Before the Handshake: How to Vet Your Job Candidates

A group of people sitting on the floor looking at computers

It isn’t easy to find great job candidates, but it’s harder still to know whether the candidates you’ve shortlisted will have the skills, behaviors, and drive they need to succeed in a role. The key is to screen job candidates to improve your odds of moving forward with your best options.

Let’s get started.


What happens first?

When you decide to hire a person to fill a business-critical role, you’ll post your open position on a career site or other outlets, gather the applications or resumes you receive, and separate the candidates who meet the essential requirements of the position from those who don’t.

This third step, commonly known as “prescreening,” is a preliminary check to determine whether a candidate self-reports having the skills, education, or other necessary competencies to perform the role. This information is valuable when deciding which candidates to bring into the next phase of the hiring process.


How do I decide which candidates to invite to an interview?

Start by reading each qualified candidate’s resume or application to confirm they meet the basic role requirements. Then, determine who has additional competencies—the nice-to-have skills you may have mentioned in your job posting—that may help them succeed in the role.

Pro tip: Applicant tracking systems can automate this step for you. Learn more about these systems in our article, Solution Finder: Applicant Tracking Systems.

Next, contact each candidate who shows the most promise and schedule a phone interview. Devote 20 to 30 minutes to each call, and use that time to both confirm a candidate’s knowledge and experience and identify characteristics that aren’t evident on their application, such as their ability to communicate, listen, demonstrate professionalism, and show a positive attitude.

Your phone interviews should give you confidence about which candidates may meet the challenges of the role. Invite those candidates for the next round of interviews.


How do I ensure my interviews with candidates help me make the best choices?

Interviews are a forum for asking questions. In recent years, it has become illegal to ask certain questions (including those that hint at a person’s age, ethnicity, and, in some instances, criminal background), but you can learn a lot about your candidates by asking about a candidate’s education, formal training, work history, experiences, and skill levels.

To make the most of your interviews, you should prepare questions that will help you learn three things:

1.What each candidate knows
2.Whether their skills, knowledge, or training has been applied in the real world
3.How they envision the next phase of their professional lives

Your questions should help your candidates affirm their competencies and provide examples of how they’ve been used. They should also enable your candidates to share other talents, interests, fields of knowledge, and essential information that will help you understand what they can offer your business and how well-suited they are to take on the demands of the role.

The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) offers great advice for selecting questions in their article, Interview Questions to Ask, and Stop Asking.

Next, you may invite the candidates who perform well in their interviews to complete a skill assessment. Many organizations offer online assessments that validate a candidate’s computer literacy, skill competencies, emotional intelligence, work ethic, and cognitive aptitude. If you choose to use an assessment in your candidate evaluation process, you might consider one of the following options:

  •  The Hire Talent. This option offers a wide range of personality, cognitive ability, and aptitude assessments. Unlimited plans start around $63/month.
  • eSkill. This provider allows you to test by job category, subject, or specific modules. Of the three options listed here, eSkill offers the widest range of topics. Packages start at $850 for 25 assessments.
  • tests primarily focus on coding and information technology-related topics. Plans start around $99/month for 15 candidates.


Your prescreening, interviews, and skill assessments may help you narrow the field to a small selection of candidates. Choosing among these candidates can be one of the most difficult steps of the hiring process.


How do I select the best candidates?

When you’re ready to move forward with two or three of your favorite applicants, you can begin a rigorous vetting process. The steps you may take to screen your job candidates include:

Diploma with solid fill

Verifying education credentials with colleges, universities, or training institute representatives or by asking candidates for certified college transcripts

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Verifying work history by connecting with current or former supervisors

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Connecting with the references the candidate provides

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Conducting a criminal background check

Note: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that, under Title VII, it’s unlawful to eliminate a candidate on the basis of a conviction record alone, and courts are beginning to challenge the use of criminal background checks altogether in the employment screening process. Speak with an employment attorney to learn how you might comply with federal and state-specific laws regarding criminal background checks as you screen your job candidates.


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Verifying credit history

Note: Some states have begun restricting the use of credit histories to screen job candidates, though others continue to allow it if a candidate is applying for a position that could put the organization at risk for money mismanagement. Check with an employment attorney to see if this practice is legal in the state in which you plan to hire.

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Verifying driving record (if applicable)


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Pro tip: Be sure to inform your candidates that these steps will be taken, and obtain their written consent before proceeding.


Can I use social media or web search results to screen my job candidates?

Social media can be a useful tool in your selection process. While many candidates may have privacy settings in place that prevent you from viewing their profiles, you may find public photos, videos, articles, and references to their affiliations to groups that may sway your hiring decision. Of course, there are some concerns to keep in mind:

  •  Web searches may invade your applicants’ privacy.
  • Internet searches may not always provide accurate information.
  • Internet searches can make it difficult to discern between two people who share the same name.
  • The use of photos or videos of a candidate in your selection criteria may allow some bias or discrimination to influence your decision process.


New laws may be established to ensure hiring managers use internet searches ethically in their decision-making process. Speak with an employment attorney before adopting any selection practices that may be considered nonconventional or may toe the line of ethical appropriateness—or avoid them altogether.


How do I proceed?

Sometimes, the interview and vetting processes will help you identify a clear front-running candidate. In other circumstances, you may find yourself torn between two or more highly qualified options.

Make your selection by determining which candidate has the best overall attitude, seems most driven, demonstrates a greater willingness to learn, could introduce new viewpoints, would work best with other members of your team, has the best ability to communicate with a diverse group of people, or exhibits any other quality or competency that would benefit your team, customers, or business.


What’s next?

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