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5 Steps to Optimize Job Screening

How to determine who should proceed to the interview stage, while ensuring that potentially good candidates are not arbitrarily “screened out”?

When facing multiple applicants all phases of the recruitment and selection process depend upon some form of screening, with the job interview being one of the final stages. These Screening Guidelines will help you narrow your applicant pool to a manageable level in a consistent, systematic manner.

A predetermined screening process has three (3) advantages:

  • Ensures time and cost efficiencies for your organization by retaining only qualified candidates in the applicant pool for the position.
  • Maintains a fair, standardized process that evaluates all applications using the same criteria.
  • Documents screening criteria and procedures for future reference, in the event that there are questions or legal challenges from unsuccessful applicants.
Quick Reference Links

  1. Step 1: Initial Screening Criteria
  2. Step 2:  Determine Testing Measures
  3. Step 3:  Determine Scoring System
  4. Step 4:  Obtain Missing Information
  5. Step 5:  Rate the Candidates

The following guidelines provide a step-by-step framework for managers involved in the screening process:

Step 1 – Establish Initial Screening Criteria

For consistency, include only requirements that have been included in the job description and referenced in the job advertisement or posting.

Use measurable, job-related factors which can be represented on paper with minimal ambiguity:

Education: Broaden your applicant pool by allowing for equivalent, out-of-country education.

Experience and Career Progression: Allow for equivalent education, volunteer service and out-of-country experience.

Mandatory Certification:  Required by statute and/or necessary for safe and efficient performance of duties. May include licences, trade certificates, police record checks.

Basic Skills:  Include those transferable skills normally required for the first day of work, computer skills, heavy equipment operation, drafting skills.  Do not include skills the candidate would normally learn through orientation or on-the-job training, e.g.  office or plant procedures or protocols.

Seniority Requirements: For internal applicants, where covered by collective agreement.

Conclusive assessments of physical or intellectual abilities, such as lifting, problem solving, communication, leadership, etc., are normally not feasible during initial screening and are most reliably accomplished through interviews, testing, and reference checks.

Step 2 – Determine Testing Measures

In addition to interviewing, some employers use tests as screening or selection tools. Depending upon the level and nature of the job, these may include testing the physical abilities of the applicant, psychological testing, aptitude testing, knowledge tests, work simulations, problem solving, and case studies. For management positions, the applicant may be asked to prepare and deliver a presentation.

The stage at which testing will take place also needs to be determined. For straightforward core position requirements, such as lifting ability, testing is sometimes conducted up front, even before the applicant is interviewed. In other cases, for example where interpersonal or leadership skills are key, the interview serves as the initial assessment. The interview allows for first-hand discussion with the applicant, creates a level of comfort with the interviewer, and allows some familiarity with the position. This sets the stage for further testing.

To ensure fairness and compliance with Human Rights legislation, care should be taken to ensure that any test administered meets the following criteria:

Consistency of Application

Were all applicants informed in advance that testing would be part of the selection process?

Is the same test used with all applicants for the position?

Are testing conditions and procedures preset and standardized for all applicants?

Is the same scoring system used consistently throughout the process?


Does the test measure what it is intended to measure the bona fide requirements of the position as set out in the job description and advertisement?

Is it a valid predictor of how well the applicant will function on the job or does it only measure how adept they are at completing tests?


Do similar scores result when the test is administered repeatedly to the same applicants?

If you are purchasing a test from a reputable supplier, reliability data should be available in the manual or product.


Has the test been reviewed for culture or gender bias?

Are alternate test formats available for applicants who may have disabilities, including physical and learning disabilities?

Is ample time allowed for completion of the test, unless minimum speed is a justifiable, bona fide job requirement?

Is latitude allowed regarding language proficiency (unless a bona fide )?

Cost Efficiency

Is testing appropriate for this job competition given the: size of the applicant pool, level of the position, difficulty in filling the vacancy?

Do the benefits of testing outweigh the cost involved?

Step 3 – Determine the Scoring System

Identify “Fixed” Criteria

These are mandatory qualifications which must be present at the outset for the applicant to proceed any further in the selection process, for example:

Driver’s licence for a courier

RN designation for a public health nurse

Minimum level of management experience for a senior executive position

Any certification required by law

Fixed criteria are either present or not, with no flexibility allowed for equivalencies. Although they are mandatory, they should comprise only a small percentage of the screening criteria.

Identify “Proportional” Criteria

These factors allow for greater flexibility in assessing qualifications and will make up the majority of your screening criteria. For example:

Education may be balanced against experience

Practical co-op placements may be given more credit than longer classroom

Experience may be balanced against

Volunteer work may compensate for lack of employment

Scope of experience may be balanced against length of service

Remember that length of experience by itself is not a reliable predictor of job performance. If you think about your current employees, you will probably find that your high performers do not necessarily have the longest service. Similarly, an impressive education is not always applied on the job.

After identifying the criteria, ensure that each is accompanied by a clear description of:  what factors are required, and what equivalencies are  These descriptions should be consistently consulted by everyone involved in the screening process.

Assign Weighting to Proportional Criteria

Proportional criteria are rated on a sliding scale. Each factor is assigned a maximum score, weighted to reflect its relative importance to the position.

Screening criteria should never be equally weighted. For example, an administrative position with a strong customer service component would be weighted more heavily on front line service experience than on clerical skills.

Screening Criteria Weighing Sheet

Note that equivalent experience in non-office environments may include a broader range of candidates with key customer service skills.

Step 4 – Obtain Missing Information

Sometimes information is missing or unclear in an otherwise promising application. Some employers view this as a lack of thoroughness on the part of the applicant. In fact, it may simply mean that the applicant did not become aware of the vacancy until the last moment and had to respond quickly. A brief phone call may clear this up and avoid screening a valuable candidate out of the competition.

Caution should be taken, however, to avoid questions that may create a perception of infringement on Human Rights grounds. For example, “What did you do between February and October?” may reveal a period of maternity leave or illness that is irrelevant to the applicant’s qualifications. Instead, ask if there is additional experience during that period which may be relevant to their application.

Step 5 – Rate the Candidates

After confirming the criteria and weighting scale, an “on-paper” screening of the candidates takes place. Wherever possible, this should be conducted jointly by a Human Resources representative and the management staff member who is most familiar with the job and its requirements. Here is a sample applicant screening sheet:

Note that software familiarity is a “fixed” category for this competition. Candidates not possessing the minimum experience in this area are automatically excluded and no further review of their applications takes place.

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