The power of pre-screening

What is pre-screening?

Pre-screening is an efficient and effective way of ensuring interviewers are presented with only the most qualified and suitable candidates for the position.  There are several popular methods of pre-screening, but before you can even begin the process, you must narrow down the applicants by reviewing their applications and selecting only those who meet the basic qualifications.  If you read our article 5 reasons to write a better job posting, you already have a good idea of what you are looking for.

Step 1: Weed-out the weak!

You may find yourself overwhelmed by tall stack of applications, however, if you took the time to write a detailed job posting, you will find that your top candidates have already done the legwork for you.  Look for cover letters and resumes that have been customized specifically for the job you’re advertising.  Keen applicants will have taken the time to explain precisely how their personal characteristics, education and experience would make them an ideal candidate for your position.  Quickly weed out any generic applications (the ones that appear to have been produced by a Xerox machine rather than a motivated individual).  Using this strategy will allow you to quickly sort through the applications while pulling out those who don’t qualify.

Once you have narrowed your list of applicants to those who meet your basic needs, it’s time to figure out who your top candidates are.

Step 2: Evaluate the Cover letter

An applicant’s cover letter provides a snapshot of their written communication skills.  In addition to stating their relevant skills, experience and qualifications, it should be well written and free of typos and grammatical errors.  A cover letter that is disorganized, or contains errors suggests weak communication skills and poor attention to detail.  If such skills are important to you, discard all applications with poorly written cover letters.

Step 3: Evaluate the Resume

The resume should provide an organized and detailed history of the applicant’s qualifications and experience.  Look carefully for ques (see our article on 5 reasons to write a better job posting) that show your applicant is paying attention.  Keen applicants will study your job posting carefully and use their resume to demonstrate that they possess the specific skills and experience you are looking for.  Applicants who fail to highlight these skills suggest poor attention to detail or limited effort.  Also, be on the lookout for major gaps in employment or education history.  This may be a red flag for poor work retention, or worse!  If the application looks good, but a gap does exist, be sure to inquire as to why before moving forward!

Step 4: Give them a call!

Employers who require candidates to have excellent verbal communication skills may consider conducting quick telephone interviews as part of their pre-screening assessment.  Candidates who are seemingly unprepared or don’t perform well over the phone may not be suitable for the position and will only consume valuable time the interview panel can spend elsewhere!  Keep the conversation brief, limiting it to four or five well planned questions that provide insight or clarification into the candidate’s background.  Take notes and carefully document their responses and enthusiasm for the position and opportunity.  If the phone interviewer isn’t part of the formal interview, their notes should be shared with the panel so the responses from the two interactions can be compared.  In addition to soft skills (also known as transferable or professional skills) such as communication, teamwork and problem solving, this is a good opportunity to clarify such things as salary expectation, availability, or other non-negotiable factors that may eliminate candidates before the final interview stage.

Sample phone pre-screening questions

  • What challenges have you faced in your current position and how have you handled them?
  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • What interests you about our company and this position?
  • What can you contribute to this position and why would you be an asset to the company?
  • What challenges do you expect to face and how do you plan to overcome them?
  • This position requires a great deal of flexibility.  Are you available to work days, evenings, nights, weekends and holidays?
  • Based on your knowledge of the position, type of work required and your past experience, what is your salary expectation?

After eliminating generic applications, checking the cover letters and resumes for errors and relevant information and conducting a brief phone interview, your list of remaining candidates should be short.  You are now ready to begin the final interview phase.