make the hiring process easier and ultimately more effective in helping you select the right person for the job. A desirable outcome can often be determined by the criteria chosen in the first place.

As we said earlier, if you are replacing a staff member on a like for like basis, it’s fairly straightforward. Ask them what skills and attributes they feel are necessary to do their job. However, do bear in mind depending on how long they have been with you, as there will be changes that now affect the position.

Employment law

For example, employment law has been amended several times in recent years, especially in the context of the UK leaving the EU and employment rights in respect of the Coronavirus pandemic.

This means that, before embarking on the shortlisting process, it’s undoubtedly prudent to have an awareness of the legislation that could affect your decision making. The equality act (2010) covers ‘protected characteristics’ such as disability, maternity, race, religion and sexual orientation, and should be a major consideration when drawing up the shortlist criteria.

It cannot be underestimated how important this is in when creating a shortlisting criteria. As we say, job descriptions and hiring practices might have changed dramatically since you last made the appointment.

Discriminating against someone because of their protected characteristic (not always obvious) even if inadvertently, is against the law and could have serious repercussions. This is another reason for having a strict selection process template in place so that your decision making is carried out objectively and individual perceptions do not influence the process.

Employment law can be a minefield, but our team of specialist recruitment partners will be happy to provide any help or support you require to stay on the right side of it.

A numbers game?

Finally, one of the questions we often get asked when clients are creating a shortlisting process, is how many candidates we should invite for an interview. Unfortunately, there is no real answer to this. Much will depend on your timescale, the quality pool of candidates submitted, and the number of candidates you are looking to recruit.

However, using a recruitment partner such as ourselves, will provide the support you need at this critical time. As a general guideline, we suggest you invite up to a maximum six candidates for a first interview, scaled down to half this number for the second.

Also, as a benchmark, on average around 12% of applicants will be invited to a first interview. Any more than that and your job description and / or shortlisting criteria may need amending.

We are here to answer any questions about effective shortlisting. Contact us on 0845 478 5009 or enquiries@multitaskpersonnel.co.uk to discuss your next vacancy and we will be happy to share our knowledge.