Volume recruitment: Six sifting technique pros and cons


As employers face the virtual equivalent of a bulging postbag for every vacancy advertised, resourcing professionals need to use a toolbox of techniques early on to allow them to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Online screening tools enable employers to reduce the size of the candidate pool for a vacancy by applying criteria for the role at an early stage of the application process. Typically, the recruiting organisation uses an online screening process as part of an applicant tracking system that receives online applications, screens out unsuitable applicants, compiles a shortlist and tracks candidates’ progress through the recruitment and selection process.

The following table considers the advantages and disadvantages of using specific options for online sifting. To avoid some of the cons, it is often advised to use more than one of the following techniques.

Pros and cons of options for online sifting





CV or application form matching.

Allows quick screening of CVs or application forms against key words.

The candidate may try to predict the key words and write his or her CV or application form to meet these, rather than submit an application that reflects his or her actual skills and experience.

Using key words could mean missing out on good candidates who have used different words that still reflect relevant skills and experience.

For candidates applying for an entry-level administrative role via an online job board, key words could include “Microsoft Office” and “time management”.

Online questionnaire based on basic qualifying criteria for the role.

Allows rapid sifting based on whether or not the candidate meets the basic qualifying criteria.

If the form has not been developed properly, the process may screen out suitable candidates.

A form for an accountancy position could include a question about whether or not the candidate has an accountancy qualification.

Self-test questionnaires and games.

Can be used to help potential candidates to decide whether or not it is worth their time applying for the vacancy.

Effectiveness depends on the self-awareness and honesty of the candidates. The test could act as a barrier if some potentially suitable candidates feel that the test is unfair or too time consuming and decide not to apply.

The employer could ask potential applicants for a role in a warehouse about scenarios such as working indoors without daylight or their willingness to follow strict rules and procedures.

Online personality questionnaires.

Provides a hypothesis about the candidate that can be explored at interview.

Personality questionnaires depend on the self-awareness and honesty of the candidate. Therefore, questionnaires should not be used to sift people out in the early stages of selection.

The employer could ask candidates applying for a customer service role to complete a personality questionnaire to assess whether or not they enjoy people-facing roles.

Online ability tests – for example, a verbal reasoning exercise.

Can be used to screen out applicants at an early screening or shortlisting stage by setting a minimum score to achieve based on the scores achieved by benchmark groups.

Concerns about fraud – for example, another individual completing the test on behalf of the candidate. One way to help overcome the problem is for the employer to administer a short retest in person at the next selection stage.

The employer could ask candidates applying for a trainee IT programmer role to complete a test designed to assess logical thinking.

Work-sample and skills-based tests.

Can be designed to allow applicants to sample aspects of a role and give them an insight into the tasks that they could encounter in the role.

Can provide evidence of a candidate’s ability to perform a real-life task.

It may take time to develop a test that is realistic, and it can be difficult to design one that can be marked online automatically.

The employer may require the candidate to do a short retest in person at the next selection stage to ensure there has been no fraud (for example, someone else may have performed the test on the candidate’s behalf if the test is administered remotely).

The employer could ask candidates for a marketing role to complete a copywriting test that is marked via the use of key words and phrases.

The content in this table is based on an XpertHR good practice on shortlisting job candidates by Alison Clayton-Smith, which also looks at the importance of developing shortlisting criteria and who should decide them, and precautions to avoid bias and discrimination.

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