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How To Shortlist Candidates In Four Simple Steps

How To Shortlist Candidates In Four Simple Steps

by David Landau

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Even if you’ve had years of practice recruiting Accounting professionals, shortlisting candidates can still be difficult especially when the applications are flooding in and you’re working to a tight deadline! To make up your final shortlist, not only do you need to decide which applicants to eliminate, it’s also critical to ensure that candidates are engaged throughout the hiring journey.

Shortlisting is a complex process, one that is undertaken across a number of stages. It requires a lot of forethought and planning to ensure the shortlist contains only the market’s top Accounting talent. However, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. You can always skip the process entirely by partnering with a specialist Accounting Recruitment Agency. If you did decide to go it alone, here are four simple steps to streamline the process and shortlist the best candidates for interview.

Setting the Standard

The first step is to develop an in-depth understanding of the role and the requirements needed. Create a job description and a profile of the ideal person you have in mind, decide on the essential criteria (must-haves) and the desirable criteria that would be nice to have. This ensures that there is measurable criteria to base your decisions on and enables applications that fall short of these expectations to be rejected quickly.

Shortlisting criteria examples include skills, experience and qualifications; such as having specialist software knowledge or being a Chartered Accountant. Desirable criteria are the ‘nice-to-haves’, which might potentially include management experience or exposure to a particular industry, dependent on the role. With all criteria, it needs to be relevant to the position, as well as realistic with expectations that are attainable.

SCREENING FOR SKILLS

The next step of the process is to rank each applicant’s resume against the set criteria. You’ll most likely end up with three different piles while you’re screening CVs; ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Maybe’.

Reject all applications that don’t meet the essential criteria. For example, the role may require the candidate to have an accounting qualification. If they don’t, then there’s little point continuing. When it comes to desirable criteria, a little more flexibility might be needed. If job advertisements are the only source of candidates, you’ll want to progress those candidates who have met the majority of criteria. In a tight candidate market like the Sydney Accounting industry, it’s unlikely there will be many applicants that tick every box.

During this stage any inconsistencies in CVs should be looked at, ensuring that the applicant’s attention to detail is in line with your expectations. Cover letters can also be helpful if a deciding factor is needed to make a call. A good cover letter will give an insight into the applicant’s motivation to apply and why they believe they’re the right person for the job.

Sometimes there are cases where a candidate doesn’t meet the some of the essential criteria, but there’s something else about them that makes them stand out. Perhaps the candidate has certain specialist skills and knowledge, or they have an attribute that indicates there is future potential. If so, ensure you fully understand why they stand out. This will help should you need to justify your decision and get buy in from additional stakeholders where the candidate's experience doesn't meet all the essential criteria.

Being able to compare a candidate to criteria in a quick and easy way is crucial. Using a shortlisting matrix or template can make life easier – we’ve created a Candidate Shortlisting Checklist with a few suggestions of what to look for.

The Use of Telephone Interviews

Ultimately, the end goal is to reduce the volume of CVs to a manageable shortlist of candidates that can be brought in for an interview. However, if you find yourself with a shortlist that’s still too large, telephone interviews can be a good way to discount applicants you are unsure about. They allow further information to be gathered, whilst getting a general feel for the candidate, without the time-consuming process of a face-to-face interview. For example, if there are reservations about simple things like where someone lives and whether it’s viable for them to commute, you could discuss this in a telephone interview.

As they’re quicker, more convenient and cost effective, a number of candidates can be spoken to in a short period. However, for nearly all Accounting jobs it’s important to view them as part of the initial screening process and not a replacement for the more thorough face-to-face interviews.

Competencies and Cultural Fit

Whilst a CV can provide a good indication of a candidate’s competency fit, it is very hard to make a call on their cultural fit, so meeting the person face-to-face is an integral part of the next shortlisting stage.

As well as being a critical step in determining whether a prospective employee would be successful in your organisation (and getting to know them more), a face-to-face interview also represents an opportunity to get a better understanding of their level of motivation. Do they appear to enjoy their work? Are they excited about the opportunity? Will they share the company’s vision? Would they be proud to work for the company?

These are all questions that will help you gauge if the candidate’s characteristics will align to those of your business. Ensure that your emphasis on this doesn’t eliminate candidates without good reason, as there is a danger that it could lead to unintentional bias. A good way to avoid this is to think about what might be lacking in the existing culture. If, on first impressions, you don’t think someone would ‘fit in’, consider if they might actually add something different to your culture instead.

SUMMARY

When managing the hiring process for a new role, shortlisting inevitably means sorting through large numbers of applications and deciding on the best candidates. While it’s vital to avoid relying on anything that could be viewed as discriminatory (such as age or gender as examples), it’s also important to move quickly. Once the initial shortlist of potential CVs is complete, start the interview process and keep candidates engaged throughout the next stage. You don’t know what other roles they might be considering and treating them in the right way regardless of the outcome will guarantee a good impression. And yes, that includes giving feedback to all unsuccessful candidates! 

If you’re in need of support in shortlisting Accounting candidates, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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