Recruitment for startups: Screening job candidates

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During the recruitment process, after you have completed the process of sourcing job candidates, the next step is to screen the potential candidates.

To screen for candidates, you need to complete three steps:

  1. Review resumes and cover letters
  2. Conduct a video or phone interview
  3. Identify top candidates

1. Review resumes and cover letters


When screening candidates, the first step is to review the resumes. If recruiting software if available, scan for keywords. When looking at the resumes, keep your eye open for:

  • Skills, education and relevant experience that closely match the requirements of the position
  • The last three to five years of job duties (and compare these with the job description)
  • Long gaps in employment
  • Job-hopping*
  • Lack of career progression

* Given the market, long gaps of employment and job hopping may be explainable by the candidate, so be aware but do not base your decision solely on these.

Optional Cover letters

Although it is optional and not used often any longer, the cover letter can play an important role. It will give you an impression of the person’s writing style and their ability to convey interest in the job.

When reviewing the cover letter, consider:

  • Is it clear and concise?
  • Does it convey an understanding of the job?
  • Are there spelling or grammar errors?

Letters of reference

Many candidates do not include letters of reference until they are requested. However, if they are included, consider the nature of the references:

  • Are they current or from long ago?
  • Are they from leaders or from peers and personal contacts?
  • Are they for relevant jobs?

As part of the overall recruitment and screening process, cover letters and letters of reference can give you an indication of the candidate’s attention to detail and can possibly break a tie when sorting candidates.

2. Conduct video or phone interviews

Once you have reviewed all the resumes, screen the candidates by video or phone. This screening process serves two purposes:

  1. It verifies the candidate is active and available
  2. It gives you some quick insight about the candidate’s communication skills and ability to answer interview questions. (This is especially important information for jobs that require advanced customer service skills)

3. Identify top candidates

Once you have completed the screening interviews, you are ready to sort the candidates. Typically, this involves the following three steps:

  1. Shortlist five to ten candidates for review by the hiring manager(s)
  2. Provide your recommendations and insights to the hiring manager(s)
  3. Have the hiring manager(s) review the resumes to select the interview candidates

Summary: Screening candidates is a key part of a startup’s recruitment process—it involves reviewing resumes and cover letters, conducting video or phone interviews, and then identifying the top candidates.