The Selection Process: A 7-Step Practical Guide

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A good selection process is key in finding talent and forms the backbone for effective performance management. In this article, we will take a closer look at the selection process and show the best practices for designing a process that will help you find the best candidates while also delivering a good candidate experience.

The selection process

The selection process is aimed at finding and hiring the best candidates for job openings. This process is often depicted as a funnel. 50 candidates may apply to a function, five of them are invited for an in-person interview, and one person is selected in the end.

The selection process always starts with a job opening. This job opening should have a clearly defined function profile that includes criteria like minimum years of work experience, educational background, and being proficient in certain skills.

Once this job opening is published and advertised, candidates flow in – hopefully! This is where the selection funnel starts. The funnel consists of seven stages.

  1. Application
  2. Screening & pre-selection
  3. Interview
  4. Assessment
  5. References and background check
  6. Decision
  7. Job offer & contract

Let’s go over these stages one by one.

In this 4-minute Learning Bite, we take a closer look at the selection process
and some of the best practices that help you find the best candidates. 

The 7 stages of the selection process

1. Application

After the job opening has been posted, candidates can apply. The amount of people applying depends on the company, the specific function, and the availability of work and workers.

The number of applicants can range between zero and thousands, depending primarily on the size of the company, the type of job and the industry, and on how successful your sourcing strategy and employer brand are. Google, for example, receives around 3 million applications a year. This means that on average more than 400 people apply per job opening.

But the number and type of applicants also depend on your job advert. In fact, the way a job ad is written, meaning the words and language used in it, has a direct impact on the people you attract. A tool like Textio uses data and machine learning to help companies optimize their job adverts and make sure the text reflects not only what they are looking for in a candidate, but also what they are about as a company.

2. Screening & pre-selection

The second step is the initial screening of candidates. This can happen in multiple ways.

  • Resume screening. The most commonly known technique is resume or CV screening. Resume screening helps to assess if candidates comply with the criteria needed for the job. If you require 5+ years of work experience and you see that a college graduate applied, you can easily disqualify this person. Thankfully, there are great tools available that can do the resume screening for you, ranging from built-in resume screening tools that are part of an ATS to resume screeners that use artificial intelligence to predict the quality of hire.
  • Phone screening/ chatbot. After the resume screening, often a phone screening happens. This helps to align expectations between the candidate and employer. The recruiter can ask the questions they had after screening the candidate’s resume. In addition, the recruiter can walk through a checklist that may include topics like pay expectations, full time or flexible commitment, starting date, and other potential deal-breakers. Since this is a fairly standard procedure, having a chatbot ask these questions is also an option.

    As mentioned briefly above, these days, technology enables us to do these screening in an automated way. One example are chatbots, which ask candidates questions and make the interview interactive. An example is a large engineering company that implemented a chatbot intended to optimize the recruitment process and keep candidates engaged. The data showed that after the chatbot was implemented, completion rates went up from 74% to 96%, an increase of 22 percentage points.
  • Pre-selection. Pre-selection is a powerful screening method that helps to weed out potential mismatches. Pre-selection tools provide assessments that can include cognitive testing, a job sample, or other tests that help to predict the quality of the new hire. Sometimes the resume screening is included in these tools. Pre-employment assessment tools often also include a realistic job preview. This shows both the positive but also the negative sides of the job, resulting in a more truthful description of the good and bad aspects of a given job. This helps to align expectations between employer and employee and leads to better hires.

These pre-selection tests are often used for functions with a high volume of applicants, in other words, for high-volume recruiting. To give an example of such a test, a sales rep might be assessed on their service orientation and how much they smile on video. These screening tools ‘weed out’ the obvious misfits so only the most suitable candidates remain.

The goal of this second phase is to reduce the number of candidates from a large group to a manageable group of between 3-10 people that can be interviewed in-person. Be aware that not all pre-selection tools and screenings are fully accurate. Oftentimes there is a trade-off between accuracy and convenience. You usually don’t want all your candidates to go through a 4-hour online assessment because they might drop out, so you settle for a 15-minute test that’s less accurate.

We’ll talk more about assessments below.

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3. Interview

The third step in the funnel is the best known and most visible of them all: the job interview. The job interview involves the candidate being interviewed by their direct manager or the recruiter to assess how well-suited they are for the job.

The interview offers some insight into a person’s verbal fluency and sociability. It also provides the opportunity to ask the candidate questions related to the job and it presents the opportunity to sell the job to the candidate.

There are two kinds of interviews, the unstructured and structured interview. In a structured interview, a standardized set of questions is used. This provides the interviewer with a uniform method of recording information and standardizing the rating of the applicant’s qualifications.

In scientific literature, the structured interview has proven to be almost twice as reliable as the unstructured interview (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). The structured interview enables the interviewer to accurately compare candidates and to make the best decision purely on data.

Besides having standardized questions, a common method used in interviews is the STAR method. This method offers a structured way to retrieve information from the candidate. STAR is an acronym for:

  • Situation. Have the candidate describe the situation that they were in.
  • Task. What goal was the candidate working towards?
  • Action. Have the candidate describe in detail what actions they took to make the best of the situation and complete their task.
  • Result. Have the candidate describe the outcome of the action and ask what the candidate learned.

The STAR method is great to test the candidate’s experience in different situations that are relevant to the job. If a candidate needs experience in managing different shareholders, an example question could be: Describe a situation in which you had to manage different shareholders. Using the STAR method you can then easily test the candidate experience in these situations. 

Using this method to test for the key competencies of the job is highly recommended. Indeed, asking multiple candidates the same question enables you to easily compare how much experience they have in these key competencies from their previous jobs.

Seven Steps of Selection Process

4. Assessment

We already briefly discussed assessments in the second step. Where the pre-selection, or screening, is used to roughly weed out the least suitable candidates, the full assessment usually is more accurate (although pre-employment assessments can be very accurate too nowadays). When used well it is a highly accurate and reliable tool to select the best candidates. Indeed, the scientific literature shows that an assessment is just as reliable in predicting job performance as the structured interview!

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Good assessments are either a General Mental Ability (GMA) test (also known as an IQ test) or testing the employee’s personality using a Five-Factor Model of Personality. Higher IQ is associated with faster learning and higher top performance. This means that for high IQ candidates the Time to Optimum Productivity is lower and candidates are likely to perform better.

When it comes to personality, more conscientious candidates perform better in their job. Candidates who score high in conscientiousness are often described as hard-working, dutiful, achievement-oriented, and detail-oriented. The literature shows that one’s level of conscientiousness influences around 10% of one’s job performance.

Other assessments include work sample tests, integrity tests, and job knowledge tests. Literature shows that work sample tests are especially reliable. A best practice is, therefore, to have candidates do a case study or solve a real problem during their interview. The quality of a candidate’s work is usually easy to compare with the other applicants, adding an important data point to the final decision.

Assessments and interviews are sometimes switched around. A full assessment is usually expensive but it will save considerable time interviewing candidates who are potentially unsuited for the role.

Quality of hire
A good selection process helps you find the right candidates.

5. References and background check

In this stage, you have reduced the long list of candidates to a shortlist of one to three candidates. An essential step is the reference check.

Reference checks are a way to confirm your perception of the candidate. Ask the candidate to give you references and follow up on these. If during the interview you have doubts about a certain competency or skill, the reference check is an excellent way to gather more information from different perspectives.

A background check is commonly used for government functions and other jobs that involve access to highly confidential information. The use of background checks is also culturally determined. Countries like the U.S. use it more than most European countries for example. The background check can also be a prerequisite before applying and be a part of the pre-selection. An example is a certification of good conduct or other criminal record checks for teaching positions and other jobs that involve a high responsibility for others.

6. Decision

The next step is making the decision and choosing the candidate with the greatest future potential for the organization. Sometimes this means picking someone less qualified at the moment – but who is committed to growing and staying with the organization longer.

The decision is best made based on a data-driven approach. In practice, this means pre-defined criteria on which each candidate is rated during the selection process. The best candidate is then chosen and given an offer.

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7. Job offer & contract

After the company has made the decision, the selection process isn’t over. The candidate still needs to accept the offer.

At this point, the organization should have all the information that will make the candidate say yes. This has been retrieved during the phone screening and job interview. 

The offer is then made to the candidate. If the offer is accepted a contract is drawn and signed. Only when the employment contract is signed by all parties, will the selection process be completed. 

Metrics used in the selection process 

Several important metrics should be tracked when it comes to the selection process. These are indicators of how well you are performing in your selection process. For more information, check our full article on recruiting metrics.

  • Time to fill. The time it takes to find and hire a candidate. A long time to fill is an indication of an inefficient selection process.
  • 90-day attrition. Attrition within the first three months is a clear indication of a bad hire – that you as an organization are responsible for. The estimations of the cost of a bad hire differ between sources but are estimated to be between 50% to 200% of their annual salary. It is recommended to treat every case of 90-day attrition as a critical HR incident that should be analyzed and prevented the next time through better communication, selection, onboarding, and management. 
  • First-year attrition. Similar to the 90-day attrition.
  • Candidate experience. How did the candidates rate their experience in this selection process? This is an important indicator as candidates are often a fan and/or customer of your brand – that’s why they want to work for you! Happy candidates might (one day) be customers or refer customers to you.
  • Selection process funnel effectiveness. Because selection goes through a funnel with multiple steps, knowing the effectiveness of the funnel helps. You don’t want 50% of your 100 applicants to pass to your interview phase, otherwise, you’ll only be interviewing for the full year.
  • Quality of hire. This metric measures how well a new hire is performing after a year in their job. This is usually rated by their manager in the annual performance appraisal. If the quality of hire is consistently good, it is an indication that the selection process works.

For more information regarding the selection process or recruiting metrics, check our Talent Acquisition Certificate Program or our course on Recruiting Metrics & Analytics


Selecting and hiring top candidates is key to the long-term viability of any organization. Having a strong selection process helps to build a competitive advantage for the organization. For that reason, it is one of the key contributions that HR can provide to the business. 

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