5 New Ways to Effectively Screen Your Candidates

By:   |   Updated: 2021-09-16   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Interviewing


"What tips do you have for better vetting candidates to help assess true skills and culture fit?"

One of our regional CIOs recently asked us that question, and it is one we hear quite often. Making a good hire is a priority for all leaders, and, therefore, so should understanding where you and your organization might be currently falling short and what can be done to ensure the best possible hires for our teams and organizations.


First and foremost, honestly look at your screening and interviewing process and ask yourself "Am I falling into the common trap of only hiring for those 'purple squirrels' or 'unicorns' (the issue where Managers only consider candidates who meet 100% of the requirements on their target wish list)?"

We recommend Managers aim to hire following the 80:20 rule or close to that, where you identify a strong candidate who has 80%+ of your requirements, is a culture fit, and has the interest in learning and doing the rest, vs. spending months+ trying to find that 'unicorn' or 'purple squirrel.' Our COO always says "don't eliminate someone for coachable moments!"Apply that concept to your hiring process, and look for reasons why you should hire someone, instead of only focused on the reasons why you shouldn't. Once you have the right hiring mindset, then turn to your actual vetting or screening process, and determine where you can make improvements or additions.

After facilitating a three hour virtual workshop around hiring strategies and best practices with 17 Technology Managers and Directors, we settled on this 'Candidate Quality Assurance' formula/process for the applicants/interviewees we are considering for our job openings.

  1. Identify your 'Top Target Traits,' ideally limited to 6-10 skills that include both technical skills and soft skills.
  2. Create a scorecard that will evaluate these traits.
  3. Identify 1-2 effective interview questions that assess these target skills.
  4. Choose one additional screening measure to improve your hiring process.

What additional screening measures should you consider? Here are some of our favorite recommendations:

  1. Lean on your hiring partner/recruiters to do more. Most Managers aren't finding and doing the initial screening with the candidates they interview; they're being sent to you after an initial screening/conversation with a Recruiter from your company or a staffing firm. What are those Recruiters/Hiring partners doing as part of their screening process? Step 1 is to understand their current process, and then you can make suggestions as to what they could incorporate to help you. One of our clients recently shared "I've never met or talked to my Corporate Recruiter, so I have no idea what their conversations with candidates, or line of questioning, look like."It's hard to screen for culture when the Recruiter hasn't at least talked to the specific Manager!

Are they understanding the candidate's key motivators? Knowing what matters to job seekers is important on multiple levels, and it helps with screening. I encourage my Corporate Recruiter to ask each candidate "Talk to me about what's important to you related to the specific role/responsibilities, team and culture, manager, company, and benefits." They then include that information when they submit the candidate's resume to me.

Are they calling/emailing references? If not, could they start? I request that a Manager who has overseen a candidate's work in the last 5-8 years be spoken to for any candidate I interview. You may also provide guidance to your hiring partner/s on what topics you would like them to address with references. For example, initiative is one of the top traits I look for. I share that with our Corporate Recruiter and provide some of my favorite interview questions to assess initiative, including "Tell me about a job responsibility you've had that wasn't part of the initial job description." or "Have you been a part of any steering committees or volunteered with nonprofit organizations? What did you contribute?"

Do they do any sort of technical skills assessment? You can also request your hiring partner to conduct an initial technical screening. Then, they would include the results with the resume when they send the candidate to you. Potential technical pre-screenings may include:

  • Provide the candidate 3-5 interview questions where they pre-record answers using a tool such as SparkHire.
  • Provide 3-5 technical screening questions for your Recruiter to ask directly.
  • Send an online technical assessment via a provider.
  1. Create and use a scorecard. Do you have a scorecard you follow that assesses top cultural and technical traits? There are numerous benefits of using a scorecard, including better consistency across interviews, guides you in more effective interview questions, helps with comparing candidates, and provides good documentation to your hiring partners if you fill out and share with them. What should you do if you do not have one created? Work with your team and Recruiter/Hiring Partner to create one that meets the needs of your team and organization. It does not have to be fancy, and, in fact, most client scorecards we have seen have 4-6 categories and a simple rating system such as 1 to 5 with a comments box.
  1. Social Media Audit. I have met several Managers who have a LinkedIn profile or Twitter account in large part because they wanted to check out the profile and the posts of potential candidates. I personally review the LinkedIn profile, recommendations and recent activity of candidates I'm interviewing. If you are not already spending a couple minutes scoping out a candidate's LinkedIn profile as a quality assurance measure, it is an easy task to knock out before an interview. It is also a great exercise to identify possible commonalities that may spark discussion and establish rapport. For example, if you notice they 'Follow' MSSQLTips or attended a recent conference or MeetUp/technical group meeting you were at, it's a great talking point to establish a connection, put them at ease, and get them talking about a shared interest they're passionate about!
  1. Use effective scenario-based interview questions. Most Managers who made some bad hires early on will tell you that one of their biggest "lessons learned" is that they should have used better thought out interview questions, and that scenario-based questions really help you get a better sense of an individual, what they've done and how they think. Understanding past behavior/actions are a great indicator of how they'd handle future situations! Therefore, a key step in any hiring process is to first outline effective interview questions that align with key priorities of the role/project/client and your target traits/soft skills, and to then build in and ask them in an interview. One of my top target skills/traits is positive attitude, and one of the questions I ask is "It's impossible to be on your A game all day every day. Staying positive takes work. Tell me about a time you were in a bit of funk and what you did to try and turn your mood around."

Do you have a couple behavioral questions or PAR/STAR questions based on your target traits? This has one of the best lists of interview questions based on soft skills that I've seen - https://resources.workable.com/interview-questions/..

  1. Give an exercise. When I went through the hiring process for my most recent role, I had my top 3 candidates put together a 5-8 minute presentation and deliver over Zoom to me and one other during the process. It demonstrated interest level, initiative, creativity, and communication/public speaking, amongst other traits high on my list/scorecard. One of my favorite Managers I used to support asked her top candidates to write one paragraph about a subject that interests them, not work related, so she could evaluate their interest level, commitment, initiative, follow through and written communication skills. Many of our Development Managers ask candidates to do some live code during an interview. There are a number of different types of exercises/activities you could build in to an interview!

Disclaimer: If you do decide to add an exercise or homework assignment to the interview process, just be cautious of how much time you are asking of people! We've seen clients lose really good candidates for asking too much of them, before, during and/or after an interview. So be cautious of what you're asking people to do, and get feedback from them and your hiring partners on the candidate's impression of the exercise!

Next Steps

In addition to incorporating any of our above recommendations, your team members and peers will likely have more input that is valuable. If you haven't discussed this topic, i.e. 'Hiring Best Practices,' in a management call, suggest it as a topic so you can learn about:

  • What tactics do you use to screen your candidates?
  • What are 2-3 of your target traits that you seek in candidates and how do you evaluate them during the screening/interviewing process?
  • Do you have a favorite interview question you ask?
  • Do you use a scorecard for assessing and comparing? Can I get a copy to view?

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Article Last Updated: 2021-09-16

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