When employers receive many applications for a few vacancies, they must create a shortlist of the most promising candidates to narrow the field before holding interviews. Because the competition can involve as many as 400 applicants jockeying for one position, understanding how a shortlist is made can help you find success.
Employers often start shortlisting by identifying the number of candidates they are able to interview. Doing so allows them to determine the size of the shortlist, which frames the rest of the process. The length of the shortlist is determined by factors such as the availability of interviewers and the timeframe in which a hiring decision needs to be made.
Next, an employer works from the job description to create lists of essential and desirable qualities for the potential hire. They begin looking through applications, screening for candidates who demonstrate the essentials. As an applicant, paying close attention to the job description when creating your resume and cover letter will help you get past this key stage. Even if you don’t make the final interview list, an employer may be more likely to keep your information on hand for future opportunities if you can demonstrate that you understand what the company needs.
The remainder of the shortlisting process involves evaluating applications by increasingly stringent criteria. Early on, employers are likely to begin jettisoning applications that show poor attention to detail or lackluster presentation. Mistakes like spelling and grammatical errors, wrong dates, and typos can derail an otherwise promising application, so make sure you have someone read over yours before you send it in. Employers also look for applications that show evidence of their desirable criteria in addition to their essential ones.
If employers still need to eliminate candidates after this process, they may look for experience and skills that are tangential to the job description, but still useful. In addition, they may eliminate applications that show employment gaps or evidence of job hopping, and they often look favorably on candidates with a degree, even if it’s in an unrelated field or not required for the position, because it reflects positively on his or her work ethic.