November 25, 2020
6 min read

Step 3: How to Do Initial Screening for Applicants

This stage is meant to help you whittle down the pool of applicants with a first screening. Your goal is to get the pool down to a more manageable level for deeper assessment.

As we said in the overview to this web/software engineer hiring guide, the quick way to describe this is to call it the time when you look for deal-breakers.

Are there skills the position can’t do without? Traits it’s not compatible with? Degrees or certifications you absolutely need?

Looking for things like these in applicants’ resumes and profiles is at the core of initial screening.

The idea is to simplify your hiring process to the bare bones for this stage. Doing a quick and preliminary screening based on resumes or profiles can save you a lot of trouble later on by separating the wheat from the chaff quickly.

In any case, there are several phases to go through to do this successfully. We’ll take you through those phases below.


Figure Out How Many Applicants to Send Through This Stage

The first thing to do is to determine your recruitment volume.

Ask yourself this: how many candidates do you want to send to the interview and tech assessment stage?

Keep in mind that the aforementioned stage is labour-intensive, so you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew with it.

You also don’t want to waste precious time interviewing people who would never fit the job anyway.

A good tip here is to try to aim for a figure your recruitment team can manage while keeping in mind what you actually want to achieve with your recruitment.

You should also try to aim for high volume if the position doesn’t require overly specialised or rare skills, and low volume if it does.

High-volume recruitment is usually for less sensitive positions, you see, whereas low-volume recruitment is best when the position’s important enough that you should be very picky.

Look for the Minimum Qualifications

Now you should check which applicants meet the minimum qualifications.

If you went through Step 2 of our hiring guide, you should have developed a clear job ad that states these to all interested candidates.

However, it’s a basic truth that there will always be applicants who ignore requirements in job ads. Thus, even the clearest job posting will still yield a fair number of unqualified applicants.

This phase should help you get rid of those no-go’s from your candidate pool.

Examples of minimum qualifications would be the legal ability to work in your location or X years of experience in the field, for example.

That said, what some employers consider “minimum qualifications” are “nice-to-haves” or “preferred qualifications” for others. So, what you specify here is largely up to you.

Either way, you should have worked all of this out in Step 1 of our guide, while defining what you need and want from your next hire.

All you have to do is apply those standards you’ve already settled on here. If applicants don’t “tick the boxes”, exclude them from consideration.

Look at the Preferred Qualifications/Cover Letters

You should now have a good list of people who at least meet your minimum requirements for applicants.

Now it’s time to screen them based on preferred qualifications, or the traits, achievements, or competencies that give them an edge over the rest.

Common examples of preferred qualifications you can screen for via resume would be education, technical certifications, work experience quality or relevance, etc.

You may also be able to use more than the resume for this phase of the process, depending on what you asked for in the job posting.

For instance, if you also requested cover letters, this can give you more information for your initial screening. 

If this is the case, you may want to consider the following points:

  • Whether or not they followed special directions, if you gave them any. It may be easy to make excuses for them now if they miss an instruction, but it won’t be later if they turn out to be as bad at following directions on the job!
  • Whether or not the cover letter (and the resume, for that matter) is organised and polished. It may indicate professionalism as well as a talent for detail, which can be beneficial in a development team.
  • Whether or not the cover letter was tailored for your company and job posting. If it was, that’s good. It indicates a high level of interest in your organisation and the job, which can be hugely important in signing the right people… particularly for startups!

Some Last Notes on Initial Screening

A final word worth making about this stage is that some parts of it are actually possible to automate if you really want to save time.

The minimum-requirements check, for instance, can be automated fairly simply to save you the trouble of going over resumes manually.

We do something similar at Skilledd ourselves when companies come to us with a hard set of minimum requirements, putting viable candidates in our database through filters for those non-negotiables.

Either way, whether you’re automating your own initial screening or not, it’s important to remember why you’re doing it: to make sure that only truly “viable” candidates take up your recruitment team’s time in the next step of the recruitment process.

If you find that it’s still too much labour to manage in-house, however, feel free to contact us. We can do pretty much all of the heavy lifting on your behalf when recruiting. Just contact us at Skilledd and tell us what you need!

This stage is meant to help you whittle down the pool of applicants with a first screening. Your goal is to get the pool down to a more manageable level for deeper assessment.

As we said in the overview to this web/software engineer hiring guide, the quick way to describe this is to call it the time when you look for deal-breakers.

Are there skills the position can’t do without? Traits it’s not compatible with? Degrees or certifications you absolutely need?

Looking for things like these in applicants’ resumes and profiles is at the core of initial screening.

The idea is to simplify your hiring process to the bare bones for this stage. Doing a quick and preliminary screening based on resumes or profiles can save you a lot of trouble later on by separating the wheat from the chaff quickly.

In any case, there are several phases to go through to do this successfully. We’ll take you through those phases below.


Figure Out How Many Applicants to Send Through This Stage

The first thing to do is to determine your recruitment volume.

Ask yourself this: how many candidates do you want to send to the interview and tech assessment stage?

Keep in mind that the aforementioned stage is labour-intensive, so you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew with it.

You also don’t want to waste precious time interviewing people who would never fit the job anyway.

A good tip here is to try to aim for a figure your recruitment team can manage while keeping in mind what you actually want to achieve with your recruitment.

You should also try to aim for high volume if the position doesn’t require overly specialised or rare skills, and low volume if it does.

High-volume recruitment is usually for less sensitive positions, you see, whereas low-volume recruitment is best when the position’s important enough that you should be very picky.

Look for the Minimum Qualifications

Now you should check which applicants meet the minimum qualifications.

If you went through Step 2 of our hiring guide, you should have developed a clear job ad that states these to all interested candidates.

However, it’s a basic truth that there will always be applicants who ignore requirements in job ads. Thus, even the clearest job posting will still yield a fair number of unqualified applicants.

This phase should help you get rid of those no-go’s from your candidate pool.

Examples of minimum qualifications would be the legal ability to work in your location or X years of experience in the field, for example.

That said, what some employers consider “minimum qualifications” are “nice-to-haves” or “preferred qualifications” for others. So, what you specify here is largely up to you.

Either way, you should have worked all of this out in Step 1 of our guide, while defining what you need and want from your next hire.

All you have to do is apply those standards you’ve already settled on here. If applicants don’t “tick the boxes”, exclude them from consideration.

Look at the Preferred Qualifications/Cover Letters

You should now have a good list of people who at least meet your minimum requirements for applicants.

Now it’s time to screen them based on preferred qualifications, or the traits, achievements, or competencies that give them an edge over the rest.

Common examples of preferred qualifications you can screen for via resume would be education, technical certifications, work experience quality or relevance, etc.

You may also be able to use more than the resume for this phase of the process, depending on what you asked for in the job posting.

For instance, if you also requested cover letters, this can give you more information for your initial screening. 

If this is the case, you may want to consider the following points:

  • Whether or not they followed special directions, if you gave them any. It may be easy to make excuses for them now if they miss an instruction, but it won’t be later if they turn out to be as bad at following directions on the job!
  • Whether or not the cover letter (and the resume, for that matter) is organised and polished. It may indicate professionalism as well as a talent for detail, which can be beneficial in a development team.
  • Whether or not the cover letter was tailored for your company and job posting. If it was, that’s good. It indicates a high level of interest in your organisation and the job, which can be hugely important in signing the right people… particularly for startups!

Some Last Notes on Initial Screening

A final word worth making about this stage is that some parts of it are actually possible to automate if you really want to save time.

The minimum-requirements check, for instance, can be automated fairly simply to save you the trouble of going over resumes manually.

We do something similar at Skilledd ourselves when companies come to us with a hard set of minimum requirements, putting viable candidates in our database through filters for those non-negotiables.

Either way, whether you’re automating your own initial screening or not, it’s important to remember why you’re doing it: to make sure that only truly “viable” candidates take up your recruitment team’s time in the next step of the recruitment process.

If you find that it’s still too much labour to manage in-house, however, feel free to contact us. We can do pretty much all of the heavy lifting on your behalf when recruiting. Just contact us at Skilledd and tell us what you need!

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