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How to Screen Candidates Using an Online Application

In Hiring Software & Tools — by Dave Anderson


Filling your open roles in the fewest number of days possible ensures your business operations continue to run as usual and your recruiting team doesn’t fall behind on its long-term hiring plan.

If your company gets a high volume of applicants, you likely know how tedious it can be to review them all. You have to make sense of the candidate’s resume and determine if they really do have the skills outlined in the job profile.

Fortunately, a modern online application powered by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) allows you to include questions in different formats that help with screening candidates before you dig into the resumes.

Ask about required skills

If you’ve ever reviewed resumes, you’ve probably seen some that don’t at all match the job description. Using your ATS, you can include questions that ask the applicant to confirm they do have the required skills for the job. Here are a couple basic questions you can ask on the job application that will help learn about the candidate’s background and skill set:

    • How many years of professional experience do you have? – Include a drop-down with that allows the applicant to select the range they fall into.
    • Are you proficient in X and Y skills? – List the required skills for the job and ask the candidate if they’re proficient in each one by selecting simple “yes” or “no” boxes.

Using the answers you get to the questions above, you can quickly learn if someone is qualified for the role they applied to. If they don’t have the necessary years of experience and skillset, you can remove them from contention and move onto the next applicant.

Ask about the candidate’s motivation

Even if a person has the right skills and experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be the one for the job. You should also learn why they’re interested in the position and how they’ll approach the challenges they’ll face. It used to be that hiring teams couldn’t learn that information until the interview but now you can include open-ended questions on the online application. Here are some examples:

  • Why do you want to work for our company? – Learn what compelled the candidate to apply.
  • What do you know about our company? – Find out if the candidate took the time and effort to research your company.
  • What do you think it will take to be successful in this role? – Discover how the candidate will prioritize and take on their tasks day in and day out.  
  • If hired, what would you want to accomplish in your first month, six months and year on the job? – Learn if the candidate really understands what goals they’ll need to accomplish to be successful if they get the job.

These questions will help you get a grasp of who the candidate is beyond the skills and work experience they have. But the nice thing about open-ended questions is you can ask whatever you want. You can include problem-solving questions for technical roles, questions about personality to find someone who matches your culture and questions related to leadership for manager-level positions.

Request a portfolio or work samples

An applicant’s answers to your questions will help with screening but seeing examples of their work from previous jobs will help you confirm if they have what it takes to do great work. If you’re hiring for creative roles, like a content writer or designer, you can request candidates upload work samples or even a complete portfolio.

Traditionally, this request is made via email after a candidate applies but using modern online applications, you can accept PDF, Word Docs, Excel Spreadsheets and other file formats earlier in the hiring process. You can share the samples you receive with the hiring manager and see if there is a particular candidate who stands out among the rest.

Keep your online application streamlined

It’s important to mention that you shouldn’t go overboard with application questions. Most candidates don’t want to spend too much time applying for a job so strive to keep the average application completion time between 5-to-10 minutes.

That being said, a modern online application allows you to customize the fields you include. Consider the information you actually need to screen applicants – whether it’s basic candidate details or answers to your questions – and set up your application accordingly.

Image courtesy of Paul Dufour

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