The Value of Background Screening in Hiring

The Value of Background Screening in Hiring

According to recent statistics, the average length of the hiring process takes around twenty-four days. In a market that favors job seekers, this time span is just too long for some companies. Many have resorted to cutting down on background screening in an attempt to make up for lost time. But more often than not, companies that skip this vital step risk the integrity of their organization and their hiring process.

You don’t have to cut corners to get the hiring results you want. Background screening can be a helpful tool in your hiring process and not a hindrance in attracting talent. With information from Verified First, check out these three ways background screening brings value to your organization.

1. Background Screening Authenticates a Candidate

Screening candidates looks different for all industries, but the heart of the matter remains the same. Background screening is performed to better ensure that the candidate you’re about to hire is the best person for the role. It works to authenticate a candidate by looking into a person’s background to verify their history. These screens can contain a multitude of solutions such as:

  • Federal records
  • Civil records
  • Employment verifications
  • Reference verifications
  • Drug tests
  • Identity checks
  • Driving records

Screening also helps you verify that everything a candidate has said to indicate they’d be a great new hire is accurate. 

2. Background Screening Protects Your Workplace

Information gleaned from background screening can speak to the potential risk of hiring that person. Choosing not to background screen your candidates could discredit the integrity of your business and put your existing employees, clients, and partnerships at risk. 

Certain screens are designed with workplace safety in mind. These screens in particular will check for candidates who have previous offenses that could put vulnerable populations – including the elderly, children, and more – at risk.

  • National Sex Offender Registry search – Searches if a person has been added as a sex offender to the National Sex Offender Registry.
  • Federal criminal records search – Uncovers if a person has been convicted of a federal crime such as firearms or drug trafficking. 
  • Global Homeland Security search – Identifies if a person has been added to any known terrorist lists.

Over 70 million American adults have a criminal record. Screening your candidates can help you navigate records and better protect the people already within your organization and community.

Partners keep you in mind in every step of the screening process. They work to take the best care of their clients from integration to implementation.


Background screening adds value to your hiring process by helping you identify which candidates are the best fit for your workplace. A solid screening strategy starts by finding a screening partner with your specific needs in mind. Check out how you can get started with background screening today through Verified First!

3 Things to Know About Employment Background Checks Right Now

3 Things to Know About Employment Background Checks Right Now

Background checks are an important part of an employer’s due diligence when evaluating job applicants. Thorough background investigations protect the business, the employees, and the customers. For some job roles, they protect public health and safety.

1. Delays Are Easing Up–So Don’t Stop Doing Background Checks!

However, some small business owners are considering whether to stop doing background checks because they have become more complicated and time-consuming in the past two years. Hurdles include pandemic-related court backlogs and a patchwork of regulations. In addition, many small businesses are limited by short-handed hiring teams. Fortunately, courts and other government agencies are working to get their records up-to-date. And while some new laws delay the process, some states (like California) are considering bills designed to make things easier.

Recruiters and hiring managers that don’t have the resources to perform them on their own should consider a professional service. It does make the hiring process more expensive, but the cost is far less than making a bad hire.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a bad hire costs the employer up to 30% of their first-year earnings. In a CareerBuilder survey, 3 in 4 small business respondents reported having hired the wrong employee for a position, with costs ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

2. A Negative Background Check Experience Can Drive Candidates Away

Despite economic uncertainty, the talent market is still ultra-competitive. Job seekers have many options. The companies that win the war for talent have an attractive employer brand and a candidate experience to match.

Any bottleneck or inconvenience in the hiring process–including a lengthy or confusing background check process–increases the risk of the candidate withdrawing their application.

There are two main ways to prevent delays in the background check process. First, if the employer and candidate work together diligently to complete the required release forms and authorizations, the process can proceed more smoothly. Second, candidates can prevent delays by ensuring all submitted information is accurate and correct to the best of their knowledge. Indeed

According to LinkedIn, the average time to hire is 41 days. How does your company compare? Is your background screening stage a bottleneck in your process?

In a CareerBuilder survey, 38% of respondents reported losing a candidate because they had a negative experience with their background check; however, less than half of HR managers who conduct background checks (44%) have tested their background check experience themselves. When employers do test their process, they identify a less than ideal candidate experience, with around 1 in 6 (14%) rating their background check candidate experience as fair or poor.

3. There Are New Background Check Laws

Employers need to stay abreast of the employment laws in the locations where they have employees working–including remote employees. Multiple hiring laws impact background checks, including criminal records checks, drug tests, driving records, and credit reports. Let’s discuss some of them.

According to the National Employment Law Project research, 37 states, the District of Columbia, and numerous cities/counties have recently enacted or modified laws that affect employment screening in general and various types of background reports.

Cannabis Screening Laws

In 2022, Virginia, Connecticut and Philadelphia modified cannabis screening laws. Connecticut’s new employment regulations went into effect July 1, 2022. The law prevents employers from penalizing a job applicant who used marijuana prior to being hired. If an existing  employee tests positive for cannabis, the employer can’t take adverse action unless they had a written drug policy in place before the test. Note, however, that there are exceptions for drug background checks for positions that affect public health and safety.

As with Connecticut, the Virginia law also went into effect July 1, 2022. The Virginia law prohibits employers from taking adverse action against applicants for the legal use of cannabis oil. The law also requires current employees to obtain a written certification from a medical provider verifying that cannabis oil use is prescribed to treat a health condition.

Effective January 1, 2022, Philadelphia employers are prohibited from requiring job applicants to undergo pre-employment tests for cannabis use. Visit the City of Philadelphia website for more information on how this impacts background checks.

State and City Fair Hiring Laws

Some states and cities have passed laws that expand on federal regulations that affect background checks..

Effective August 2021, Louisiana restricts employers from considering an applicant’s arrest record or non-convictions in hiring decisions. If an employer believes criminal history could affect job performance, they can get an individual assessment from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to obtain permission to conduct a criminal background check.

As of October 2021, Maine prohibits recruiters from asking about criminal history on applications. The law also bans job applications from saying candidates with criminal histories should not apply or will be eliminated. However, federal or state laws require criminal background checks for certain employment.

Effective April 2022, an amendment to Philadelphia’s Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards (FCRSS) broadens the scope to cover both independent contractors and gig workers. Philadelphia’s FCRSS prohibits asking job applicants about their criminal history on applications and/or in interviews.

Changes to the New York City Fair Chance Act became effective July 29, 2022. The law requires employers to conduct all non-criminal background screenings prior to making a conditional offer. In contrast, companies can only conduct criminal employment background checks and driving history checks after making an offer.

Note also that California employers are subject to the California Fair Chance Act which went into effect in 2018.

Date of Birth (DOB) Laws

Both Michigan and California added restrictions regarding using an applicant’s date of birth and other information during background screens. Note, however, that California’s provisions have been challenged and are working their way through the courts. If you are based in California or have employees working in the state, stay apprised of the latest rules.

Michigan previously had a DOB redaction rule, but as of April 1, 2022, employers can use an applicant’s DOB with their permission to access criminal databases or for confirming identity.

Salary History Bans

While not directly applicable to employment background checks, be aware that at least 14 states have laws that prohibit employers from asking job candidates their salary history, and 20 states and Washington, D.C. offer protections for employees to discuss compensation.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

Though not a new law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies when employers hire a third-party service agency to conduct employment consumer credit reports and other investigative reports. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FCRA.

When in the Recruiting Process Should I Do Background Checks?

The size of your company, the job role you’re hiring for and your industry influence the timing of both background screening and reference checks. If you field hundreds of applications, there are advantages to doing reference checks before the interview stage. It will help you narrow down the applicant pool earlier in the process.

For higher level positions, it’s customary in most industries to delay a background check until the final stages. This could be immediately prior to the formal job offer – and some companies don’t do a background check until they’ve extended a conditional offer.

Verified First Integrates With ApplicantStack for Streamlined Background Checks

Background checks are an essential step in the employment process–and automation saves time and money. With the one-click ApplicantStack-Verified First integration, ApplicantStack users can manage Verified First background checks from within the software. Learn more at Background Screening with ApplicantStack and Swipeclock.

Verified First is known for their speedy turnaround times and excellent service from a U.S.-based team of specialists. In fact, Verified First has a 96% client satisfaction rate!

If You Haven’t Updated Your Employer Value Proposition, You Haven’t Been Paying Attention

If You Haven’t Updated Your Employer Value Proposition, You Haven’t Been Paying Attention

Have you updated your Employment Value Proposition (EVP)? If not, get it on your to-do list. It can help you attract and retain talent in a competitive labor market.

Don’t have an EVP? Today’s job seekers expect a prospective employer to showcase their employer brand front and center.

An Employer Value Proposition is also called an Employment Value or Employee Value Proposition. Your EVP should succinctly explain the value you provide to a potential candidate as well as your existing employees. This includes compensation, benefits, perks and, increasingly, your company’s commitment to causes your employees care about.

Why Is an EVP Important?

An Employee Value Proposition is a useful tool in any labor market. But it’s especially important now, because it’s never been more difficult to find top talent. Surprisingly, recession fears and rising inflation haven’t put a damper on hiring, at least in most industries.

Employer Value Proposition Example

You don’t have to be a large business to create and benefit from an EVP. Small businesses can (and should) articulate what they have to offer, specifically the benefits of working at a small company. Swipeclock, for example, is a 100-employee company. Here are some excerpts from our employment value proposition:

Our team casts a wide net across numerous locations, lifestyles and backgrounds. We celebrate the uniqueness and strength found in diversity and inclusivity. It’s our differences that make us interesting, and our shared belief in Swipeclock’s core values that bind us together. Resilient: We are a resilient group of individuals. We know the business environment can be unpredictable. Thriving means being able to pivot, respond to the unexpected and keep the focus on what’s important — our customers. Agile: Phenomenally agile are able to take a problem and work it into a success story. With our agile mindset, we seek to deliver solutions quickly and respond to customer inquiries with the same speed.

How Has Your Value Prop Changed?

As reflected in the title of this piece, it’s time to update your value proposition. Your company and employees have changed dramatically. If your workforce is thriving, you have been successful at supporting your employees and adapting to the new world of work and life. In other words, you have a strong EVP.

Have you revamped your benefits package by adding mental health coverage or childcare? It’s never been more important to strengthen your commitment to work live balance. Do you provide hybrid working and flexible schedules to make life easier for your current employees? What causes do you support? Your ideal candidate shares your values.

How about career development? This has become increasingly important to candidates and employees. A work environment where employees understand their career paths is critical if you want to improve retention and find the right talent.

If so, update your Employer Value Proposition so you can convey these things to prospective candidates. Furthermore, it will help you unify your workforce which will, in turn, reduce employee turnover.

This evolution in thinking has undoubtedly been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which put immense pressure on leaders to not just communicate their values but also to demonstrate them. In the face of difficult decisions, employers suddenly had to decide whether their professed ideals and “north stars” were real and substantive or mere lip service. They gained a heightened awareness of the importance of organizational purpose, team cohesion, and employee experience. Bryan Adams, Harvard Business Review

What if I’m Creating Our First EVP?

It’s important to realize that your company’s EVP merely expresses the value of working for your organization. In other words, you already have an identity and culture. To write your value prop you need to figure out what it is.

Begin by identifying what makes your company special. An anonymous employee survey can help. In addition, you can check Glassdoor and other workplace review sites to see what current and former employees say. Customer testimonials and feedback from your support team can shed light on how your company is perceived in its space.

How Can We Improve It?

Once you understand your current value proposition, you can make a plan to improve it if needed. This is called your employer brand strategy.

If you have high turnover, it’s not just your EVP that’s weak, Unfortunately, it’s the company culture upon which it’s based. If this is the case, it’s time to re-evaluate the employee experience you provide as an employer. Create an ideal Employer Value Proposition to guide you as you work toward it. 

If your employees are loyal, but don’t have clarity why, you have a communication problem. This is not the worst problem to have. It means you have a terrific culture and can create a strong Employee Value Proposition. As discussed previously, use focus groups to identify your company values.

Then, work to get your compelling Employment Value Proposition out to your team and potential candidates. Share it with employees in your HR portal. Have your talent acquisition team Include it in your job descriptions and discuss it in interviews. Talk about it in company-wide meetings. 



How to Write a Job Description

How to Write a Job Description

Knowing how to write a job description is one of the key components to attracting and hiring the best talent. That means it’s an essential skill for hiring managers, HR professionals and recruiters.

What is a Job Description?

A job description is a formal listing of the specific responsibilities and important details about an employment position. Though it isn’t the exact thing as a job posting, the job posting includes the job description. A job posting may include additional information about the company.

A good job description will:

  • Help attract the right candidates
  • Be a template for writing your job posting and advertisements
  • Increase the diversity of your applicant pool
  • Serve as a guide for writing your interview questions and candidate evaluation
  • Set realistic expectations for the new hire
  • Assist managers/supervisors with performance reviews and identifying areas for training or development
  • Prevent legal problems with federal agencies in the event of a discrimination allegation

Why is a Good Job Description Important?

First off, a job description is usually the first touchpoint a candidate has with your company. If it’s professional and compelling it reflects well on your organization. Conversely, if it’s full of cliches and trite phrases, or grammar and spelling mistakes, high quality candidates will pass it by.

In addition, a good job description will set expectations for prospective applicants. This saves everyone time and frustration. If a job description doesn’t clearly outline the role, unqualified job seekers may apply. Or perhaps qualified job seekers will apply without understanding the nature of the position. If they are hired and the actual job is different than what the job description described, they may move on. At that point, you’ve both wasted time and your company has wasted money. Not to mention that the former employee won’t be likely to speak well of the experience. If it happens repeatedly, it can damage your brand.

How to Write a Job Description

What makes a good job description? Creating a standardized process is the first step.

Firstly, gather the appropriate people for the task. The manager to whom the position will report might be the best person to take the lead. If there are other employees performing similar jobs, they can also contribute. Additionally, if the position is new and will relieve current employees of work load, they should be part of the discussion.

Secondly, perform a job analysis. You need as much data as possible. The job analysis may include the job responsibilities of current employees, internet research and sample job descriptions for similar jobs. It would include an analysis of the duties, tasks, and responsibilities of the position. The more information you can gather, the easier it will be to write the description.

Thirdly, write the job description. The format and style for writing job descriptions is different from any other type of business writing. It is not a complex process, but you should follow a basic format and include specific components. The basic components are listed below. Following the list, we discuss each in more detail.

Here is a job description template:

    1. Irresistible intro
    2. Job location
    3. Job title
    4. (Optional) Salary or wage
    5. The person the position will report to
    6. Job responsibilities
    7. Candidate requirements (must-haves)
    8. Desired candidate qualifications (nice-to-haves)
    9. Work environment
    10. Statement about company and benefits
    11. EEOC statement

Irresistible Opener

Many job postings start with the location and job title. We have included an intro because it will set your job posting apart. Today’s hiring environment is very competitive. Job seekers interested in your opening will see dozens (maybe hundreds!) of postings for the same position. What will make yours stand out?

That’s where a unique, enticing opener comes in. Tap your marketing team to help you with this part. Specifically, whomever writes your landing pages, social posts, website copy or email nurtures. It’s their job to grab the reader’s attention using as few words as possible. Recruitment and marketing have much in common. Both seek to bring individuals to your company, whether a job seeker or customer.

Check out this lead-in for a Content Marketing Manager position:

Interested in defining how AI shapes the future of work? Cresta is on a mission to make every knowledge worker 100x as effective, 10x faster and 10x better. (LinkedIn)

Here’s one for a Graphic Designer position at a marketing agency:

Think fast and edit faster? Dream in 9:16? Ok, we’ll cut the BS. Sculpt designers make the attention-grabbing social media creative assets we need and love. Can you help us make awesome content? We’re hiring freelance and full-time creatives. (Sculpt)

Compare it to this snoozer:

Under the direction of the Art Director, the Graphic Designer will perform a wide variety of graphic design functions. Responsibilities include design and production of print and digital collateral: brochures, direct mail, environmental graphics, invitations, advertisements, and graphics for web, social media, e-mail, and video.

Job Location

If the position is remote, this may not seem important, but include it anyway. Regardless of where the employee will be working, let them know where your company is based. Many job seekers search for positions by city. LinkedIn and other job sites also send postings to candidates. They match up job locations with the candidate’s location. Therefore, if you don’t list a location, you may not get the same exposure for your posting.

Job Title

The job title should accurately reflect the type of work. For example “clerk,” “processor,” or “analyst”. Furthermore, it should also indicate the level of work being performed; “senior analyst” or “lead accountant”. Avoid acronyms, jargon, and overly-creative job titles. Be clear and concise. Don’t make it difficult for applicants to know if they want to apply. You might call your website manager a Digital Alchemist. Don’t do it in a job description.

Job Summary

The job summary describes the primary reason for and function of the job. It also provides an overview of the job and introduces the responsibilities. The job summary should describe the job without detailed task descriptions. Its length should range from one sentence to a paragraph, depending on the complexity of the job. It is easier to write the summary once you have completed the more detailed information.

Example: A job summary for a Human Resources Director

“Manages the human resources function and day-to-day human resources management activities throughout the organization. This includes employee recruiting, orientation, compensation, benefits, and related programs. Manages all HR functions, staff, and the HR department budget.”

Key Responsibilities

Begin each job responsibility with a present tense action verb and describe the area of responsibility in action terms. Normally, there will be 7 to 10 responsibilities, depending on the job. Examples:

  • Develops marketing programs directed at increasing product sales and awareness.
  • Writes programming code to develop various features and functionality for commercial software products.
  • Designs and develops user interfaces for commercial software products.
  • Supervises technical support employees in providing technical support to organization clients.
  • Manages development of advertising and various marketing collateral materials.

Minimum Candidate Requirements

This section describes the minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities. This information helps determine if the candidates are minimally qualified. However, avoid arbitrary requirements that are difficult to validate. Include only the minimally acceptable requirements. Moreover, do not inflate requirements and be specific and realistic.

It’s important to remember not to consider the education, experience, or skill level of current job holders. Include only what the job actually requires. Moreover, ensure the requirement relates to how and why the job is done

Requirements should include:

  • Education —the type and minimum level, such as high school diploma and/or bachelor’s degree.
  • Experience —the type and minimum level, such as three to five years of supervisory experience, five years of editing experience, and two years of experience with content management systems.
  • Special skills — such as languages spoken and computer software proficiencies.
  • Certifications and licenses — such as industry certifications and practitioners’ licenses.

Desired Additional Candidate Requirements

Of course, there are always additional qualifications on your wish list. Be careful, however. If you list too many, you may discourage perfectly qualified candidates. You also don’t want your job description to be too long.

Work Environment/Physical Requirements

Work environment and physical requirements often overlap, so we’ve included them together. Consider the following example:

Must be able to perform work requiring manual dexterity, climbing, lifting, and working at heights and in confined spaces where advanced mechanical aptitude is required.

In this case, the physical requirements describe the work environment by default.

Consider noise level, temperature, exposure to chemicals, indoors/outdoors, proximity to moving machinery, repetitive motion, UV light, etc.

Here is another example:

Install all types of solar panels and associated equipment in residential and commercial settings. Most installations are performed on rooftops.

When describing physical requirements, list specifics such as lifting heavy objects or standing for long periods of time. Examples include:

  • Requires ability to lift large and heavy packages.
  • Must be physically capable of safely lifting a minimum of 50 lbs. without assistance.
  • Requires the ability to work flexible shifts.
  • Must be able to travel 50% to other job sites.
  • Able to meet tight deadlines in a fast-paced work environment.


All job descriptions should have a disclaimer that clearly states that the description is only a summary of the typical functions of the job, not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all possible responsibilities, tasks, and duties. Additionally, disclaimers should also state that the responsibilities, tasks, and duties of the jobholder might differ from those outlined in the job description and that other duties may be assigned. It’s important to understand that in a labor union environment, the job description could be literally interpreted.

Make the Job Description About the Candidate

It is helpful to think about what would make the job enticing to the applicant. Be intentional about this editing step. With any kind of business writing, it’s natural to get wrapped up in our own perspective. It’s takes conscious effort to see the description through the eyes of the job seeker. Doing this effectively will improve the performance of your postings.

What to Avoid in Your Job Description

Unnecessary qualifications: only include what is actually required to perform the job.

Non-inclusive language: remove language that could discourage candidates from underrepresented groups, e.g. “digital native”

Cliches: “self-starter,” “go-getter,” “team player”.

Idioms, slang and corporate jargon

Get Feedback from Your Hiring Team

The more people that review your description throughout the editing process, the better. As mentioned previously, ask current employees performing the job to review it. If you are not the hiring manager, you need to work closely with that person to make sure it effectively conveys all aspects of the position.

Many people at your company could help describe the culture and work atmosphere. This is another area where your marketing team could help the description come alive.

If your team is working remotely, put your job description draft in a Google Doc so team members can review and add feedback at their convenience.

Job Description Examples

Drywall Carpenter General Foreman

  • Sacramento, CA
  • $35-$40 an hour, Full-Time

Essential Responsibilities and Duties

  • Supervise all field production activities
  • Assist the Foreman in planning the job, ordering materials and managing employee schedules
  • Establish project goals and monitor the success of goals throughout the project
  • Monitor labor efficiencies, project labor needs for the duration of the project
  • Achieve productivity objectives by effectively managing and assigning tasks to crew members
  • Maintain an accurate labor tracking log and communicate with key project personnel
  • Use a proactive approach to anticipate and resolve potential issues

Skills and Experience Requirements

  • 3-5 years experience as a General Foreman Drywall framer or similar role
  • Lift and/or pull 75 lbs., climb ladders, work off ladders, lifts or other equipment
  • Ability to maintain a standing position for extended periods of time, fully squat, bend or kneel while wearing a tool belt
  • Capable of working in a variety of weather conditions
  • Uphold company core values of integrity, leadership, passion and excellence at all times
  • Support activities at all job sites as directed

[COMPANY NAME] provides commercial construction services throughout the United States, delivering innovative solutions and outstanding service to our customers for time-tested buildings and facilities. As a 100% employee-owned quality contractor, we hire the best people, give them exceptional training, and provide robust opportunities for professional growth.

What to Avoid in Your Job Description

As you craft your job descriptions, make sure you avoid the following:

  • Poor formatting (keep things organized with bulleted lists)
  • Trendy buzzwords (e.g. “bones day” “black belt” “unicorn”)
  • Gender-biased language (e.g. “seeking someone who can manage his schedule”)
  • Vague business jargon (e.g. “savvy go-getter”)

Source: (

This article is part of our multi-volume guide: How to Hire Employees:

How to Hire Employees: Define Your Hiring Selection Criteria

How to Hire Employees: Define Your Hiring Selection Criteria

This is the second post in our series: How to Hire Employees: The Ultimate GuideIn today’s post, we discuss how to create your selection criteria. This is one of the hiring process steps that is often overlooked. As with other components, the best practice is to create a standardized process and use it for each applicant.

How do you determine your hiring selection criteria?

Your screening criteria is the framework for evaluating and comparing applicants. It may include:

  • Resume review
  • Screening questionnaire
  • Prescreen phone call
  • Assessment
  • In-person or video interview
  • Social media review
  • Background check
  • Reference checks

Note that you can change the order or eliminate some elements. For example, some employers perform a reference check after extending the job offer.  And other recruiters talk to references before administering the assessment. Bottom line, build a recruitment process that works for your company, budget and hiring team.

Internal Hiring vs. Posting Publicly

Internal hiring makes sense in many situations. If you’ve been having trouble filling a position and have someone on staff with the necessary skills, for instance. Nevertheless, you’ll have to fill the internal hire’s original role. Another consideration is whether you are trying to increase diversity in your workforce. Internal hiring can reinforce the status quo.

Importantly, internal hiring is an essential part of a career advancement. Thus, you have to coordinate internal hiring with your career paths program as well as your hiring plan.

Who should be involved in the hiring decision process?

In addition to the hiring manager, who should have a say in which candidate is chosen? Some companies use outside recruiting firms. If you have a recruiter with a proven track record of finding star hires for your company, take their advice seriously. In addition, consider giving the new hire’s team a say in the selection. This can work as follows: have the team review the top three candidates (already approved by the hiring manager) and come to a consensus on which one to offer the job to.

Furthermore, some business owners (typically for smallish orgs) want to sign off on each hire. As mentioned, whichever plan you choose, document it and apply it consistently.

What is a screening questionnaire?

In this article, we focus on first-pass screening questionnaires. We discuss interviews, reference checks and background checks in subsequent articles.

A screening questionnaire is a first-pass filtering tool. It is used to isolate a subset of qualified candidates from the total applicant pool.

To create a screening questionnaire:

  1. Using the job description, identify the essential requirements and rank in order of importance
  2. Write a question for each of the selection criterion (skill, certification, years of experience, etc.)
  3. Determine the scoring system for the questions
  4. Organize questions and format in a document

Why does defining screening criteria come before posting the job? Once you begin the process, you are competing with other employers to find great candidates. Take the time up front so you don’t slow yourself down after the start.

Plus, you can still make changes to your job description if necessary because you haven’t already posted it. A good selection process requires a good job description. If you find yourself struggling to define your selection criteria, you probably need to go back improve your job description.

Write Your Screening Questions

As mentioned, you should have a list of job requirements from your job description. Now it’s time to write a question for each requirement. Remember, your job description splits skills into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” The “must-haves” are your essential, or key selection criteria. 

Skills Gap Analysis

A skills gap analysis can help you create a hiring plan and identify roles and responsibilities. If you do a skills gap analysis, use the findings to clarify job roles and the specific skills necessary.

Back to screening questions. You will probably need a question and answer for each requirement. The question should determine whether a candidate meets the requirement. Therefore, make it clear and concise with action verbs.

Types of screening questions:

  • Yes/No answer (binary choice, can be a knockout question)
  • Multiple Choice
    • Select one answer from multiple choices
    • Choose as many as desired from multiple choices
  • Essay

How do you choose which types of questions to use? The first consideration is the number of applications you expect to receive. If you are hiring for a niche, highly-skilled role and don’t expect to receive many applications, you might have time to read essay answers. Consider, though, if it would make more sense to discuss those questions and answers in the interview.

On the flip side, if you will be fielding hundreds of applications, you won’t have time to read essay questions. For high-volume hiring, consider automation. Inexpensive applicant tracking systems have templates for questionnaires. More importantly, they tally scores automatically. Therefore, in the candidate database, the highest scoring candidates will rise in the queue. If you use knockout questions, an ATS will mark eliminated candidates Do Not Pursue. Though you’ve eliminated them for the role to which they applied, you can keep them in your database in case you want to reach out to them in the future for another role that could be a better fit.

Clearly, spending time up front to create a thorough screening questionnaire will pay off by finding a qualified candidate more quickly than ever.

How does filtering automation save time?

It’s important to understand the order of operations. With an ATS, your application contains the filtering questionnaire. Therefore, applicants self-filter before you start reviewing  resumes and conducting interviews. Let’s do the math. Suppose your open position attracts 100 applicants. All of them complete the filtering questionnaire as part of the application process. Out of the 100, suppose 50 are knocked out because they lack the basic qualifications. If you generally take 5 minutes per resume when deciding which candidates to move to the next step, a filtering questionnaire saves you 250 minutes or a little over 4 hours. If you have 3 open positions simultaneously, that’s over 12 hours saved for just one step in the selection process.

Example Filtering Questions

Suppose you are hiring for a WordPress Web Developer. Let’s say your highest priority is whether the candidate has 4 years experience developing WordPress themes.

WordPress Web Developer Sample Filtering Questions

  • Do you have 4 years experience developing WordPress themes? Y N [KNOCKOUT]
    • If the applicant marks NO, they are knocked out of the applicant pool.
  • Do you have 4-6 years experience developing WordPress themes? Y N [2 POINTS]
  • Do you have 6-8 years experience developing WordPress themes? Y N [4 POINTS]
    • If the applicant answers YES, they receive extra points as indicated.
  • What is your salary requirement? [ESSAY or Y/N]
    • You can let the applicant enter an amount or list the maximum compensation budgeted and let the applicant mark Y or N regarding the amount.

Apply Scoring Criteria to Resumes

In addition to screening questionnaires, you can create scoring rules for resumes. For example, you can assign a numeric point value for skills, certifications or qualifications. Let’s say you’re hiring for a server in a restaurant. You could assign points for a valid food handler’s permit or number of years of experience.

Scoring Applicants

When the applications start coming in, you’ll need to score each one using your predefined criteria. You will calculate a total score for each applicant. This serves as a first pass assessment of the candidate’s match to the position. It will also eliminate applicants if you use knockout questions.

The mechanics of applicant management depend on whether you have a paper-based or digital process. If you accept paper applications, you can sort them in piles or folders by score. On the other hand, if you only accept digital applications, you can record scores in a spreadsheet. If you know how to create formulas in Microsoft Excel, you can let the spreadsheet tally scores.

Assessment Tools

Another option is to use professional assessment tools in the hiring process. If you have the budget, pre-employment assessments can save you a lot of time. Assessment tools not only measure aptitude and skills, they can predict how a candidate will perform in the position. There are hundreds of companies that create assessment software and tools–specializing in various job positions and industries. You can research them on Capterra, G2, or Software Advice.

Social Media Review

According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of companies look at candidates’ social media pages as part of their evaluation process. It’s safe to assume that number has risen since the survey was conducted.

Should you check applicants’ social media profiles? Sure, you may be able to find out a lot of stuff that you can’t legally ask on an application or in an interview. But is that a good idea?

Recruiter and researcher Atta Tarki advises against the practice. After his team reviewed 266 U.S. job applicants’ social media sites, Tarki said:

“…a significant share of profiles contained details that companies may be legally prohibited from considering, including gender, race, and ethnicity (evident in 100% of profiles), disabilities (7%), pregnancy status (3%), sexual orientation (59%), political views (21%), and religious affiliation (41%). Many of the job seekers’ profiles also included information of potential concern to prospective employers: 51% of them contained profanity, 11% gave indications of gambling, 26% showed or referenced alcohol consumption, and 7% referenced drug use.” Stop Screening Job Candidates’ Social Media, Harvard Business Review, October 2021

Another member of the research team added:

“You can see why many recruiters love social media—it allows them to discover all the information they aren’t allowed to ask about during an interview, but that’s a problem, because one of the hallmarks of legal hiring practices is that they focus on behaviors within the work context. There should be a clear distinction between what people do during work and what they do outside of it.” Chad Van Iddekinge, Professor of Management, University of Iowa

Work Efficiently as a Team

Finding the top candidate is more likely when it’s a team effort. But don’t leave collaboration to chance. When building your hiring process, be proactive and intentional about collaboration. The hiring team should be involved in:

  • Creating a hiring plan
  • Mapping the hiring process
  • Writing the job description
  • Deciding where to post the job
  • Identifying the evaluation criteria
  • Designating roles and responsibilities
  • Evaluating the candidates
  • Interviewing the candidates
  • Extending the job offer to the top applicant

It bears repetition: an applicant tracking system can streamlines the entire process and help you ultimately find the right candidate. First of all, you can write and manage screening questionnaires in the system. Secondly, you can build workflow checklists to show where each applicant is in the process. Thirdly, you can assign tasks to team members (and set auto-reminders) so everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Finally, each member of the hiring team can add notes for all to see.

Crafting Your Applicant’s Journey

The applicant, or candidate journey, is the total experience for the job seeker, starting with the application and continuing through every touch point. The applicant journey reflects on your employer brand. For example, a confusing, disorganized process will give candidates the impression that your company is disorganized. In a tight labor market, you can’t afford to neglect the candidate journey if you want to compete for top talent.

How do you ensure a positive applicant journey?

Here are some tips:

  • Make your application process mobile-friendly and painless
  • Text or email your candidates frequently to keep them updated on their status
  • Make it easy to schedule an interview by texting the candidate a link to a shared calendar
  • Write interview scripts and ask the same questions of every candidate
  • Use applicant tracking software to make the hiring process as quick as possible

For more information on improving the applicant journey at your organization, see The Ideal Applicant Journey in 3 Steps: Use Hiring Psychology Like a Pro.

Let’s review where we are in the series:

A Beginner’s Guide to Applicant Management in a Small Biz

A Beginner’s Guide to Applicant Management in a Small Biz

Applicant management is crucial to business success. That’s why large companies have massive hiring teams. At a small org, in contrast, one person may handle the entire hiring process. Today’s post includes an overview of applicant management for small businesses and HR departments of one.

What is applicant management?

The recruiting workflow has dozens of components which may include:

  • Write and manage job descriptions, job postings, interview scripts, candidate scorecards, and hiring communications
  • Post job ads to company careers page, social media and job boards
  • Engage with potential candidates on LinkedIn or other sites
  • Track, organize and review resumes
  • Filter and score candidates
  • Conduct interviews and gather feedback from your recruiting team
  • Perform background and reference checks
  • Negotiate employment contracts and extend job offer
  • Onboard new hires
  • Track hiring metrics
  • Manage hiring budget
  • Conduct skills gap analyses
  • Create hiring plans
  • Maintain recruiting compliance

Now, let’s discuss these HR processes and recruiting tasks in detail.

Job Description

A job description is an internal document and formal listing of the specific responsibilities and important details about an employment position. Note that the job posting or job advertisement is not the same thing. A good job description will:

  1. Define the job responsibilities
  2. Reduce the applicant pool to those who qualify
  3. Introduce the applicant to your company

How do you write a job description?

First, define the basic information about the position. Next, identify the specific skills and qualifications the position requires.

  • Location of job (or remote)
  • Job title
  • Salary range (optional)
  • Job responsibilities
  • Necessary qualifications
  • Desired candidate credentials
  • Statement about company and benefits
  • EEOC statement
  • Disclaimer

Make sure your job description is straightforward and concise. Avoid acronyms, jargon, and witty job titles. Remember that job seekers will search job boards using the job position and location. Therefore, put those in the headline. If it’s a remote position, put it in the job title. Example: Medical Coder (Remote Full-time).

All job descriptions should include a disclaimer that states that the description is only a summary of the typical functions of the job, not a comprehensive list of all possible responsibilities, tasks, and duties. Disclaimers should also state that other duties, as assigned, might be part of the job. This is most important in a labor union environment where the document can be literally interpreted.

Should you include the salary range?

There are good arguments for including the salary range as it will encourage applicants who have similar expectations–and filter out those who have different requirements. Note also that some cities and states mandate salary information in job advertisements. The National Law Review gives an overview here: New Wage Range Disclosure Requirements in Multiple States.

Create a Job Description Template

Create a template for your job descriptions so they will all follow the same format. Your job description will also be a template for writing job postings, candidate interview scripts and candidate evaluation forms. For an in-depth guide on writing job descriptions, see How to Write a Job Description. With an applicant tracking system, you can create and manage a library of recruiting job descriptions. If you have several hiring managers, they can help you build the templates and update them as necessary in your recruiting software.

Advertise Your Job

Once you’ve written your job description, it’s time to get the word out. Post the job on your company’s careers page if you have one and social media sites. Job boards are also important as many job seekers use them exclusively. Choose job boards based on the position. recommends the following sites:

  • ZipRecruiter: Best for Large Scale Recruiting
  • Indeed: Best for Free Job Posts
  • LinkedIn: Best for Executive and Upper Management Positions
  • Handshake Job Search Site: Best for College Recruiting
  • Dribble: Best for Scouting Designers and Creatives

There are also sites that cater to a specific type of job, industry or talent pool. These include diversity candidates, tech jobs, remote jobs and internships. For more information on posting jobs, see Job Posting: Where and How to Post Job Listings.

You may find that paid listings are worthwhile in recruiting when there is a lot of competition for applicants. Paid listings get a higher profile on the boards.

Employee referrals are a great source of candidates. Be sure to ask your team for recommendations!

Applicant Management Analytics

Use analytics to best manage your recruiting time and budget. This includes tracking the source of everyone in your candidate pipeline so you can tell which venues are delivering good candidates. Results may vary based on the particulars, so track that too. These include job location, job type, education level, years of experience, hours, and physical requirements. For example, a college job board may attract good applicants for an entry-level job while a tech job board like Dice would attract qualified applicants for a senior IT position. Applicant manager software is an indispensable HR tool. In will automate recruiting, candidate tracking, reporting.

Organizing Applications

Hopefully, soon after posting your job, you’ll start receiving applications. Whether they are paper, electronic, or a mix of both, gather them in the same place and form. You can scan paper applications to create a digital copy. Create folders to manage your job applicant pool. You might have three: 1. Top Applicants, 2. Unqualified (Do Not Pursue) and 3. Partially Qualified. In other words, Yes, No and Maybe.

The goal of the first-pass sorting is to isolate the best candidates and eliminate the unqualified applicants. You don’t want to waste time in your recruitment process on candidates that don’t meet the basic requirements. You only want to touch their resume once. Remember, however, to keep their applications. There may be some candidates that would be a good fit for another position. Build a database of applicants to consider for future openings.

Engage With Candidates

It’s important to let applicants know immediately that you’ve received their application. Many candidates prefer to communicate by text. If you decide to advance them to the next stage, tell them right away so they won’t look elsewhere. If you eliminate them, be considerate and inform them so they can pursue other openings. Don’t ghost your candidates! It is just plain uncool and gives your business a bad reputation. (Be aware, however, that many applicants will ghost you. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory.)

You can create email or text templates for each type of hiring process communication. “We’ve Received Your Application,” “Let’s Schedule a Phone Screening,” “We Would Like to Set Up and Interview,” “We are Moving Forward With Other Candidates But Thank You for Applying,” etc. An ATS (applicant tracking system) can save you a lot of time with candidate communications. You can store templates and set triggers for automatic emails personalized with the candidate’s name and the position they applied for.

How to Conduct Interviews

When you have a pool of promising candidates, it’s time to schedule interviews. Many companies start with a phone screening. The purpose of this call is to verify qualifications and experience, clarify any questions you have and get a sense of the applicant’s communication skills.

Phone screenings should further whittle down your applicant pool as you move through the hiring process. The next step for the candidates you are recruiting is a video or in-person interview. The best practice here is to create an interview script based on the job description. An interview script helps you evaluate each candidate based on the same criteria. Learn more here: How to Conduct an Interview With a Job Candidate and here: Define Your Hiring Selection Criteria.

Score Candidates

When you write your interview script, create a scorecard for evaluation. During the interview, or soon after, fill it out and then sort quality candidates by score. Have your hiring manager and all members of the hiring team use the same scorecard. Learn more and see scorecard templates here: How Manager Feedback and Interview Evaluations Improve Hiring. Applicant tracking software has templates for scorecards and other evaluation tools.

Reference Checks

If you didn’t ask for references on the application, do it now. This is where you talk to previous employers and look for any issues that were not uncovered. Try to automate this process as much as you can. For example, send an email to the references asking them to fill out a linked questionnaire. Or, call the references and fill out the questionnaire yourself. Either way, try to gather information in a consistent manner from each reference for each final candidate.

Background Checks

Background checks are an important part of an employer’s recruiting due diligence. They protect your business, your employees, your customers and the public at large.

Background screenings protect:

  • employees from violence or harassment
  • customers from theft or harassment
  • your business from fraud, theft, a tarnished reputation or legal liability

Laws that Govern Background Checks

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies when employers hire a third-party service agency to conduct consumer credit reports and other investigative reports. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FCRA. When a third party service performs background checks, they may obtain information termed as “investigative reporting.” An investigative consumer report may contain subjective judgment regarding the job candidate.

How does the FTC define a “report”?

It’s important to know that a report doesn’t need to be in written form. A report could refer to information obtained in a short phone call which is communicated orally to the hiring manager in another short phone call.

An FCRA consumer report is “Any written, oral or other communication of any information by a consumer-reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics or mode of living. In the employment context, this definition may, for example, include credit reports, criminal history reports, driving records and other background check reports created by a third party, such as drug tests.” The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Employers must provide the applicant with a formal written disclosure and obtain the applicant’s consent before conducting the research. The disclosure and consent form must be a separate document and can’t be included in the application. The employer must disclose that the information may be used to influence the hiring decision.

After you’ve gotten consent from the applicant, you must inform the background check service that you notified obtained their consent and verify  that you met with the FCRA anti-discrimination provisions. If you are asking a company to provide an ‘investigative report’—a report based on personal interviews concerning a person’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and lifestyle— you must also tell the applicant or employee of his or her right to a description of the nature and scope of the investigation.

Extend the Job Offer

When you’ve made your choice, it’s time to offer the job. If everything has gone well, the candidate is excited and wants to join your team. If everything has gone quickly, they are still available.

Send an offer letter that states clearly the key information about the offer, including wage, location and start date. You might also want to include where and when to report and any other details that are specific to the offer. Give the candidate a signature line and send it out.

Don’t waste any time. Remember that talent acquisition is extremely competitive. Now that you have identified this person as the ideal candidate, you can be certain that others have, too.

It helps to have a job offer ready to go before you start the process. Use an offer letter template to make this a speedy and consistent process. Include your company logo, standard text and merge fields where you can easily add the details for the specific position. Create the template in advance and have it ready to go for this and your next hire. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have job offer letter templates. Once you’ve created a template for each job position, you can store and manage them in your ATS.

The Candidate Accepts!

Congratulations! You have crossed the goal line and have successfully filled the job. Time to go for the extra point—onboarding your new hire. You can learn how in our free eBook, 16 Tips to Quickly and Efficiently Onboard Employees Remotely.

For in-depth guidance on small business applicant management, download our free eBooks: Creating the Position, The Interview, Hiring the Candidate

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels



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