Are You Grading Candidates on the Right Criteria?

by John Calderon (NEOGOV) on February 15, 2022

Finding quality candidates is a hard enough job on its own, but too often, HR professionals and hiring managers make the job even harder by grading applicants and candidates on the wrong things. Making job listing requirements highly specific or strenuous may actually be too prohibitive, discouraging eligible candidates who are more than capable of learning on the job or who have relevant experience that substitutes for a specific degree. On the flip side, using an unstructured interview process is only about 20% successful in predicting the future success of a candidate, according to Harvard Business Review. Then there’s the inevitable presence of unconscious bias, which can lead hiring decision makers to make snap judgments on candidates based on irrelevant information or past experiences, whether positive or negative.

So how do you determine whether you’re grading candidates on the right criteria or not? Below, we’ll explore common areas that can be improved to ensure you’re making wiser hiring decisions that will lead to better organization productivity and happier employees.

Are your job requirements requiring people to jump through unnecessary hoops?

Each job opening should have clearly defined responsibilities and requirements, and these should ideally be identified and locked in before the job requisition is even approved. Taking stock of what will make a candidate successful in the role and help improve the team’s productivity overall is crucial, but beware of jamming miscellaneous or unreasonable “nice-to-haves” into the requirements. 

Requiring an advanced degree, for example, is something that is not generally a must for most jobs, and doing so will greatly prohibit who feels qualified to apply. It is also inherently biased, because many people will not have had the luxury of the money or time required to obtain an advanced degree. You should also think about what skills are absolutely necessary on day one, and which you can be flexible about if the applicant shows an aptitude for learning on the job. You should also take stock of recent changes to the job market in wake of COVID-19, such as flexibility around hours or remote working. If you’re able to provide a little leeway that would make a candidate’s work-life balance more palatable, you are opening the door for more top talent.

What skills or traits are most important to grade your candidates on?

This ties into establishing key responsibilities and requirements before you even post the job. These and only these factors should be what you are grading your candidates on. Do not introduce last minute interview scoring criteria that you didn’t think of before, or nice-to-haves once someone has already moved to the referred stage. If you think a skillset that you forgot in the initial recruitment phase is absolutely necessary, you should start over and repost the job. It’s not fair to job candidates to judge them on something they had no way of anticipating, and ultimately, you’ll be wasting your own time reviewing candidates that are missing a crucial piece you need to fill this position.

Are you checking your biases?

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but we all have unconscious biases that can unfairly impact others, especially when it comes to hiring committee members evaluating candidates. Whether its comparing candidates favorably or negatively to yourself (“Yay, they went to the same college as me!”), or basing your judgment on previous experiences with someone who looks or acts like a candidate (“They remind me too much of so & so, who I don’t like”), these mostly involuntary actions can greatly hinder the quality of candidates that end up getting hired. Implementing training for all employees -- but specifically for HR and hiring managers -- can help bring these biases to the forefront of their mind before they interview candidates, which will lead to a more balanced evaluation of candidates.

Are you structuring your interviews in a productive way?

Once again, we should refer back to the critical job responsibilities and requirements here. This will allow you to generate an accurate interview rubric that can help you rank candidates on a scale of 1-5 when it comes to their ability or aptitude. If a crucial skill for the role includes familiarity with building complex spreadsheets, for example, make sure that is one of a handful of skills you evaluate them on. The rubric should be broad enough to cover the key skillsets, but not so broad that it could lead to confusion among different committee members. Being able to assess each of the committee members’ scores for the candidates after an interview will help you make a more concrete, informed decision on who is or isn’t the right fit.

Additionally, you should restructure the way you ask questions in the interview. Too often, interview questions are asked in a haphazard or arbitrary manner, or in a way that prompts an obvious answer that gives you no insights into the candidate’s abilities. For example, instead of asking why someone wants to work for your agency, instead have them focus on answering what their experience and skills say about how they would fit into the role and overall organizational culture specifically, which can be more of an intangible thing to judge someone upon.


Now that you’ve asked yourself these questions about whether your candidates are being graded on the correct criteria, check out our eBook on Fine-Tuning the Candidate Evaluation Process to Yield the Best Hires to take your recruitment to the next level.

John Calderon (NEOGOV)

John Calderon is the Content Strategist at NEOGOV. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of California, Los Angeles and has spent over a decade creating content as a marketing professional and journalist. Contact John:

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