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  • Date posted:27/01/2020
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How can you efficiently and confidently identify the best candidates for a senior management or executive-level role from a pool of prospective candidates? With a robust longlisting and shortlisting process to determine the also-rans from the winners.

In this FAQ article, we explore what is longlisting and shortlisting in recruitment, why you need to longlist and shortlist candidates, and how to do so efficiently.

Why do you need longlisting and shortlisting?

Longlisting and shortlisting work in tandem to help you to identify and select the best candidate for the role based on their technical fit – their expertise and skills – and cultural fit – whether they align with your why, mission, values and workplace vibe. In the modern workplace, both technical and cultural fit are of equal merit, despite the fact that cultural fit is notoriously harder to gauge.

Put simply, for senior management or executive roles, you need someone with the experience to hit the ground running, not to mention the soft skills to manage and inspire their teams. However, if they are a poor cultural fit, they are unlikely to gel with their coworkers or worse, cause friction. They are also less likely to stick around, putting you in the unenviable scenario of having to recruit for the role once more.

Longlisting and shortlisting are commonly used in situations when you:

1. …have a large number of applications: Time is precious, for both you and your applicants. You should only invite those candidates who best meet the role requirements to interview. Sifting through an endless pile of applications and CVs can be incredibly time consuming and overwhelming, which makes having an effective evaluation process even more crucial.

2. …are proactively engaging candidates: If you thought longlisting candidates by their application or CV was time-consuming when proactively reaching out to prospective candidates, the workload increases five-fold. You’re unlikely to have an up-to-date CV, and LinkedIn profiles are notoriously incomplete. There is nothing for it but to reach out to and qualify these candidates individually.

What is a longlist in recruitment?

Longlisting, also known as qualifying and screening, scores candidates against the minimum and preferred requirements listed in the job description. Its purpose is to eliminate candidates that don’t fit the job specification, both technically and culturally so that you can narrow down your search and invite only the best candidates to interview. During longlisting, you can expect up to 80% of the applicants to be cut.

How do you go about longlisting in recruitment?

How you arrived at your longlist will determine the nature of your longlist process.

  • Direct applicants: Applicants who apply directly, whether in response to a job advertisement or speculatively, will likely have submitted an up-to-date CV, application form or cover letter. Use these documents to match the candidates against the requirements in the job description. This is conducted in two stages:
    • Qualify candidates based on the minimum requirements for the role. This could be whether they have a valid VISA or whether they are degree qualified. You may be surprised at how many people miss the mark.
    • Secondly, screen candidates based on preferred qualifications, for example, whether they have strong analytical skills, have lead a team, or possess a professional qualification that is mandatory for the position.


  • Proactively-sourced longlist: In this instance, you are unlikely to have an up-to-date CV, application form or cover letter by which to qualify candidates. A proactively-sourced longlist will have originated from your network (people you know who could be a good fit for the role), referrals (from coworkers, friends, family), past applicants to your company and social networks like LinkedIn.

In the absence of these documents, you will need to qualify candidates against the minimum and preferred qualifications of the job description via telephone or video interview. However, before interrogating your candidates, make initial contact via email or (preferably) telephone to gauge their interest in the opportunity and ask for a copy of their CV. You might rule out up to half of your longlist, either because the candidate is not interested in the opportunity or they don’t reply to your calls. Book a qualifying call with those who showed interest in the role, your organisation, and want to explore the opportunity further.

The qualifying call should validate that the candidate possesses both the minimum requirements and the preferred qualifications. For senior management and executive roles, this would extend to exploring an applicant’s leadership, soft skills, motivations, long-term career plans, and whether they would consider relocation. This information is then fed back to the Hiring Manager in the form of a profile that accompanies the candidate’s CV.

This methodology is the promise of executive search firms. They spend extensive time longlisting executive talent so that they can submit a shortlist of the highest-calibre talent to their clients. Sometimes, executive search firms will provide a sample of their longlist (personal identifiers removed) to the Hiring Manager for feedback. This ensures that the executive search firm and Hiring Manager are on the same page when it comes to what constitutes job fit.

It should be noted that there is the potential for bias to be introduced during longlisting. For this reason, consider having two individuals complete the longlisting process. They should rate each candidate using a scorecard, which essentially details the key criteria of the role. Each individual will then rate each candidate based on a pre-defined scoring system (typically 1-3 or 1-5). This way, top talent is easier to identify if two people are in agreement, and challenges can be raised if one doesn’t agree with the other. Although this evaluative process may take longer, you will end up with a more robust shortlist.

RELATED: Increase quality-of-hire by partnering with a reputable boutique executive search firm

Find out more

Longlisting completed, you are left with qualified candidates who meet both the minimum and preferred requirements of the role. Time to get shortlisting…

What is a shortlist in recruitment?

Candidates that meet the essential criteria of the longlist find themselves on the shortlist. This list is comprised of the very best candidates in rank order of their technical and cultural fit. Candidates on the shortlist are invited for an initial interview.

How do you go about shortlisting in recruitment?

Prior to shortlisting, the Hiring Manager needs to determine their desired shortlist length. Put simply, this is the number of candidates they wish to invite to the first stage interview. Some Hiring Managers often have a preference for how many candidates they want to interview; 4 to 7 for example. However, Hiring Managers in the know will base their shortlist length based on their average conversion rates for past hires. For reference, the industry average application to interview rate is 12%, and interview to offer conversion is 17% respectively. That means for every hundred candidates you longlist, you need to shortlist 12 candidates for interview. As a general rule of thumb:

  • For a single role, interview the top few candidates (the eighty-five percentile).
  • For multiple roles of the same level, all candidates who meet the minimum and preferred requirements should be interviewed.
  • For multiple roles at different levelling, interview the top few candidates.

Once a target number of first-stage interviews is set, the scorecard rankings should be used to determine which candidates should be shortlisted and brought forward for interview; the higher the score, the better their chances of success in the role.

However, interviewing 12 candidates, especially at senior management and executive level, is resource-intensive. Depending on your interview process, candidates invited to the final-stage (pre-offer) interview might have already been subjected to 3-4 prior interviews. That’s a considerable drain on their time, and yours. For leadership level roles, it is best to reduce your shortlist to 5-7 candidates. If your shortlist is too long, consider bringing forward the telephone interview – typically the first interview for shortlisted candidates – to help you finalise 5-7 candidates on your shortlist. Alternatively, if you use recruitment assessments in your hiring process, you could use these to help you narrow down your shortlist. Whichever you choose, always ensure you inform the candidates of the situation and why these assessments have been brought forward. If you are not transparent, you risk a poor candidate experience.

In executive search recruitment, the shortlist is shared directly with the client. These candidates will have only earned their place on the shortlist when the Executive Search Consultants are affirmative that at least one of them will be offered the job. The client will assess the shortlist and invite the candidates that impress them to an interview.

Acknowledging unconscious bias in shortlisting

To eliminate bias in shortlisting, consider using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning in the screening process. This impressive technology can determine a candidate’s performance and ability to do their job, without considering factors like race, gender or nationality. However, a less high-tech approach would be to have someone impartial to look over the applications and remove all personal identifiers (name, age, location) from CVs and pain letters. That way, you can be sure you are qualifying and shortlisting candidates based on the quality of their profile alone.

What happens after shortlisting?

Shortlist complete, the Hiring Manager will review the shortlist and make his or her final selection for interview. Just because a candidate makes the initial shortlist does not guarantee an interview. If the Hiring Manager was not directly involved in the longlisting and shortlisting process, they might not agree that the candidate is a good fit (after all, this may be the first time they have seen the shortlisted candidates). If candidates are rejected, and the shortlist length falls below what was agreed at the outset, new candidates will need to be put forward. Review the longlist scorecards to find the candidates who fell short of making the initial shortlist. If these candidates are not of high-enough calibre, the longlisting process might have to be restarted to find new candidates who meet the job criteria.

Some final points to consider

Executive and senior-level positions warrant a robust longlisting and shortlisting process. These business-critical positions have extensive preferred qualifications. Ensuring prospective candidates meet these preferred qualifications can be an arduous process, especially if you are working with a proactively-sourced longlist. However, it’s worth persevering with. Mistakes brought about by poor leadership will cost an organisation dearly in capital, resources and reputation; a risk no discerning life science organisation can afford.

If you don’t have the resources and expertise in-house to qualify and shortlist candidates, consider calling on the expertise of an executive search firm like Fraser Dove International. They spend all day, every day, longlisting and shortlisting high-impact talent, and have developed robust and efficient methodologies to ensure the calibre of your shortlist.

For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

Read Executive Search Vs Recruitment: What’s The Difference?
View our executive search solutions to see how we can help you grow your team and your business.

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.

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