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Screening and Evaluating Job Candidates


There are many effective tools and techniques employers use to screen and evaluate potential job candidates. This toolkit will address the pre-screening process, assessing candidates through interviews and evaluating in-depth assessment results for final candidates.

See Refocusing on 'Screening In' and More Recruiting Trends for 2022 and Know Before You Hire: Employment-Screening Trends in 2022.

Tools to Screen and Evaluate Candidates

The processes most employers use to find and select the best talent possible for an open position include the following:

  • Identifying the minimum requirements of the job.
  • Pre-screening to eliminate candidates who do not meet the basic requirements of the position.
  • Using a preliminary assessment to screen out those who lack the desired level of skills and competencies for the job.
  • Performing an in-depth assessment through interviews and job simulations to select candidates with the highest potential for job success.
  • Verifying candidates' stated employment record and qualifications.

This toolkit discusses separately each of these stages in the process of screening and evaluating candidates.

Identifying the Minimum Requirements

Employers need to have established minimum criteria for each job in order to effectively screen and evaluate job candidates. From entry-level positions to the C-suite, every position should be reviewed to determine the knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary for success. Many employers have historically required a college degree for positions that could be filled with workers with other types of credentials and experience. Ensuring the basic requirements for a position are not overinflated can expand the pool of talent from which the employer is recruiting and also create a more diverse workforce. See What should employers consider when determining if a job requires a college degree? and The Rise of Skilled Credentials.

Once the minimum requirements of the job are identified, employers can begin to effectively screen job candidates.

Pre-Screening Candidates

The pre-screening process typically begins with the review of a candidate's employment application and resume, followed by a telephone interview. Some organizations use a candidate's social networking profile as a tool in the screening process.

Employment Application and Resume Review

The purpose of an employment application and resume review is to screen out applicants who do not meet the basic requirements for a position (e.g., minimum experience or education, willingness to relocate, salary requirements). While technology has radically changed this step for those using applicant tracking systems (ATSs), many HR practitioners still screen each resume or application manually. See What are some tips for screening resumes?

Applicant Tracking and Resume Management

Technology can reduce the time it takes busy hiring managers to screen job candidates. Some ATS solutions provide dashboard-like reporting tools that also support ranking and sorting candidates during pre-screening. Many companies use an online application process that includes behavioral assessment tools that have been internally validated. The goal is to adopt a robust and efficient hiring system that saves managers time, results in improved quality of hire and drives cost savings through a reduction in paper. See How to Purchase an Applicant Tracking System.

The use of artificial intelligence for screening and evaluating job candidates is a growing trend; however, employers should be cautious of relying too heavily on these tools that can be fraught with bias.


Using Artificial Intelligence for Employment Purposes


Is Your Applicant Tracking System Hurting Your Recruiting Efforts?

AI vs. HI: Balancing Automation and Human Judgment in Talent Acquisition

EEOC: Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Fairness Initiative

Telephone Interviews

An initial phone conversation can give the employer a wealth of information about a candidate's overall communication skills, ability to listen, attitude and professionalism. During the call, employers confirm if a candidate has the right education, experience and knowledge to do the job. They also focus on the prospect's motivation for applying for a particular job to make sure he or she has realistic expectations.

A typical pre-screening telephone interview lasts 20 to 30 minutes and includes questions designed to eliminate candidates who are not eligible for consideration. Examples of questions include the following:

  • Why are you searching for a new position?
  • What are the top three duties in the job you now have or in your most recent job?
  • What do you see as your strongest skills, and what are your key challenges?
  • Is the salary range for this position within your acceptable range?

Within a relatively short period of time for a minimal investment, employers can decide to schedule a face-to-face meeting or determine that they have no further interest in the candidate. See Tips for Recruiters: How to Conduct Effective Phone Screens and Telephone Pre-Interview Screening Form.

Use of Social Media

The use of social media to screen applicants is now commonplace. A survey by CareerBuilder1 found that 70 percent of employers reported using social media in the screening process, and 54 percent found content that caused them not to hire a candidate. Reasons cited for not hiring included:

  • Candidate had made discriminatory comments related to race, gender or religion.
  • Candidate lied about qualifications.
  • Candidate was linked to criminal behavior.
  • Candidate shared confidential information from previous employers.

Depending on the privacy settings of the social networking site and what the job candidates share on their profiles, HR may be able to view pictures of the job candidates and information about their education, political views, work experience, membership in professional groups, volunteer activities, geographic location, and other hobbies and interests.

Despite the advantages of using social networking websites in screening, HR should be aware of caveats and possible pitfalls. Key reasons many employers give for not using it include concerns about the accuracy of the information gained, invading the privacy of the applicant or creating an inadvertent issue of job discrimination.

Steps to take to minimize risk:

  • Never ask for passwords. In several states, employers cannot ask applicants (or employees) for their social media password by law. In all 50 states, asking for an applicant's (or employee's) password creates a real risk of violating the federal Stored Communications Act. For this reason, employers should look only at content that is public.
  • Have HR do it. It is best if someone in HR, rather than a hiring manager, checks candidates' social media profiles. The HR professional is more likely to know what can and cannot be considered.
  • Look later in the process. Check social media profiles after an applicant has been interviewed, when the candidate's membership in protected groups is likely already known.
  • Be consistent. Don't look at only one applicant's social media profiles.
  • Use it as one of many tools. Not every job seeker uses social media. This raises a concern about potential adverse impact on those who are economically less advantaged, which may correlate with certain racial and ethnic groups.
  • Consider the source. Focus on the candidate's own posts or tweets, not on what others have said about him or her. You may want to give the candidate a chance to respond to the worrisome social media content found. There are imposter social media accounts out there.
  • Be aware that other laws may apply. For example, if you use a third party to do social media screening, you are probably subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (and similar state laws). Also, some state laws prohibit adverse action based on off-duty conduct, except under narrow circumstances.

See How to Use Social Media for Applicant Screening

Preliminary Assessment of Eligible Candidates

Preliminary assessment of candidates can be conducted through in-person interviews, structured panel interviews, video interviews or any combination of the three.

In-Person Interviews

The main goals of an employment interview are to assess the knowledge, skills and abilities the candidate possesses; to learn how they have applied and tested work skills; and to determine where their aptitudes lie, thereby defining the path of future growth and development.

Ideally, each of the 10 to 12 questions interviewers ask during a typical one-hour interview should provide the most insight on the candidates' ability to perform the job. Scrutinizing interview questions before using them can help improve their strength and effectiveness and ensure that the interviewer and the candidate get the most out of their conversation. To examine the usefulness of each interview question, interviewers should answer the following questions about each one:

  • What is the most likely response to this question?
  • Does that answer give me concrete data that will help me make a hiring decision?

If either test falls flat, the question needs work. If both tests fail, the interviewer should toss out the question and start over.

Enabling candidates to share answers with depth and breadth about skills, knowledge and experiences gives a hiring manager much more useful information than using canned interview questions to see if the candidate can give the "right" or "best" answer. Hiring success depends heavily on the ability to assess accurately what candidates can bring to the organization. In addition, it shows how the organization can interact with its newest employees to develop underused skills and provide a level of professional satisfaction that will keep them engaged and happy to continue as productive members of the organization.


10 Classic Interview Questions and the Answers You Hope to Hear

The Emotionally Intelligent Interviewer: A Smarter Questioning Strategy

Interviewing Candidates for Employment

Structured Panel Interviews

Organizations have become more rigorous and sophisticated in their selection processes. As a result, many companies use a panel interview, particularly for positions considered mission-critical. Typically, individuals on the panel plan their questions based on interest or subject area and then divide them so each can interview the candidate. The structured panel interview gives everyone who will have significant interactions with the new employee an opportunity to meet and interact with the candidate at the same time, helping the group make the best possible selection. Team interviews are usually less formal than panel interviews but use the same multi-interviewer approach. See The Ins and Outs of Team Interviewing.

Virtual Interviews

Virtual interviewing was previously most popular with high-tech companies and those in the communications industry, but the COVID-19 pandemic introduced virtual interviewing to almost all employers. As companies expand their candidate searches nationally and internationally, the popularity of virtual interviewing is likely to continue to grow.

Using technology for virtual interviewing allows long-distance candidates to be more viable. Its key advantage is a reduction in travel costs and a more efficient use of time for both the recruiter and candidates.


The Pros and Cons of Virtual and In-Person Interviews

How to Conduct Great Video Interviews

5 Do's and Don'ts of Video Interviews

In-Depth Assessment

Depending on a particular position, an in-depth assessment may be necessary to ensure the individual has the necessary skills and competencies to perform the job.

Pre-Employment Testing

The purpose of employee testing is to help the employer predict how well an individual will perform on the job. Hiring the wrong people can be expensive, and selection errors can have a negative impact on employee morale and management time, waste valuable training and development dollars, and reduce employee productivity and a company's profitability. According to the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures of 1978 issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), any employment requirement an employer uses is considered a "test." As a result, there is the potential for litigation if a selection decision is challenged and determined to be discriminatory or in violation of state or federal regulations. Therefore, HR professionals must ensure that the selection process—and any procedures related to other employment decisions—are reliable, valid, equitable, legal and cost-effective. See Screening by Means of Pre-Employment Testing.

Verification of Candidate Data

Employers may wish to verify a candidate's prior employment, education, criminal background information and other pertinent data to ensure the candidate is being honest about past experience and credentials. An employer may conduct these checks in-house or contract with a vendor, but any related legal requirements in performing and using these checks will ultimately be the employer's responsibility. 

Criminal Background Checks

While some industries require criminal background checks for certain positions, many employers are embracing "second-chance" employment opportunities for individuals with criminal histories. The SHRM Foundation's Getting Talent Back to Work initiative is leading the way to reduce barriers and build bridges to employment for people with criminal records. On the Getting Talent Back to Work webpage, HR professionals and employers can find resources to help them attract, hire and retain people with criminal records.

Courts are also increasingly challenging employers' use of criminal background checks. The EEOC has stated that "an absolute bar to employment based on the mere fact that an individual has a conviction record is unlawful under Title VII."2 Yet the agency also observed that Title VII does not wholly bar the use of criminal records in employment decisions. Instead, the EEOC has provided a framework for assessing criminal records when making an employment decision.

An employer's consideration of criminal records may pass muster under Title VII if an individualized assessment is made, considering the following:

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or offenses.
  • The time that has passed since the conviction or completion of the sentence.
  • The nature of the job held or sought.


EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Employing Individuals with Criminal Records

Can an employer conduct a background check before extending an offer of employment?

Several states prohibit private employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records on initial written applications, requiring employers to wait until later in the hiring process. To ensure compliance, organizations should check the laws in the states they have employees working in. See Multistate Law Comparison Tool.

Verification of Credit History

Employers face a thicket of state and federal laws that govern pre-employment background screening. New state laws restrict the use of credit histories in hiring decisions, and more states are planning similar measures. Employers should check their state laws for compliance.

Behind the debates lie two fundamental values that often conflict:

  • Employers' rights to maintain safe workplaces and to conduct business without interference.
  • An individual's right to privacy and fair treatment in the job market.

See Can we run credit reports and use them as part of our employee selection process?

Employers that use credit reports in their screening processes should consider the risk versus the benefit and identify positions for which a credit report is necessary. If no clear and direct correlation exists between the position and the potential for fraudulent activity, the organization is at risk for a possible discrimination lawsuit.

Verification of Education Credentials

Not all applicants are honest on their resumes and employment applications, and some may embellish or lie about education. Studies continue to show an increase in the number of discrepancies between education records and information applicants provide. In addition, news stories of fraud—from the CEO of a well-known electronic retailer to a cable network television personality—illustrate the risks of false educational records and credentials. Recruiters and employers should verify credentials directly through the educational institution or a background screening service. Many colleges and universities have a degree-verification program or refer employers to the National Student Clearinghouse, which charges a nominal fee for the verification. Another option is to ask the employee to have the school send a certified college transcript directly to the employer. See Why should an employer verify an applicant's education?

Verification of Prior Work Performance

Employers may ask applicants to provide information about their prior performance; however, the real issue is whether it is an effective HR practice. Some employers believe that performance review information can determine the type of employee the applicant will become. However, there is no effective way to determine if a performance review is a reliable or valid predictor of future performance.

A more effective practice might be to obtain applicants' written permission to confer with current or former supervisors after making a conditional offer of employment. Supervisory referrals may provide more useful information about the applicants and the types of supervision to which they best respond. Applicants and their supervisors are unlikely to resist this accepted practice. See Can we ask to see an applicant's prior performance reviews?

Verification of Prior Employment and References

Employers must confirm candidates' prior employment to ensure that they have the background and experience their resume or employment application indicates. Some recruiters believe talking to references that candidates provide is not useful since candidates are likely to select individuals with a positive view; however, it is worth the time. See Creative and Compliant Ways to Check References.

Legal Issues

Most of the legal issues that arise in connection with screening and evaluation involve those related to background checks and equal employment opportunity. These issues include the need to establish nondiscriminatory criteria for job descriptions and to implement nondiscriminatory strategies for attracting talent. See Avoiding Adverse Impact in Employment Practices.

Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures

Screening often involves pre-employment assessments, which are usually standardized devices designed to measure skills, intellect, personality or other characteristics and which yield a score, rating, description or category. However, according to the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures of 1978 issued by the EEOC, any step in the employment process is considered a "test." Thus, litigation may result if a challenged selection decision is discriminatory or in violation of state or federal regulations. See What compliance issues are involved in creating a pre-employment test? and EEOC: Employment Tests and Selection Procedures.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates employment screening and outlines consent, disclosure and notice requirements for employers that use third parties to conduct background checks on job applicants and employees. The FCRA requirements can apply to criminal history reports, credit reports, driving records and other reports an employer obtains through a third party.


When do employers need to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

Checklist: Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Compliance

FCRA Authorization to Obtain a Consumer Report (background/credit check)

FCRA Preliminary Notice of Adverse Action

Additional Resources

Resume/Application Review Form

Checklist: Recruiting Quality Hires

Background Check Policy and Procedure

Background Check: Authorization to Obtain Motor Vehicle Records

Background Check: Parental Consent for a Minor

Background Checks: Motor Vehicle Driving Record Policy

Background Checks: Credit Check Policy

Candidate Evaluation Form

Employment Reference Request Form (Mail)

Employment Reference Check Form (Phone)

Criminal Record Risk Factor Assessment




1 CareerBuilder. (Jun. 15, 2017). Number of employers using social media to screen candidates at all-time high, finds latest CareerBuilder study. Retrieved from

 2 EEOC. (Feb. 4, 1987). EEOC Policy Statement on the Issue of Conviction Records under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1982). Retrieved from