How to Screen Job Candidates and Find the Right Hire

Imagine the last bad hire at your company. They didn’t have the right skills for their position, or maybe their personality didn’t fit well with the company culture.

Whatever their weakness, bad hires are a burden—and an expensive one, too. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of a bad hire is 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings.

If you’ve had a decent share of bad hires, the way to improve your recruiting is to rebuild your screening process. To hire the best candidates, you need a solid filtering system in place to evaluate them correctly.

Follow the guidance and you’ll be able to establish a process to use in screening candidates that saves you time and helps you focus on the most essential criteria for candidates to find the right fit at the end.

How to Screen Candidates at Each Hiring Stage

Hiring is not a one-step process. To find the best candidates, you need several stages or several candidate filters where you can assess job applicants to determine if they are fit for the job.

Here are the typical steps of the hiring process and what to assess at each stage:

  • Resume and Cover Letter Review: Assess if the applicant is proficient
  • Personality Assessment: Match the candidate against the ideal DISC personality fit
  • Skills Assessment: Determine if the candidate has the right skillset
  • Phone Screen Interview: Interview for high level job fit
  • Career Story Interview: Interview for behavioral fit
  • Final interview: Interview for cultural fit
  • Reference Check: Validate information from candidate from previous employers

We’ll explain how what to look for when you screen job candidates along the different hiring stages and how to decide whether that candidate is the right fit and can succeed in this role.

Stage 1: Resume and Cover Letter

The hiring cycle begins with a candidate’s application: their resume and cover letter.

These documents give you a limited, yet meaningful first impression of a candidate’s skills and experience. There’s just enough information on paper to know whether you should meet with them or they don’t have the right job qualifications for the position. Be sure to focus less on where they went to school or previously worked, and more on the actual skills they list. Their resume should be able to demonstrate that they can perform the work.

For guidance, here are a few questions to grade the documents for their credentials. Rank your answers from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning definitely no, up to 5 meaning definitely yes.

  1. Do their past job roles relate to the position you’re hiring for?
  2. Do their descriptions of their previous accomplishments align with the role expectations?
  3. Do they list skills that are needed in your role?

Candidate’s resumes and cover letters are loaded with information about previous jobs. After a while, they start to look the same from candidate to candidate. Use the questions from this section to distinguish the top talent. Add up candidates’ scores from the resume and cover letter questions and rank them from highest to lowest. For every 100 candidates, you should pick 25 to move forward based on their scores.

Stage 2: Personality Assessment

At this point, you’ve learned relevant information about your candidates’ credentials. Now it’s time to figure out whether their personal traits fit the role.

Instead of moving straight to an interview, start with a professional personality assessment. A formal test can identify the right personality fit for candidates, so you can quickly determine whether they would be a good fit.

A personality assessment that we recommend sending to candidates is the DISC assessment. It identifies patterns around four key behaviors: being decisive, interactive, steady, and cautious.

 

Once candidates have taken the personality assessment, you can pair the results to the ideal personality of a candidate. To help you analyze their results, ask yourself:

How many of their qualities, as described in these test results, align with the requirements of this role and being a part of this company?

Rate the results again from 1 to 5, with 1 identifying a lack of alignment and 5 meaning their personality is totally aligned with the role. Depending on the personality test scores, invite the top 75% to the next step. If your applicant pool is already pretty small, you can just note which applicants performed extremely well instead of eliminating candidates.

Using a personality assessment allows you to evaluate what’s difficult to measure: abstract personal attributes. With these test insights, you head into the next screening stages so you know which candidates are most likely the best fit for the role. WizeHire’s service, automatically sends the DISC personality assessment to every candidate to determine their personality fit.

Stage 3: Skills Assessment  

After you have determined if their personality is set up for success in the role, send candidates either a skills test assignment or conduct a role play interview to measure their skills. This pre-employment testing should address a skill that they would be using regularly. For example, a consultant might be asked to complete a case study, while an office assistant may be asked to craft email responses for hypothetical clients.

Keep work expectations clear by putting a cap on the time candidates should spend on the assignment. Depending on time investment, you may want to consider paying candidates for their assignment, even if it’s just $25-$50. If it’s something quick (up to an hour), it’s generally fine for them to do for free. But for longer assignments, especially if they’re repurposed for clients, candidates should be paid.

Because test assignments are industry-specific, you’ll need to create your own evaluation criteria. As a general benchmark, though, you should ask yourself: How well did the applicant complete the assignment in comparison to people who’ve held the position in the past?

Rank your answer from 1 to 5, with 5 being exactly like people who’ve held the position. Invite the top 50% of candidates to the next step. After the skills assessment stage, you can feel confident in your applicants’ skill set.

Stage 4: Phone Screen Interview

Personality and skills assessments, of course, aren’t perfect. No matter how great a candidate scores, you’ll still need to have a conversation with them to make sure they’re a great fit.

Setting up a phone screening or video interview is ideal for your first meeting. They require less work than in-person meetings but still allow you to interact and connect with candidates. You can listen and watch them react to get an authentic impression of their personality and hear more about their experiences through genuine conversation.

To grade their overall job fit, ask the candidate these interview questions:

  • How do you prioritize your work in a day?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why are you applying for this job?
  • Why have you left your most recent job or why are you leaving your current job?
  • Tell me about a time a project you were working on failed and how you handled it.

These questions allow you to assess their behavior—their work ethic and work style—by addressing your company, their motivation to join, and how they handle sticky work situations. Their answers will provide useful information on whether they do their research, what motivates them to work, and how they behave under pressure.

Rate each answer from 1 to 5 points with 1 being so-so and 5 being great. Add totals for each candidate, and ask the top 50% to move on to the next round.

After have a phone interview or video session with all of your qualified job candidates, you’ll have an initial understanding of what they’re actually like as a person and whether they’d be a good fit. From here, there’s only two steps left to grade candidates: in-person interviews focusing on their career story and culture fit.

Stage 5: Career Story Interview

Most candidates who make it to this stage are a good fit for the role. The in-person career story interview allows you to refine your choices even further and evaluate what it would actually be like to work with these people. If you’re a remote company, you can always replace this on-site meeting with a video interview.

The purpose of the career story interview is to understand how their past job performance will help them in the opportunity in your company. In order to understand candidates’ potential, you need to ask behavioral questions.

To grade their behavioral fit, ask candidates these interview questions:

  • How would you handle X situation if you were hired in this role?
  • How do you choose your work priorities on a typical day?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

Rate each answer from 1 to 5 points with 1 being just OK and 5 being awesome. Add totals for each candidate, and ask the top 50% to move on to the next round.

Stage 6: Final Interview

This final interview is a great way to have additional team members evaluate the candidate so you can make a final decision. The goal for this final interview is to determine cultural fit. Making sure that this person would fit in the company culture is very important to your employee morale. The perfect job fit is more than skills and personality, how they align with what the team values determines their productivity.

Let multiple employees with their different sets of expertise interview candidates. The hiring manager or human resources team can evaluate whether the candidate would be a good cultural fit, while department members can see whether candidates have the right work style for the team.

Between your team, ask candidates these questions to assess how they would fit culturally in this role:

  • Why do you feel like you would be a good fit for our team?
  • How will your values help you to operate in the role?

Afterwards, your interviewing team should rank the candidate from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning not a great fit to 5 meaning let’s hire them right now. To help your team score the candidates, ask these questions:

  • Based on their answers, how well do you think the candidate would match the culture of this role and the company?
  • How well do you think the candidate’s work style fits with the department they would be joining?

At this stage, the best fit for the role depends more on your gut feeling rather than a cold score, since final-round candidates will all have similar or close scores after you rate them. Hiring is a big decision that requires a more holistic approach than just scoring—go back to your job description of your ideal candidate and compare that job profile with your top candidate and make a judgement call.

Stage 7: Reference Check

Once you feel like you’ve identified one or two final candidates, you will want to validate your findings with a reference check from a previous employer. This should seal the deal and confirm that you’ve made the right choice. Here are the interview questions to ask former supervisors.

After all of these screening filters, now it’s time to pick the best person and extend an offer.

Create a Screening System to Find the Right Hires

Making hiring decisions isn’t an exact science, but there are steps you can take to create a standardized, efficient process. With a fundamental system in place such as the steps we’ve outlined here, you can test and refine your process to consistently get great hires. Eventually, your screening process will be a time-effective system. It will enable you to hire the best candidates without sacrificing your schedule.