Hiring Process: How to Screen Job Applicants

Using screening tools such as job applications, pre-interviews and tests as part of the hiring process may help prevent you from hiring the wrong person.
May 10, 2016

Few entrepreneurs enjoy the hiring process. Recruiting, interviewing and assessing job candidates is a time-consuming and stressful addition to our already busy days. No wonder many of us tend to rush through the hiring process. However, by conducting appropriate screenings of job applicants—including pre-interview screenings, employment tests and background checks—you may be able to save time, find the right fit and avoid costly errors that can harm your business.

Job Applications

You may want to consider creating a job application you'll use for every candidate. (You can find job application templates and samples online.) Think about asking each candidate to complete the application as part of the hiring process. Using the information on the job application—combined with the resume, if this is appropriate for the position—may help you weed out candidates who don't meet your basic criteria. Emailing applications to candidates to complete or putting a downloadable application on your business website may help you save time.

Pre-screening Interviews

Conducting a pre-screening interview over the phone may be helpful to your hiring process. This tactic may save both you and the job candidates time, and could be useful if you have a lot of potential candidates for an interview (or if you find a good candidate outside your local area). To help narrow the field of candidates, it's helpful to develop a list of screening interview questions beforehand. For example, you may want to dig more deeply into any missing information or holes in the resumes or job applications.

If the person does not live in the same location as you, you could conduct the interview by phone if you're the only one involved, or use a teleconferencing app if you want to include key employees or business partners on the call. Using a videoconferencing app like Skype so you and the job candidate can see each other may make the pre-screening interview more realistic, too.

To help narrow the field of candidates, it's helpful to develop a list of screening interview questions beforehand. For example, you may want to dig more deeply into any missing information or holes in the resumes or job applications.

Employment Tests

For some positions, you may want to conduct personality, skill or aptitude tests of the job candidates. It's possible to design your own skill test: For example, when I worked at a publishing company, we developed a copy-editing test we gave to every editorial job candidate. There are also personality, skill and aptitude tests from testing companies available for purchase if you're so inclined.

If you do choose to give personality tests, it helps to select one that's expressly designed for pre-employment screening purposes. A general personality test might include questions that could run afoul of federal fair hiring laws.

What about drug and alcohol testing? Under federal law, you cannot conduct drug and alcohol testing until you make a job offer to a candidate. Some business owners make the offer conditional on passing the drug and/or alcohol test and include a consent form the candidate must sign regarding the drug test and releasing your business from legal liability if the results of the drug test lead to the offer being rescinded in the offer letter package.

Before administering any kind of test, check with your state's Labor Department or an attorney familiar with employment law in your state to make sure you're following employment laws. For example, some states require you to obtain a candidate's written permission before conducting a test, and most states require drug and alcohol testing to be performed by a certified laboratory.

If you decide to conduct personality, skill, aptitude or drug tests, it’s important to give every candidate applying for the same position the same test(s). Otherwise, you could be accused of discriminatory hiring practices.

Background Checks

As you probably know if you've ever contacted a job candidate’s previous employer for a reference, few employers will divulge any useful information about a candidate for fear of getting sued. If you want more information about a person then just the dates of employment, you may want to consider running a background check.

Background checks are especially valuable if you are hiring an employee who will be working with money, driving, handling sensitive data or dealing with vulnerable populations such as children. In addition to confirming the information that job candidates list on their applications and resumes, background check companies may also be able to dig into other information such as criminal records, motor vehicle records, bankruptcy records and workers' compensation claims.

Information you can get from a background check varies state by state. To ensure you’re following federal and state laws regarding background checks, you may want to work with a background check company that’s well-versed in the requirements of your state. You will need to obtain the job candidate’s written consent prior to conducting a background check, and if you decide not to offer the person a job as a result of what you find out, you need to give the candidate a chance to dispute the results.

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