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How to select a long list of candidates

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The primary objective of the “Selection” phase of any recruitment process is to narrow the field of candidates down to a manageable number to interview in more depth.  In this article we explore how online questionnaires can be used to arrive at a long-list of candidates who best meet the criteria of your role.

This is the fourth blog in the series of extracts from our downloadable e-book "Is it time to recruit well?".

Designing the Application Form

Managing many applicants requires an organised approach to ensure that the process is conducted in an efficient manner and an effective method of doing so is to utilise an online questionnaire (particularly as it can be used to both filter and test candidates).

This is a self-selecting step (taking out those candidates with low interest in the role) as our research has shown that typically around 40% of applicants will not complete the questionnaire. It allows you to select candidates based on their weighted and scored answers, helping you to make select objectively.

When designing the questionnaire, refer to the role diagnostic to ensure that you are capturing the right type of information to test the candidates against the desired criteria for the role.

Which online questionnaire tool should I use?

There are many options available for setting up online questionnaires. To find one that best suits your specific needs, using a review site such as Capterra can give an overview of the market.

In our own research of online questionnaire software, we have found that Typeform (www.typeform.com) offers a best-in-class solution due the functionality and flexibility it provides.

What questions should be asked?

Breaking up the questionnaire into discrete sections is advisable to help organise the information and provide a smoother experience for the candidates. It can also be beneficial to think through how you would like to analyse the results and design the questions accordingly.

The Basics Details such as name, contact information, LinkedIn profile, experience, and educational background are all standard pieces of data that should be included in the questionnaire. Consider collecting data on current salary/salary expectations, current commute (e.g. hours per week), and willingness to travel.

Some information may discount someone from a process completely (e.g., not having a valid UK driving licence, or a lack of right to work). It makes sense to ask these questions as early in the process as possible to ensure that you are not wasting anyone’s time.

Initial Testing At this early stage in the process, insights can be gained by including some questions designed to test the candidate’s knowledge and problem-solving capabilities. To make it easier to analyse and compare the results, consider using multiple choice questions.

Think about the number of test questions you want to include. There need to be enough that you can get a good spread of results but not so many that it overwhelms candidates.

Values and behaviours are not always easy criteria to evaluate but try to test for them at each stage of the process. For example, if an organisation has honesty as a core value, then design questions and tests to see how well candidates personally align to the value.

Scoring Before you publish the questionnaire consider how each question will be scored. Some questions will have a “Yes/No” answer whilst others might be free text or multiple choice. Whist there is no right or wrong approach, the point is to be fair and consistent.

First Contact with the Candidates/email candidates

A less conventional yet powerful component of a recruitment process is to draft a letter from the MD/CEO as it helps to personalise the process and explain some of the background of the role. The letter should be authentic and honest, outlining challenges and opportunities. 

The objective of the letter is to help candidates understand what they are applying for and should filter out some candidates who just do not think the role is for them.

The first outbound communication with candidates will be an email explaining the structure of the recruitment process and what they can expect at each stage, the MD’s letter, and a link to the online questionnaire.  

Evaluating Questionnaire Results

The online questionnaire should be designed so that the output is meaningful while allowing a ranking of candidates according to the answers they provide. If the questions being asked have been clearly thought through, there should be a reasonable spread of results.

The software used to create and distribute the application form should always allow the data to be exported into a spreadsheet. Questionnaire results can be weighted to allow for an emphasis to be placed on certain criteria such as values, knowledge, experience, etc.

Criteria should be established for each question to help score each candidate. In conjunction with the question weighting (if applied), a total score can be calculated for each candidate and subsequently ranked.

Review CVs of the Top “X” Applicants

The approach to this step in the process can vary depending on the number of applicants. Using the results of the questionnaire ranking, the CVs of just the top candidates can be reviewed. Depending on how many candidates applied and the spread of the scores, this might involve 10 or 20 candidate CV. To validate this approach, review a selection of CVs from the middle and bottom of the range, as this will calibrate the results. Adopt a common-sense approach to the calibration and, if necessary, review the scoring and weighting criteria.

Whilst you are trying to take an objective and quantifiable approach to selection, it must be recognised that you are dealing with individuals from a great variety of backgrounds and experiences. The CV review ensures that you are on the right track with your selection questions and helps to validate areas such as experience and education.

Agreeing the Long-list (10+ candidates)

The number of candidates who have applied for the role will have some bearing on the number taken forward to the long-list stage. Typically, taking 10 candidates through provides enough of a field to generate a short-list (typically 4 candidates) and allows for dropouts from the process.

Rejection/Feedback

Most roles that candidates will apply for will not offer feedback. However, providing useful feedback generates an overwhelmingly positive response, serving to “humanise” the recruitment process. If there are a lot of candidates to respond to, consider using automated feedback that is personalised to each recipient based on the scores from the online questionnaire.

Conclusion

Selection interviews should incorporate elements from the culture map, job description, and person specification to ensure a fair, consistent and robust method of creating your long-list. Using well-designed questions at the heart of the requirements for the role will develop a much better chance of ultimately selecting the best candidate.  Finally, just in case you're wondering, the selling price for the desk is £135 (C)!

The next blog of the series takes you through the next step of the process, creating your short-list.

For an in depth guide for building the best process for your organisation, download a free copy of our recruitment eBook, 'Is It Time To Recruit Well?'.

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