12 Tips on How to Screen Job Applicants

By Nancy Brooks, Abshier House

Screening and reviewing job applicants efficiently will make hiring and managing your employees easier and save time in the long run. Preparation and a reviewing system will let you get the job done with a minimum of hassle. Whether you are looking for entry-level workers or professionals, follow a few basic steps, obey federal and local laws, and you can find the best person for a job.

  1. Stay legal: Remember equal employment opportunity practices and company rules.

    Treat all applicants the same — what you do for one you must do for all.

    Do not hire or reject a person based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation, age, ancestry or national origin, marital status, disabilities, arrests, military service, height or weight (unless directly related to job performance), political preference or membership in social organizations.

    Do not attempt to get around the law by asking for a photograph or posing “subtle” questions. You really don’t need to know if a person plans to have a family, cares for elders, has small children, has a stable marriage, or what sort of person they like to date.

    You can ask whether a person is eligible to work in the United States and for proper documentation. You can ask about felony convictions.

    Be sure you know company regulations, including policies regarding hiring family members.

  2. Start with an accurate job description and know the basic job requirements. It won’t help to hire someone whose skills match a job that doesn’t exist. When you advertise the job opening, be specific.

  3. Use appropriate application methods.

    Start with internal applicants. It’s good for employee morale, and you can save time. Post job openings internally before you look outside the company.

    Use the same application form for everyone to ensure equal employment opportunity. Online search services are usually consistent.

    If you asked for cover letters, read them.

  4. Review all applications. Make two piles: one for “Maybes” and one for “Not Interested” (aka rejects). Stop reading and put it in the reject pile if you find the following:

    Applicant left important areas blank.

    Applicant lacks an advertised job qualification.

    Certification or licensure is outdated.

    Application came after the deadline.

    Writing skills are required for the job, and you find errors in grammar or spelling.

    Neatness on the job is required, and the application is a mess.

  5. Sort the “Maybe” pile and put the best applicants on top.

    Applicants who have the required skills plus some experience

    Applicants who have the required skills plus some training, if applicable

    Applicants who write well, if writing skills are required. Reread those cover letters.

  6. Make an interview scale, a list or chart with the job requirements and a numbering scale or space for notes. Use it for every applicant.

  7. Save time; conduct phone interviews. A ten-minute conversation may help you screen out an applicant who isn’t really qualified, is vague about their actual experience, or is unable to communicate clearly.

  8. Schedule in-person interviews with the best applicants from the phone interviews and use your interview scale for each applicant.

    If an applicant does follow instructions, answers questions readily and clearly, and is clearly qualified for this job, keep in the maybe pile.

    If an applicant is late or a no-show, reject that application.

    If an applicant gives vague answers about employment history, reasons for leaving a previous job, or anything similar, reject. A good question: What would your previous employer say about you?

    Be ruthless about saving time. If it is clear the applicant is not going to get the job, end the interview politely but quickly.

  9. Uniform tests are great for screening. Give all applicants the same test and compare their scores.

  10. Check references and previous employers. You judge people during the first ten0 seconds of meeting, but that isn’t always reliable. Trust your intuition, but check on the facts.

    Online job search services can help you with this before an interview.

    Some companies will not give references or information about previous employees.

    Ask whether the person is eligible for rehire. If the answer is no, try to get details.

  11. If in doubt, interview again. Bring your three favorite applicants back for a second interview.

  12. Remember the good applicants and keep records. You may have to fill this job again soon.