Written by:Poul

Date: 9. November, 2023

Screening and assessment of candidates

[This is part 7 of PeopleTools’ article series on the optimal recruitment process. You can find an overview of the other articles here: “The Ultimate Guide to Recruitment”]


The application deadline has passed and the next step in the recruitment process is approaching.

The field of candidates must be narrowed down and the candidates you want to move forward in the process must be selected.

This part of the recruitment process can also be one of the biggest challenges. How do you select the best candidates?

Not only can it be a time-consuming process, but pitfalls can easily arise in the process, making it difficult to find the best candidates.

In this article, we’ll go through what screening is, how to screen and what pitfalls to be aware of when screening CVs and applications.


How to optimize your screening process

What does it mean to screen applicants?

Screening is the process of determining whether a candidate is qualified for a given position based on their resume and application. This is the phase where the less relevant and non-relevant applicants are screened out.

The goal of screening is to decide whether or not to invite a candidate for an interview.


Planning and preparation

Depending on the number of applicants, the screening process can be time-consuming and confusing if it is not properly planned or the screening criteria are not defined. Therefore, it is important that you have decided in advance who will handle the screening process, how often to screen (daily, weekly or after the application deadline), the screening criteria, etc.

The better prepared you are for who does what and when, the better your processes will typically be.

However, while some companies screen candidates on an ongoing basis, other companies screen before the application deadline. Since the best candidates often don’t stay on the job market for long, it can be a good idea to screen incoming applications/candidates on an ongoing basis for certain positions.

If you screen on an ongoing basis, you should also conduct interviews on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, time is up anyway. Just because you’ve been invited to a job interview in the future doesn’t mean you can’t accept another offer right now.


Screening criteria

It is important that applicants are screened using the same criteria and that the screener is not blinded by skills and achievements that are not relevant to the position.

It almost goes without saying that the job and personal profile should guide the criteria you use to screen and select. Because if you’ve done your homework properly, you have a good foundation from which to assess applicants.

To make sure you remember what criteria the candidate will be assessed and screened against, it’s a good idea to use a checklist. This also ensures that you’re not blinded by a candidate’s compelling writing style or flashy CV.

Example of a checklist/check-off form you can keep by your side when screening:


How many people should be involved in the screening process?

As mentioned, part of the preparation should be deciding how many people should be involved in the screening and with whom.

You should start by reviewing all candidates individually and sorting them into the three aforementioned pools(must see, maybe and reject). Next, it’s a good idea to review the pools with the other employees involved in the screening process so that everyone agrees on which candidates to interview.


How to screen

When you start screening CVs, it’s a good idea to divide them into three piles:

1) Must-see: Candidates who meet all the mandatory requirements and criteria

2) Maybe: Candidates who meet some of your mandatory requirements and criteria

3) Rejection: Applications that do not meet your requirements and criteria

So, start by reviewing the candidates’ CVs for your essential requirements and criteria – the ones that are a must-have. If the application field is large, you can choose to skim through the CVs quickly and weed out the candidates that don’t meet your requirements and criteria.

Once you’ve eliminated the candidates that don’t meet the minimum requirements, it’s a good idea to create a “maybe” pile for the “wild cards” that have piqued your interest and might be good to have in your back pocket.

Once you have the pile of applicants that meet your minimum requirements, you can dive into the CV and application and sort by the essential criteria and desirable criteria; the ones that are nice to have. All the things that aren’t requirements, but pluses.


What if I find the “five-legged lamb”?

What do you do if you find the “five-legged lamb” but they don’t match the job and person profile you’ve created?

First and foremost, it’s important to take a step back and see if you’re being blinded by the candidate or if there could be something to the conversation.

Therefore, when screening applicants, you need to both stick to the job and personal profile that has been created and see “the possibilities for concrete development that each applicant represents” (Henriksen, 49).


Phone screening

Another effective screening tool you can include in the process is to phone screen the candidates you are considering for the first interview.

An initial phone conversation can provide you with a wealth of information that can be useful to know in advance. When a candidate is screened over the phone, it’s not the same as calling them in for a first interview. Instead, it’s a way to deepen the candidate’s CV and cover letter.


Why spend time phone screening?

You might think it’s a waste of time to call candidates with questions that can only be answered in an interview.

Quite the opposite.

In fact, spending 10-15 min. of phone screening candidates before a first interview quickly proves to be well worth the time.

First and foremost, you should phone screen candidates if there are things you are unsure about or want to clarify. This can help prevent simple mistakes, such as a mismatch in salary expectations between the company and the candidate.

In addition, you can uncover relevant questions you may have about the candidate’s motivation for applying for the position as well as their skills and professionalism.


Who should I phone screen?

It’s entirely up to you how many and which candidates to phone screen. Some companies phone screen all the candidates in their must-see pile, while others choose the maybe pile.

Immediately, it’s a good idea to phone screen candidates where you need additional information. It could also be if you have a lot of candidates in the must-see pile and need to reduce the field.


What should I ask?

Phone screening gives you the opportunity to listen and ask many questions. However, keep in mind that screening should be targeted. Therefore, you should only ask about topics that are not included in your CV and cover letter. For example, you could ask the following questions:

  • Motivation: Why have you applied for this position? Why are you interested in a job change?
  • Experience: How long have you worked in the specific field? What specific tasks have you completed? What were the success criteria and outcomes?
    • Are you used to working with [arbejdsopgave/værktøj]? How much time are you used to spending on tasks in this area? What results have you achieved?
  • Formalities: How much notice do you have? When will you be able to start a new position? What are your salary expectations?
  • Competencies: Here you can ask about other things in the candidate’s CV that you want to know more about.
  • Personality: If there are specific personality requirements for the position, you can also listen for/ask about this. If it’s a telemarketing position, you can listen to how the person expresses themselves over the phone.

It’s a good idea to end phone screening by making it clear to the candidate that an interview is not guaranteed. Similarly, you can also let them know if there are any discrepancies between the company’s and the candidate’s expectations for the position, such as salary, framework, tasks, etc.


What are the benefits of phone screening?

In addition to preventing foot errors, there are a number of other benefits to phone screening:


Saves time:

Your company can save valuable time and resources by calling the candidate and doing a pre-assessment before calling the candidate in for an interview.


Only invite relevant candidates:

When you phone screen, you may weed out candidates who don’t meet the formal requirements and formalities (e.g. salary expectations, job duties, etc.). If you become aware of this over the phone, it’s a good idea to point it out.


Better 1st calls:

When you’ve already covered several formalities in a phone screening, the quality of the 1st call will increase. You can delve into other important topics because some of the typical questions have already been covered.


What should you be aware of when screening candidates?

It sounds simple enough to look through CVs and assess whether or not a candidate matches the requirements of the position.

However, there can also be a number of pitfalls in the process if you’re not careful. Many of these can be minimized if you’ve done your homework and have a concrete and accurate job and personal profile.


Browse all candidates

You may have heard the “myth” of the manager who, after receiving piles of applications for a position, takes the top of the stack and throws it directly into the trash, narrowing the field. Or the manager who screens CVs until the pool of must-see candidates is large enough.

Of course, this is not acceptable – neither for the candidate who has spent time writing an application, nor for the company that could miss out on the right candidate.

Take the time to go through all the candidates.


Remember your assessment criteria

When the number of CVs is high and one candidate looks like the last, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when candidates with great experience, impressive achievements and fantastic CVs appear. But what if the results and experience are not relevant to the position being screened for?

So don’t be blinded.

Remember to check the candidates against the mandatory requirements and criteria. Don’t just pick the best candidate, pick the best candidate for the role!



When we start the process of screening candidates, we base our decisions and opt-in and opt-out on objective facts, such as fulfilling our mandatory requirements.

Or at least that’s what we think we’re doing.

The reality is that sometimes things are a little different.

This is because we humans are unconsciously controlled by various factors that make us unable to assess others neutrally: bias.

When/if we don’t know about bias or are unaware of bias, it can have a number of consequences. We may overlook talented candidates, hire less qualified candidates, build an organization with an overrepresentation of one type of experience or skill set.

While it’s not possible to completely eliminate bias, we can do a lot to minimize the risk of bias. You can read much more about bias and how to make your recruitment process as unbiased as possible in the article “Unbiased recruitment – is it possible?”.


Obey the law!

While this point is almost self-explanatory, it’s still an important point to keep in mind. Remember to treat all applicants equally. You cannot reject a person because of age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ancestry, political preference, etc.


Tools to help you in the screening process

Screening stacks of CVs can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are various tools and methods that can help you in the screening process.

First of all, there are several recruitment systems on the market through which you can post your job ad and candidates can upload CVs and applications (GDPR compliant), which you can screen and rank in the system, often with 1-5 stars. Without a recruitment system, you have to manually list and rank the candidates yourself.

For some positions, you may want to set up a system that automatically pre-screens candidates when they upload their CV and cover letter. For example, if there are mandatory requirements for education, training or experience in a certain field, this can be used as an early “application barrier”.

For example, if you have a position that requires the candidate to have project management experience or training, one such application barrier could be a yes/no question that the candidate has to answer: “Do you have project management experience?” or “Do you have a course in project management?”. If the candidate answers “wrong”, they will automatically go into the “Reject” pile. The questions should be based on the criteria that you have defined in the job and person profile as essential/indispensable requirements.


  • Henriksen, Jens. Recruitment in a narrative perspective. Danish Psychological Publishing, 2013.
  • Kahlke, Edith and Schmidt, Victor. Better hiring. Børsens Forlag, 2007.
  • Persson, Janne. The reflexive recruitment specialist. The art of assessing competence and people. Hans Reitzels Forlag, 2020.

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