From the blog

Pre-Screening Candidates: How to Develop a Detailed Process

Share This:

Pre-screening candidates is the process of assessing the quality of candidates before you interview them. It will help you remove those who do not meet the basic requirements of the job. 

By the time you are finished pre-screening candidates, you should have good candidates to choose from.

If you are using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), those programs may do some of it for you. However, you may want to manually sort resumes. This will help you make sure you don’t miss anyone that may be great for the job. 

Once you sort them, you can start the pre-screening process. Once that is complete, then you will conduct interviews. Create a spreadsheet and list those that you will start pre-screening. This is helpful if you receive many resumes.

Legal Requirements

State and federal laws prohibit inquiries that screen out applicants based on protected status.  There should be a job-related purpose to justify each question. 

According to the Fact Sheet from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you should ensure that any pre-screening tools you use do not violate any federal anti-discrimination laws. They cannot be used to discriminate based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, or age (40 or older). 

Your state may not allow some tests. Review your state laws before you start.

Document your decisions about your applicants. They should be based on the person’s qualifications for the position.

Review the Application 

List the requirements on the posted job description. Review each applicant to ensure they meet the job requirements. Try to reach out to all applicants within 48 hours. 

Conduct a Phone Interview

Phone interviews are important. They can help you determine if the candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job well. Also, you can review the applicant’s personality, expertise, and communication skills. Try to keep your phone interview under thirty minutes. Have 5-7 quick questions you would like to ask candidates to get to know them better. 

Ask the same questions of every applicant. Make sure you are not violating any laws when asking questions.

Some examples of questions you can ask:

  • Tell me about yourself and why you applied for this job. 
  • What skills and experience do you have directly related to this position?
  • Why are you interested in working here? What interests you in this position? What interests you about our company?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • What are your salary expectations? Many states prohibit employers from asking about past salary history to promote equal pay. You should pay what the job requires. Establish a range instead of determining salary based upon what they made before.
  • What do you see as your strongest skills? Biggest challenges?

Also, some employers send out questions in an email before the phone interview. You may want to do this as well, particularly if the position will be an office position. Does the position require them to interact with customers or vendors via email? If so, this will help you see their email etiquette, typing, and spelling skills. But ensure that is important to the job. For example, you may not need these skills if you are hiring a contractor unless they will be working with clients. 

Need an Affordable Mobile Time Tracking App for Your Employees?

Social Media For Pre-Screening Candidates

Many companies use social media to screen out applicants. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM),  84% of companies use social media for recruiting. Recruiters can get knowledge about a candidate when using social media sites. However, concerns of privacy and job discrimination do pop up. By seeing a candidate’s picture, will that sway your decision?

Follow-up with References

When checking references, most companies give start and end dates only. You should ask your applicants to provide up to 3-5 professional references. If you are hiring a manager, ask for a mix of colleagues. This could be other managers, co-workers, or subordinates.  Here are some sample reference questions:

  • What was the candidate’s job title and when did you work together?
  • Do you know why they left?
  • What were some of their responsibilities?
  • What are some of their strengths and weaknesses?
  • As a manager, when you gave feedback on their performance, how was it handled? What issues did you see with their performance or behavior?

Conduct Pre-employment Tests

Some types of tests or assessments you may want to use when pre-screening candidates:

  • Physical ability tests or physical examinations. These measure the physical ability to perform a particular task. They are usually used in jobs that require physical stamina. 
  • Skills assessments. If you require a skill, then you can test to ensure they know the skill.
  • Personality tests and integrity tests. Use these with caution. 
  • Typing tests or writing tests. 

Decide if your positions need a pre-employment test or assessment. There are many types of valid testing and assessment tools online. 

For example, if you are hiring for a clerical role, do you want to test their grammar? If you are hiring a construction worker, you may need to test for physical fitness. Again, your job description should list the essential functions of each job. They should also include any physical requirements. 

Be careful when using personality tests, as you shouldn’t use them to make hiring decisions. Many critics say they don’t believe they help with hiring and can be biased.

When considering any type of test or assessment, ensure they are valid and legal.

Conduct Background Checks and Drug Testing

You can conduct background checks once you give a conditional job offer.  

Some of the types you can conduct are:

  • Criminal background checks that provide information on arrest and conviction history
  • Credit checks that provide information on credit and financial history (e.g., banking and financial positions). 
  • Drug Testing (e.g., driving commercial vehicles and operating safety equipment).

The EEOC does warn that to treat every applicant equally when conducting tests. All applicants go through the same pre-screening process. It is illegal to check the background of an applicant when that decision will be based on a person’s protected class. 

Many online companies can simplify the process for you. Determine if your business would like to conduct these tests. 

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires you to conduct drug tests for certain positions. These are in the aviation, trucking, railroad, mass transit, pipeline, or maritime industries. You can require all workers in your business to take a pre-employment drug test.  Make sure all applicants have been given a conditional job offer before drug testing. Check federal and state laws if you are considering implementing a drug-free workplace.

Be Consistent with Each Applicant

As mentioned before, you should be consistent with every applicant. Use your spreadsheet to ensure all activities are performed on every applicant. Give applicants a conditional job offer. It should be contingent on passing all background checks, drug tests, or physicals. 


You should obtain written consent from the applicant. Follow The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) requirements when obtaining any consumer reports, such as background checks. 

Applying a pre-screening process may seem like a burden at first. However, once you develop your process, it is very easy to maintain. Pre-screening candidates can save you time. It can help you find the best employees for the job. You may have to spend more time up front, but it will be worth it. Good pre-screening prevents turnover. Also, the more you pre-screen, the faster you will get at it. 

Be sure to communicate with each person. Explain your process and let them know when they will hear back from you. If you wait too long, you may lose good candidates. They are probably interviewing other places. 

Whatever methods you choose, make decisions that are best for your small business and help you recruit top talent.


Author: Kimberley Kay Travis

Kim Travis has over 20 years of experience in business, human resource management, and leadership roles. She has specialized knowledge in employment law, employee relations, recruiting, management consulting, small business growth, leadership development, workplace safety and health programs, and writing business content.