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How to Shortlist CVs Quickly and Effectively

Posted on 7/03/2016 by


In today’s current job-heavy market, there are some charity jobsthat will produce literally hundreds of applications, particularly the more generic administration roles.  It’s daunting facing such a mountain of paperwork, and it can be tricky to know where to start.  In this post, we look at ways to make it easy to shortlistapplicants to find the people you want to interview.

Unlike recruiting for more specialist roles, where you may need to compare applicants with very different CVs, the goal here is to exclude as many unsuitable candidates in the shortest possible time.

Log all applications

Firstly, best practice is to log all applications with the candidate’s name, email and source of their application.  When you scan their CV you can also add in some brief notes on their skills and experience.  This may seem like a lot of work already, but it will help you keep track of who you’ve rejected, who you might be interested in and where your applications are coming from (useful for deciding where to place future advertising).

Define your criteria

Before you start going through CVs, it’s very important to define exactly what your ideal candidate will look like.  You should use your job description and person specification to pull together two lists; essential criteria and desirable criteria.  Be really strict about the criteria you term ‘essential’ – as a rule of thumb there should be twice as many desirables as essentials.

You can then go through your CVs and score each against your lists of criteria.  Any that don’t meet all of the essential criteria can be quickly discarded.  Working to lists of criteria also allows you to split up the CVs with other team members and ensures you are all shortlisting on the same terms.

It’s also a good idea to decide before you start to shortlist how many candidates you want to interview– this will help avoid the temptation to keep anyone in who ‘may’ be suitable.

Conduct your shortlist in stages

The quickest way to shortlist is to do it in stages.  The first stage is to run through all the CVs and simply exclude those who don’t meet your essential criteria list, and note this on your spreadsheet.  This should immediately make the pile of CVs much more manageable.

In stage 2 you should go through the remaining CVs and assign the candidates scores against each item in your list of essential criteria, recording the scores on your spreadsheet.  This will give you an easy way to rank candidates and give you a top ten to work with.  At this stage, you should also check for any inconsistencies in their CV and make sure that their presentation, spelling and grammar, and attention to detail are flawless on both their CV and covering letter (if applicable).

In the final stage, you should start with a list of candidates who would all be able to do the fundamentals of the role.  You can now go through and score them against your list of desirable criteria, which will help single out the candidates who will be able to pick things up more quickly and contribute that bit extra to your organisation.

Bear in mind that it is extremely unlikely that you’ll find a candidate who matches every single item on both your list of essentials and desirables.  Indeed, the very best candidate may sometimes require you to think outside the box.  But it’s important to try and stick to your original lists wherever possible in order to minimise unconscious bias as much as possible.

Give everyone a response

Everyone who takes the time to apply for a role should receive some form of response, even if it is just an automated email.  Keeping your spreadsheet of applicants up to date should make it easier to ensure everyone gets an update on their application.

This is particularly important for charities, whose audiences of employees, volunteers, supporters and advocates tend to widely overlap.  A simple email thanking candidates for their interest but expressing regret that not everyone can be asked to interview should be enough.  You can even remind them of all the other ways they could support your organisation.

Sounds like a lot of work?

The fact is, however you manage the process, shortlisting for most roles is always going to require a big investment of your time.  TPP regularly handle roles for our clients that generate high volumes of response; we recently had 116 applications for a Finance Assistant role and regularly deal with vacancies generating several hundred applications.

Some organisations prefer to recruit for lower level roles internally, but these are the ones that typically eat into your valuable time.  If you think your working hours could be better spent, talk to us about handling your vacancy.  We’ll deal with all the administration and candidate liaising, and will interview all candidates, prior to sending you a shortlist.  We also try to make sure all applicants have a positive recruitment experience, whether they are successful or not, and we will always present your organisation to candidates as an attractive opportunity.  And best of all, you only pay when you appoint a candidate.

For more information about our recruitment services, visit our website or contact us on 020 7198 6000 or