Interviewing - Successful Selection

by Jane Tredgett

Screening applications

If you are lucky and the job has been well advertised, you will have a large number of applicants to choose from. In this situation, an interviewer will often give only a brief look at each application (usually less than one minute) and may, consequently, select purely on the layout/neatness of the application. Clearly this may mean

  • The candidates with the most relevant experience and/or most relevant qualities may get overlooked
  • The candidates selected for interview may not be appropriate, leaving the manager in a position of making ‘the best choice from a poor bunch’.

The purpose of screening

The screening process is intended to

  • Distil the number of applicants to a manageable number
  • Assess whether there is any evidence that an applicant matches the criteria on the role profile
  • Provide an objective benchmark and therefore reduce the risk of discriminating
  • Select the best candidates to interview.

Consequently, it is important to ensure that you take time to make a good job of this stage of the process.

  • Allow sufficient time to sort the applications thoroughly. Don’t think you can just flick through them while catching up on a few other tasks at the same time!
  • Have a detailed checklist of what you are looking for, so you can see how closely each application matches the requirements.
  • Go through all applications at the same time so you can be consistent.
  • Ideally, take a break and return to the forms with fresh eyes for a quick check before making your final decisions.
  • You may wish to sort the applications into three piles – candidates that will definitely be interviewed, possibles for interviewing and those that are a definite no. It can be helpful to make a brief pencil note on each application form to identify why you have put it into its particular pile.
  • Ask someone else to repeat the sorting exercise, if possible. Ideally, this person should be someone who also understands the job well. It is an interesting exercise to see if two people select the same candidates for interview, as one often notices something the other has missed!

If you only have a small number of application forms, you may feel pressurised to interview them all, even if they do not match the required profile.

If candidates clearly do not fulfil the criteria, this can be a frustrating waste of everyone’s time. Interview only those where there is an obvious and definite close match or where you believe this may be the case (but this needs closer examination at interview).

Do not be frightened of re-advertising if necessary after the interviews – it is best to get it right first time, rather than choosing the wrong person and having to start all over again within six months!

What to look for

At this stage, you will be looking for positive points, while also keeping an eye open for certain warning signs.

On the plus side

A close match with the job description/person specification criteria

You need to look for a match with the specification, and with the skills and qualities you are looking for. This is the most important consideration when sorting applications. When you are making your final selections as to whom to interview, you may find that it is helpful to have a simple grid with key qualities for you to tick as you go through the form.

Experience of a similar job

While not always an accurate predictor of success in the role in your organisation, previous experience does mean the candidate is more likely to be aware of the challenges and demands and may require less training.


In the interview itself, you may want to explore how similar the jobs really are more deeply – different organisations use similar job titles for totally different jobs! It may also be interesting at interview stage to identify why the applicant wants to move from one job to another when both are very similar.

Neatness, accuracy and a good structure are important

A well-planned CV should ideally be on no more than two pages of A4 and should be logical and easy to digest. A candidate that has rushed an application may be disorganised, low on detail consciousness or not really that interested in the job. Neatness and structure should therefore be considered, alongside the previous two criteria.

Red flags

There are also points to look out for so that you are aware of them and ready to explore at interview.

Moves job frequently

There may be good reasons for this – it may even be a simple oversight made when trying to condense a CV to a suitable length. Alternatively, it may be that the person finds it hard to settle, has a short attention span, or doesn’t like it when ‘the honeymoon period’ finishes and they are expected to show improved performance results. Whatever the reason, it is important you make a note to explore this further.

Gaps in employment history

Again – there may be good reasons for this that make the person more, not less, employable (perhaps they were off doing a year of charity work). However, gaps can also indicate that a person is hiding or falsifying information. A gap not mentioned while employed at one place may indicate this was a job they did not enjoy and would prefer not to talk about. Either way, it is an interesting point and one to explore in more detail!

Missing periods of time

The reasons for marking periods of time that have not been accounted for are the same as for gaps in employment history, above.

Criminal record

People may not openly declare this and legally do not have to once the crime is deemed spent (each crime is awarded a time period, after which it is declared ‘spent’, see Recruitment – The selection process). It is classed as discrimination to not select a candidate due to spent crimes. However, it is perfectly acceptable to explore ‘unspent’ crimes and you may wish to make a note of anything mentioned for further exploration.

A fun moment

Strange things people put on their job applications...

  • Personal: I’m married with nine children. I don’t require prescription drugs.
  • I am extremely loyal to my present firm, so please don’t let them know of my immediate availability.
  • I intentionally omitted my salary history. I’ve made money and lost money. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. I prefer being rich.
  • Note: Please don’t misconstrue my 14 jobs as ‘job-hopping’. I have never quit a job.

The interviewees

To allow you to interview each candidate, check to see whether they have mentioned any disability or special needs (such as a wheelchair accessible venue). If the candidate has made no mention of any special needs, it is better to check by asking them to inform you when sending the interview invitation.

You will need to probe all of these needs in more detail at the interview – being careful not to discriminate.

Once you have made your choices, inform the candidates. In some cases, this can be done by telephone, but letter form is generally deemed more professional and courteous. Telephoning candidates may put them in an awkward position, if the conversation is overhead. A letter also pays more respect to the time and effort a candidate has already invested.

A written record is also more helpful to candidates you are hoping to interview, because they can refer back to it regarding the timings, location and structure of the interview.