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5 Top Tips for Shortlisting for Interview

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

You’ve had a successful application window and you have a good number of CV’s on your desk, waiting for you to sift through them. It’s time to start shortlisting for interview.

This is a crucial step in the recruitment process.

You need to whittle down the applications you’ve received to just a handful of candidates in order to find the most appropriate individuals who will fit the role, the culture of your organisation, and who will be able to hit the ground running, and start to bring value into your business.

It’s no easy task, and often it’s a joint effort between hiring managers, HR and even C-level leaders if it’s an executive vacancy you’re looking to fill. What’s more, this can be the defining step in avoiding a potential bad hire.

So, it’s definitely something you want to get right.

two people waiting to be shortlisted for interview

With that in mind, we’ve consulted our team of expert executive search consultants to bring you five top tips for how to shortlist candidates for interview.

1. Be clear on what’s essential and what’s desirable

In every role, there are some things that are absolutely critical must-haves, which you can’t budge on. By being very clear on what is absolutely necessary and what you’re prepared to be a little more lenient with, you’ll find it significantly easier to separate your strong candidates, who have the real potential to be a good hire, from those who might be a bit more of a compromise.

The essential and desirable criteria should also be available on the job advert you put out, so not only will that help provide a good guide for you, it should also help anyone who’s applying for the role in ensuring their experience is aligned with your need.

It’s important to be really clear about your essential and desirable criteria from the offset. We might be looking a few steps back at this point, but try to be as particular as possible in your job advert and job description. For example, you can ask for experience in a relevant industry, but actually saying three or more years experience in the industry is far more likely to find a candidate who has the level of experience you’d need in an executive hire.

At an executive level, your essential criteria might consist of the following:

  • X amount of years experience within your industry

  • X amount of previous experience of an executive or high level role

  • Minimum education level or experience equivalent (define this equivalent level)

When considering your preferred or desirable criteria, you this may look like this:

  • Values that align with your organisation’s

  • Experience with similar software or tools

  • Professional certifications

2. Create a scoring system

One way to take a more structured approach to whether a candidates application is suitable for shortlisting, is to create a scoring system based on your essential and desirable criteria.

By doing this, you can easily work through each application and add up the suitability of the candidate in a controlled and equitable manner.

You can also weight the scores based on the essential and desirable criteria. For example, you can use the following pattern:

Essential criteria: 2 points

Desirable criteria: 1 point

You’d have a maximum score based on the number of criteria you want to mark against, and the number of points this adds up to.

We’d recommend adding this information to a table with all candidates, so you can see how well they stand up against each other. This will allow you to very quickly identify front runners when it comes to shortlisting for interview.

For example, this score sheet might look like this:


Essential Criteria (X/12)

Desirable Criteria (X/6)





In this scenario, you would have six essential traits and six desirable with a final score out of 18. You can use this to inform who gets through to interview with varying degrees of leniency. For example, you could say that any candidate who scores more than 15 points might be appropriate for interview.

3. Check for errors

When shortlisting for interview at executive level, you’re looking for a high calibre candidate. As such, you wouldn’t expect someone at this level to send in a job application or resume which contains errors.

This can include issues with spelling, employment date inaccuracies, unexplained gaps in employment and, most concerning, errors surrounding your business.

An individual who works at a high level, and who is taking the application to your organisation seriously will take time and care to ensure the application is free from errors or inaccuracies. This is the sign of a bad CV.

Attention to detail is key in high-level roles, and this should be reflected in their application.

4. Decide on how many people you want to interview in advance

How short is a shortlist? That’s entirely up to you and the resource and capacity you have available to you.

Before you start with shortlisting, consider how much time you, your HR representative and anyone else you want to involve has available.

It’s a great idea to set yourself a target or something to work towards. Especially if you have quite a few applicants, as this can help you to focus your efforts and be more strict with your interview criteria.

Of course, if you’re using the scorecard as we’ve outlined above, you might find that you have far fewer appropriate candidates who meet your minimum requirements, or even far more than you expected. In these cases you may have to consider a flexible approach to shortlisting for interview, or even review your scoring criteria.

5. Consider outsourcing your recruitment

If you’re finding that the applicants you’re sifting through aren’t qualified or experienced enough to be shortlisted, or that your short list just doesn’t feel strong enough for executive-level positions, then it might be worth speaking to an executive search consultant.

They will proactively source suitable candidates, taking out the guesswork from your recruitment process, and find high-level, highly qualified candidates who meet your previously established essential and desirable criteria.

Rather than sifting through multiple applicants and interviewing some who might not be the right fit, you can rest assured an experienced professional is using tried and tested strategies to source and contact qualified candidates.

So, if you’re finding you’ve fully researched how to shortlist candidates and you’re not getting the results you’ve been looking for, it might be time to speak to an executive search consultant. Read our guide on why choose an executive search consultant if you still want to read more info.

At SPS International, our team of expert search consultants have experience in a range of industries. If you think you may need support with your high-level recruitment, head to our contact page and one of our team will be in touch with you shortly.


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