Candidate screening:

Everything recruiters need to know 

In this guide, we’ll explore how candidate screening helps organizations like yours build an agile workforce, the tech that’s making candidate screening more efficient and we’ll also walk you through some of the processes. 


In the last decade, technology has made its way into every aspect of job searching and hiring. As a result, screening processes are constantly evolving to keep up with these changes. While there's still plenty left for human workers to do when it comes time to find candidates from all walks-of-life, observing how screening takes place early on can show you what trends may be coming next.

What is candidate screening?

Candidate screening refers to the process of determining if a candidate is qualified to continue through the hiring process based on their skills, experience, and expertise. Screening applicants is a part of the overall hiring process, coming before the interview stage and after you have collected résumés through a job ad or recruitment event. 

An HR screening process allows you to create a shortlist of qualified individuals who have the potential to be successful at your organization. The goal of the candidate screening process in recruitment is to efficiently sort through the hundreds, or even thousands of résumés to identify the best candidates, foster diversity in your candidate pool, and enforce fair hiring practices. 

Screening job candidates isn’t limited to just one phase of hiring. Interviews, which typically follow these initial screening processes, reinforce these screening methods and provide another dimension to each person’s candidacy. Hiring someone based on their résumé alone is considered unfair, if not discriminatory. And, within the category of candidate screening, there are multiple methods that can be combined to build a complete understanding of a person’s abilities.

Candidate screening interview

Candidate screening methods


Skills testing

Skill tests are becoming increasingly popular tools to screen potential employees for a variety of reasons. Research shows that skill tests can level the playing field for all candidates, providing an unbiased way to verify someone’s expertise. And, skill testing allows hiring teams to see if job applicants can do the job before you make the offer. 

Research shows that skill tests are best utilized for screening and evaluating candidates early in the hiring process. The Harvard Business Review has found many service companies, including retailers, call centers, and security firms, “can reduce costs and make better hires by using short, web-based tests as the first screening step. Such tests efficiently weed out the least-suitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool to undergo the more costly personalized aspects of the process.”.

Skill tests can be customized for virtually any position, providing a great candidate experience in addition to verifying someone’s skill level. Companies that use AI assessments experience a 97% candidate completion rate, which is among the highest engagement rates in the industry. 

Resume or CV screening

Resume screening is one of the most widely used methods to screen candidates for a job. It involves manually reading or using technology to try to identify suitable candidates based on matching their skills to the job description. 

There are a number of issues with CV screening. First, the higher the volume of candidates, the more time it takes. For many recruiting teams, it simply isn’t feasible to give each CV the attention it deserves. Eye-tracking shows that recruiters spend about seven seconds reviewing each CVs — that’s simply not enough time to get the full picture of someone’s capabilities and whether they’re actually a good fit for the job. Companies are forced to find ways to eliminate people to cope with scale.

Secondly, CVs are inherently bad proxies for job fit. There is ample evidence that candidates lie on their CVs and are never caught. Even when candidates tell the truth, CVs simply show academic credentials and work experience, neither of which necessarily predict success. At worse, using these screening methods in recruitment to predict success can trigger unconscious bias.  When hiring managers rely exclusively on résumés to make decisions, they may end up interviewing the wrong people. Résumé screening can often be replaced by a skills assessment or phone screen, both of which provide more context and better information about a candidate’s abilities than a list of qualifications (which may or may not be accurate). 

Phone screening

Some companies use phone screens to verify a candidate’s qualifications. This screening technique in recruitment is shorter than a traditional interview but still time-consuming. Recruiters spend an estimated 78,352 minutes on the phone each year attempting to vet candidates. A typical phone screen can take up to 30 minutes and covers high-level questions designed to weed out candidates who are unqualified. A recruiter asks questions such as: 

  • Why are you searching for a new position?
  • What are the top three duties in the job you now have (or in your most recent job)?
  • What do you see as your strongest skills?
  • What are your areas of weakness?

Phone screening suffers from some of the same pitfalls as résumé screening. Most phone screens simply ask the candidate to walk the hiring manager through their work history — the same information that can usually be found on a résumé. As long as a candidate has the right experience and can talk professionally, they usually make it to the next level. Phone screens do not ensure that the candidates are qualified to execute the position you are offering and really tell you very little about the person’s ability to do the job effectively. A phone screen can contribute to a better candidate experience. Most candidates appreciate the personal outreach and the opportunity to speak to a real recruiter. A phone screen is also an opportunity to walk the candidate through the next steps of the hiring process, leveling expectations and giving transparency to the experience. For this reason, phone screening offers more value than CV screening.

Social media screening

Data from The Muse shows that 92% of companies are using social media for recruiting. Recruiters typically use social media for candidate outreach and screening. Recruiters often check on a candidate’s social media profiles to see how they’re representing themselves online. One resource found that nearly 90% of employers check a candidate’s social media profiles during the hiring process. 

While this information is helpful, social media screening can also trigger unconscious bias and lead to unfair hiring. Some candidates may have privacy concerns, as social media is often considered personal rather than professional. Blind hiring techniques are one alternative to social media screening that can help improve the diversity of your talent pipeline.

Reading through cover letters

Cover letters are one of the initial screening methods that, like social media, can add more color to a candidate’s application. A candidate can not only show off their writing skills but also showcase a bit of their personality. Cover letters provide more space to expound on their talent than a CV. 

There are hidden advantages to asking for a cover letter, too. Candidates can show that they read directions carefully. Provide specific instructions as to what should be addressed in the letter and see if candidates are able to follow directions. If they can’t, then they may not be detail-oriented enough for your open role. Other cues, like length, organization, editing, and whether the cover letter is unique for the job, can also tell you about a candidate’s working style. Cover letters may not be suitable for every position. A coder or designer, for instance, will benefit more from a skills test than a cover letter as their skills don’t translate neatly to a written narrative. Cover letters are also time-consuming to read. Many companies will use an ATS to review cover letters, which has the same drawbacks as the résumé screening process. 

Video interviews 

Video interviews are a great screening tool for remote hiring. There are a few different formats for video interviews: 

Live videos

The interview takes place over a platform like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. This style of the video interview is not dissimilar to a traditional interview and is either used in place of a phone screen or scheduled for later in the hiring process.

Pre-recorded videos

Candidates get a few minutes to read over interview questions and then record their answers for the recruiter to view at their convenience. Also known as a one-way video interview, this format typically includes a time frame and can be curated to add a certain number of re-do recordings depending on the company’s requirements. The questions often serve as an initial screening for employers and can easily be combined with a skills assessment. 

Video resumes or CVs

A recruiter creates a set of guidelines on what the video should include and requests candidates to submit an introduction – similar to an elevator pitch. While you may receive a few well-rehearsed answers, it will give you a sense of communication skills as well as confidence and body language. 

Video interviews can get time-consuming quickly. The best way to utilize any of these video interview formats is in lieu of a phone screen and after you have created a candidate shortlist. Video interviews also provide a way to verify that a candidate is equipped to work remotely. You’ll experience firsthand that the candidate has a strong internet connection, a good video camera and microphone, and a professional background for online meetings. 

Trial projects or work assignments

Some companies invite candidates to participate in day-long case studies, live coding challenges, or complete paid assignments. Like skills tests, these are incredibly valuable ways to assess if a person can do the job before you hire them. They’re especially helpful steps in the screening process if you are able to bring candidates in to interact with an existing team. 

It’s difficult to scale a trial project or work assignment. The best-case scenario is to assign so-called job auditions to a smaller group of candidates, like your candidate shortlist. Where skill tests can be offered to hundreds, and even thousands of candidates, it’s not feasible to offer the same level of access in a job audition. If your company is able to offer job trials, make sure you’re transparent about how the work provided will be used or compensated. Before a candidate starts the trial, tell them how the work will be used, what rights the candidate retains to their work, and your company’s stance on compensating for anything produced by the candidate during their job audition. To create the best candidate experience, help each individual understand why you’re using this format – remind them that it’s a two-way assessment — and keep the audition reasonably short.

Candidate screening

The candidate screening process

The applicant screening process is the procedure in which hiring managers review an applicant's resume or cover letter and perform initial interviews, typically over the phone or computer. An application screening process is a multi-step approach used to find the best applicant for an open role. During this stage of the hiring process, an employer determines whether they wish to orchestrate an official interview to learn more about a potential candidate. Usually, an employer reviews a candidate's education, skills, and experiences to see how they would fit in the organization and what they provide.

How to create an applicant screening process

Use these steps to create an effective applicant screening process for your company:

1. Review their resume for minimum qualifications

When first considering a candidate, look to see if they meet basic qualifications, such as are legally eligible to work in your country of employment. To save time in the resume screening process, consider using an applicant tracking software that looks for keywords and qualifications on resumes.

2. Check with their references

Email or call an applicant's references to ask questions about the applicant. This can include questions such as how they performed at their previous job and how they handled feedback. Gaining personal insight about the applicant is helpful for learning about their work ethic and strengths.

3. Research candidates online

Look up potential applicants online to learn more about them. By searching a candidate on the internet you can find their professional profile and social media accounts. There also may be news articles about them receiving an award or accomplishing a work-related task.

4. Look for preferred qualifications

Next, screen resumes seeing if applicants have any of your non-mandatory but preferred qualifications. These may include items such as skills like excellent communication or someone with a certain amount of experience in the field. Beforehand, identify your "nice-to-have" items so you can easily spot them on an applicant's resume while skimming.

5. Arrange a pre-screening interview

Schedule a pre-screening interview with those who meet both your minimum and preferred qualifications. However, if you are running a high-volume recruitment process, consider interviewing those who only met your minimum qualifications as well.

During the informal pre-screening interview, ask the candidate questions based on their qualifications to see if they have the skills and experiences needed to succeed. The pre-screening will help you gain more information about the candidate to help you decide if you wish to continue the hiring process with them. Be wary if they provide you with inconsistent information or if details on their resume don't match up with their answers.

6. Consider assigning a skills test

To see if candidates can perform key responsibilities that the job would entail, assign them a skills test. This allows you to see if they have the needed skills to succeed with your company and can meet a set deadline. You may also want to consider giving a strong candidate a paid trial project to see how they would do as an employee if they are someone you are strongly considering. Another option is to send the candidate a personality test to see what their behavior traits are.

7. Run a background check

Depending on the job, you may want to run a background check on the applicant. This could include obtaining their driving record for a position where they would be driving a company vehicle or running a criminal background for a position where they would interact with children. Other considerations include running a drug test or checking their credit score.

"The screening interview should be convenient, rewarding and efficient for candidates."

- Sinisa Strbac, Chief Product Officer at Tengai

Why the candidate screening process is so important 

The applicant screening process is useful in finding the right person to help reach your company's missions and goals. Here are some of the benefits of screening applicants before an initial interview:

It saves you time

Screening applicants can help employers reserve time for the most qualified candidates and eliminate those in the applicant pool who they won't be considered for the position. The process improves efficiency as it streamlines the hiring process.

It reduces the risk of employee churn

During the screening process, employers often look for candidates who look like they can commit to the company for a long period. The pre-screening phone call can focus on asking questions such as where they see themselves in five years and why they left their last job to learn if they are a committed and reliable employee.

It protects your workplace

Screening candidates helps you find someone who would mix well with your current employees and has a positive personality that aligns with your company culture. This process also allows for you to make sure the candidate doesn't have a negative past or would bring any undesirable traits to the company.

Minimizes disruptions

Since an in-person interview involves scheduling time out of your busy day, screening candidates beforehand can help you limit the number of interviews you schedule. This is especially important since these types of interviews usually involve senior-level employees who have high-priority responsibilities and can't afford to have too many distractions.

Challenges in candidate screening

Many times, the wrong candidates get selected which make the whole hiring process counterproductive. This can be mitigated if the screening process can be made more robust to filter out the wrong candidates from the fray.  

If you ask any recruiter what the two metrics of concern are for them, most would point at toward the quality of hire and the time to fill a vacancy. Screening plays an important role in this quality-quantity equation. 

1. Time to fill the position

As discussed earlier, the recent increase in the number of applications seen across various sectors has led to one of the biggest challenges of screening resumes – volume. Out of the average 250 applications that any given job is bombarded with, 220 are deemed unqualified. Thus, investing almost a whole day of screening for a single hire is not something that the average recruiter is a stranger to. An effective ATS tool could prove to be a lifesaver here, especially since it can automate large portions of the process, allowing you to go through and keep track of mind-boggling volumes of applications. While we have all heard of inefficient keyword filters leading to false positives or to good talent being eliminated at the preliminary screening, these are essentially human errors and cannot be blamed on the ATS. With machine learning (ML)-enabled, AI-based ATS systems, tech tools can learn and update and prune through filters much faster and with greater accuracy.

2. Volume of resumes 

One of the biggest challenges for companies is the sheer number of resumes they receive. On average, there are about 250 resumes received for an open position, and 88% of them tend to be unqualified. It means the recruiter has to spend enough time to cut the clutter and finalize the 12% of candidates. This amounts to close to 23 hours on average. The usual solution to this problem is an ATS - a must-have software for screening resumes in a company.

3. Quality of hires

So, there may be an ATS in place but it can’t measure the quality of hire. It’s only built for dealing with the bulk of resumes. You really need human intervention to take over the process and engage with this challenge while screening candidate resumes.  

4. False information on the resume 

According to a study, 58% of applicants fudge their resumes. It’s generally an accepted notion that candidates do inflate their achievements on their resumes. But there’s a segment of candidates who falsify the information completely. As a recruiter, it takes a considerable amount of time to filter out such resumes and give the benefit of the doubt to candidates. 

5. Hiring biases

There’s concern about hiring biases affecting the overall diversity of a company. This can affect the business performance in the long term. This can be remedied through training, going through and revising the screening processes. 

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Tips for a successful candidate screening

Below are some tips to help you excel in your candidate screening process:

Take notes

To help yourself remember certain facts and details, later on, record your interview either with pen and paper or by using a tape recorder. You can refer to this when you are reviewing with your team about promising candidates.

Ask open-ended questions

Instead of asking a lot of "yes" or "no" questions, ask open-ended questions that provide you with more useful information.

Listen more

When conducting screening interviews, briefly describe the position and company, but spend the majority of the time letting the applicant talk and share information about themselves. The primary goal of the interview is to learn about them through their responses.

Use consistent questions

For each interview, use the same set of questions to ensure fairness and create an efficient process.

Be transparent

Provide feedback to applicants about where they are at in the hiring process to help enhance their experience with your company.

Candidate screening with AI

Smarter candidate screening with AI technology 

With the rise of the smart recruiter and of AI recruiting tools, administrative activities that demand a greater investment of time can now be outsourced to non-human technology. What seems clear is that any process with directly quantifiable or distinctly qualifiable input and output mechanisms like screening (where you know exactly what you’re looking for) can now be automated. 

1. AI-enabled resume-screening 

Most AI-based recruiting software needs to serve the basic requirement of integrating well with existing ATS and human capital management (HCM) software features and tools. Thus, a big chunk of the recruiters’ time can now be freed up for a more strategic selection of candidates. This software usually learns from your past hiring decisions, so the system tends to get better over time as you keep updating and upgrading it. 

Moreover, besides matching job requirements to all information already present on a CV, AI screeners can often also pull in public data from social media platforms to gauge a more complete picture of the candidate. 

2. Manage high-volume hiring with AI

AI recruiters thrive on volume. The more the data, the more the learning and the better the recommendations over time. Industries such as retail or customer service-specific roles that tend to deal with huge volumes of applications with limited time can benefit a lot from such screening tools. 

3. Improve your quality of hires with AI 

An array of research data points to the fact that organizations that have adopted AI recruiting software have seen an average boost to their performance metrics and a dip in turnover. Furthermore, with more time not spent on screening, recruiters can now focus on analyzing shortlisted candidates better. 

Upgraded AI recruiting tools can check for keyword stuffing and arrive and better screening decisions, thus upping the reliability of the screening process. Once through with screening, organizations can now move onward to effective candidate selection.


What happens after the candidate screening Interview?

Many companies use one of these candidate screening methods to determine who moves on to the interview rounds. Following these initial screening steps, a select number of candidates will be invited to interview in person, in a group setting, or in front of a panel — or all three. 

Traditional interviews should only comprise a small part of the hiring process and are a useful way to build a relationship with candidates after their skills have been verified. The first (and sometimes only) in-person interview moves beyond validating a candidate’s skills. Ideally, in-person interviews can be used to answer unanswered questions during the hiring process. In this step, “Interviewers can determine if the candidate’s personal values mesh with your company values and find out what motivates them at work.” 

A lengthy screening process followed by multiple interviews may be too burdensome and time-consuming for many candidates. It’s also demanding for your recruiting team. Keep the candidate experience in mind as you design your hiring process, and you may find it easier to spot that hidden gem who’s the perfect fit for your open role.


Experience better candidate screening with Tengai

Tengai Unbiased can help you provide exceptional conversational-AI-centric service to your customers. Our two-way interactive dialogue is designed to be both fair and exciting to ensure every applicant has a better candidate experience. Being interviewed by Tengai is also an opportunity for candidates to add information to their application and show more of their personality. As a result, job-seekers who have talked to Tengai state that it made them engage both emotionally and socially.


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