Shortlisting should only start when recruitment has closed. Although e-Recruiter allows you to view application forms during the advertisement period, you should not attempt to begin shortlisting until after the closure date.

Each interviewer should then make time to individually consider all of the applications against the essential and desirable criteria. Using the essential criteria on the person specification in the first instance, and then the desirable criteria if too many candidates remain, they should determine whether applicants are appointable or not and record their decision, along with valid reasons, on the shortlisting decision form [xlsx].

Interviewers should rank their shortlists in order as the final shortlisting may require some discussion about the relative merits of candidates and consequently where the candidates may be considered overall. This is another opportunity to consider the gender profile of shortlisted candidates.

Normally, if the interview and selection process is scheduled for one day, a shortlist of no more than six candidates is practical. Interviewers should therefore put together individual lists showing their shortlisted candidates in order. Do encourage all panelists to be aware that unconscious bias is common. If they find their shortlist does not reflect, for example, the gender balance of applicants overall, they should review their choices.

Mention, evidence, output

First and foremost you should consider whether the applicants meet the essential criteria. Essential criteria are of equal merit and are not ranked and should therefore all be considered when assessing the application forms. A useful way of doing this is the 'Mention, Evidence, Output' assessment approach.

  • Interviewers should review the application documents to see whether the individual mentions the essential criteria and to what extent. For example; the essential criteria includes 'ability to give presentaitons to a wide variety of audiences' and the application form states: 'I have given numerous presentations to audiences ranging in size from 10 to 1000'. If the individual makes no mention of an essential criteria it can be considered that they do not meet the requirements of the role.
  • Where the individual has mentioned an essential criteria the interviewer should then assess the content with a view to consider what evidence is provided in support. Using the example above the individual has provided further evidence to meet this; 'My most recent presentations have been at the International Conference on X, held in London, where I gave the first key note speech to 1000 members, followed by two presentations on Z to audiences of 200 alongside 4 seminars to audiences of 20'. If the individual does not include evidence, although they seemingly meet the essential criteria by way of a mention of the essential criteria, their application form is weakened and may therefore not be amongst the top shortlist. However, panellists should be aware that some candidates will underplay or over-emphasise the importance of particular activities and there is some evidence, for example, that women in particular are more reluctant to highlight their successes.
  • Where the individual has both mentioned an essential criteria and provided evidence a way of separating the very best from the group of candidates is to consider any output the candidate can describe. Again using the above example a possible output could be, for example 'Following my key note speech at the International Conference on X I was invited to submit my paper to the W Journal and subsequently my proposals were taken up by the UK Government Department of V and are now part of Government strategy'.

Ranking candidates: desirable criteria

Where you have considered all applications, using appropriate methods to assess the essential criteria you may have sufficient numbers for a final shorlist. However, where you have a high number of individuals who meet the essential criteria, the desirable criteria should then also be assessed.

The desirable criteria may be of different weights and therefore may be ranked in an order. It is important that this ranking is confirmed before shortlisting takes place to ensure interviewers are assessing against the same base. When desirable criteria are considered the same assessment as for the essential criteria should take place. The 'Mention, Evidence, Output' approach, if used for the essential criteria, could be equally used for the desirtable criteria. This should then give a smaller shortlist.

Application vs interview

Some criteria may be hard to assess from the application form. For example, criteria concerning verbal communications which may ask for 'the ability to communicate in clear and accurate manner' may result in only some information from the application form being able to be assessed when interviewing the candidate will reveal whether they actually meet the criteria. In such circumstances every effort should be made to glean from the application form sufficient evidence to meet the criteria in the first instance using the method used against all other criteria.

If the panel believes the candidate seems to meet the particular criteria, but will nonetheless need to test the criteria at interview, it is appropriate to shortlist. However, where there is insufficient evidence and the panel is not content that the individual meets the criteria in the first instance the individual should not be shortlisted.