Short-listing Candidates

How to Short-list Candidates Based on Top Performers

The job is posted and the resumes are pouring in. It can be overwhelming as the mailbox fills up with applicants. An effective way to screen through your candidates is to focus on three key areas: qualifications, skills and overall culture fit.

Ideal Candidate

The first step in filtering or short-listing candidates is by identifying the type of candidate that is the best fit for the position. A good thing to do is look at current and previous top performers in this position and ask what makes (or made) that person successful. Without a picture of the ideal candidate in mind, time is often wasted in generalities. So it helps to be very specific about the successful traits that these high performers possess, and screen resumes based on those traits. The more time invested on this part, the better the chances of acquiring the talent most suited for the position.

Granted, the resume isn’t going to reveal complete information on all of these type of traits, this will be revealed throughout the interview process, however look for keywords and experiences in the resumes that tend to demonstrate a tendency toward the desired traits.

Things to think about in the high performers to be duplicated:

  • What type of work and education experience does this person(s) possess?
  • How many years of experience does the individual have?
  • Where did we find this person? (Referral, Applicant, Passive, etc)
  • What are some key general skills this person possesses that makes them successful? (Examples: strong interpersonal skills, good communicator, strong teamwork, strong attention to detail, exceptional computer skills, innovative thinker, etc.)
  • What are the personality traits that make this person successful?
  • How well did they match the culture of your company when they were hired? (Try to include the culture match on both the company and department/team levels.)

Ideal & Prospective Candidate Checklist

It is important to put together a checklist that lists the “ideals” based upon the high performer(s) and allows the opportunity to check candidates off against this list. Referring back to the three categories, here is how they might work.


  • Experience - What is the range of experience that works best for the job? Try to identify the minimum amount of years that would be considered for the position. There is no need to identify the top end of the range; this will happen organically when filtering candidates. Avoid unnecessarily filtering out candidates perceived as having “too much” experience. Use the entire filtering process to determine if experienced candidates will be excluded.
  • Education and Training - What is the desired level of education, training and certifications that will yield success. One might think that a position needs to have a specific degree (and in some cases, such as in the medical field, they do.) In more general business positions, however, what individuals lack in undergraduate and MBAs can often be substituted with good, solid hard work and experience.
  • Location - Where the job is located is important. Is the company willing to pay relocation costs? If the individual is local, is the daily work commute reasonable?
  • Salary - Many companies are hesitant to display salary information in their job postings for a number of reasons. There can be distinct advantages for including it in job advertisements, though. Whether the decision is to post salary or not, it should still be defined at the very beginning with flexibility based on market conditions. Sometimes clients aren’t sure what to offer, so they use the interview process and pre-screens to test the market. Salary data may or may not be included during the application process. It is important enough, though, that it should be collected early in the process, because if a person is outside of the range of a company’s ability to pay, it is better to know that up front in the screening process and save everyone’s time.


It goes without saying that this is highly dependent on what is needed for the individual job. For example, the wonderful skill of rapport building and people-orientation is critical to some jobs, while other jobs are much more task oriented. Thinking back to the high performers, what are the skills that set them apart? Things to consider are:

  • Task vs. people orientation.
  • Leadership - pull vs. push leader, motivating, inspiring, mentoring
  • Management - coaching, instructing, resourceful, efficient
  • Time management - ability to manage time and meet deadlines
  • Rapport Building - people-oriented, gregarious, collaborative
  • Analytical - task-oriented, detail-oriented, process oriented
  • Communications - both speaking and writing
  • Teaming - inclination toward team approach or individual contributor
  • Thinking - innovative or consistent application


Sometimes the candidate is a great fit for the job, however not the culture of the department or company. This too can be disastrous and at great cost to the company and the candidate. A top performer can come in and perform at an average or poor level by placing them in the wrong culture. It is the most visible in the sports world when a player does well with one team and not the other, however, it is just as important in non-sports related fields. Here are some examples of what to identify about the culture from a company down to team level.

  • Team vs. autocratic environment
  • Flat vs. hierarchy environment
  • Gregarious/open vs. introspective
  • High level of office interaction vs. remote or virtual
  • Flexible vs. rigid work schedule
  • Union vs. non-union
  • Preference toward hands-on vs. hands-off management
  • Micro- vs. macro-management
  • Ease of decision making within company vs. highly structured approval process
  • Rule driven vs. open minded
Hopefully these guidelines will serve as a great start to help narrow down the focus to the most ideal candidates available. Remember, have a picture in mind of the successful candidate, and then screen candidates with the vision of that high performer in mind. In a future article, we will address how to uncover several of these factors throughout the selection and interview process.

Rollis Fontenot IIIRollis Fontenot IIIPresident and Business Development Executive for Ascend HR Corp. Rollis recruited healthcare clinicians, professionals, managers and executives since 2004. Some examples titles include: CEO, Director, Nurse Manager, RN, nurse practitioner, physician, physician assistant and more. Rollis has also recruited many other functions within healthcare as well as escrow officers and assistants within the title insurance industry.

Ascend HR Corp offers recruitment services on a monthly subscription. We specialize in recruitment process enhancement from finding qualified and interested candidates all the way to full life-cycle recruitment for our clients. We specialize in fixing the most difficult recruitment issues/challenges. No problem is too large. We can help turn around the results of any recruitment department that wants to improve. Please download a sample of Rollis' book "Winning the Talent Acquisition Game with Recruitment Process Enhancement"