Vetting job candidates can be a very tedious task. In the age of the internet, candidates have little to lose besides time, so weeding out unqualified applicants from your inbox is a daunting job. Beyond that, selecting the best employee out of the top candidates is an exercise in precision and due diligence; not to mention that picking the wrong candidate could cost your company thousands.

Disregarding completely unqualified candidates is easy, but the following checklist should help those tasked with fishing out good talent in a diluted pool.

Step 1: The Description

Your job description is the first deterrent for unqualified job seekers.

It should describe your ideal candidate and clearly state the parameters of the job. It should also include the minimum requirements for the position, stating that failure to meet the minimums will result in immediate rejection.

It helps to include basic information on the position, including the department the candidate would work in, what position they’d report to and the salary range. Keep in mind that while not listing the salary could garner a cheaper hire, it can also deter a higher-level candidate.

In addition to that, a brief description of company culture can go a long way in vetting unfit applicants, and requesting a specific email subject title can also be an easy way to weed out applicants who send generic submissions without reading the entire job post.

Step 2: The Application

Some companies choose to waive an application in lieu of resume submissions. While companies should always encourage resume submissions, having an application form in addition to a resume request can easily weed out candidates who are not fully dedicated.

For more tedious jobs that may include data entry and repetition, applicants with the “See Resume” response can be easily thrown out.

However, a long application can also deter higher-level candidates from applying, so it’s best to make application requirements relevant only to specific positions.

Application forms should ask for basic information on the candidates, including but not limited to work and salary history, relocation and travel willingness as well as any relevant educational and professional licenses.

It can also be used to ask specific questions that typically aren’t included in resumes. These prompts can include:

  • Explain your work experience in each of your previous positions and how that experience can aid you in the job for which you applied.
  • Explain your reasons for leaving your previous employers.
  • Explain why you want this job and why you think you’d be successful at it.
  • Give an example of a team project that you worked on. Explain your role in the team and the outcome.
  • Describe a project you spearheaded, your leadership methods and the outcome of the project.
  • Give an example of a disagreement with your boss and explain how you handled that situation and the outcome.
  • Give an example of your ability to meet deadlines and how you cope with work-related stress.
  • Describe a situation in which you suggested and/or implemented a change at a previous company.
  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to cope with change.
  • What is your proudest professional achievement?

Step 3: Applicant Tracking Systems

While the internet brings with it streams of unqualified applicants, it also offers tools that can help with the vetting process. Many paid job post sites have applicant-tracking systems that can weed out unqualified candidates before they even get to your inbox.

While these sites might prove costly, they can also save you a lot of time and frustration in the recruiting and hiring processes.

Step 4: Social Media Search

After collecting a decent-sized pool of qualified candidates, the next step should be a quick Google search of their names.

A brief glance at a candidate’s social-media sites is a good way to see if he or she will be a good fit for your company’s culture. It can help you evaluate their professionalism, communication skills and even their work history.

Keep in mind that extroversion on the internet is not always a bad attribute for a candidate; social activity and eagerness could be very useful in certain positions. A large social media following can also indicate a wide client base, which can be very important for business development, marketing, public relations and sales jobs.

Useful social media sites to search when evaluating candidates include:

  • LinkedIn: Can be used to verify or discredit work history, observe their networking reach and (if applicable) view their work portfolio.
  • Facebook: Can be used to get a sense of their professionalism, their communication and social skills. Can also be used to verify their location (since some applicants will apply from another city, which not all employers are willing to accept).
  • Twitter: Can be used to see an applicant’s social commentary and gauge their social following. Check out Klout to evaluate a candidate’s impact as a social media influencer.
  • For creative jobs, sites like Pinterest, deviantArt and Flickr can be used to observe the candidate’s work and personal style.

Step 5: Phone Interview

While a resume or application can list a candidate’s qualifications, a phone interview can verify how well that candidate can perform the task at hand.

For some jobs, like customer service jobs or those that involve cold-calling, a phone interview is a no-brainer. But for others, a phone interview can simply be a good way to prevent time wasted on a poor face-to-face interview.

When contacting a candidate, ask about accomplishments at previous jobs and goals for future ones. Supplement these with open-ended questions that elaborate on given answers.

On top of that, a phone interview can go a long way in calming a candidate’s nerves, so when it comes time for an in-person interview, there will be a sense of comfort that allows both the interviewer and interviewee to converse freely and openly.

Questions for a phone interview (assuming you already used the questions and prompts from the “Application” section):

  • What section from the job description motivated you to apply to this job?
  • What do you hope to achieve at this job?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What do you look for in company culture?
  • What are your strongest and weakest attributes?
  • How would you rate your performances at previous jobs?
  • Do you have any other job offers pending?
  • How soon can you make a decision on a job offer?
  • When are you available to start?

Step 6: In-Person Interview

Ideally, the vetting process has whittled down your candidate pool to a handful of well-qualified candidates by the time you reach this step.

There are many sources on conducting good interviews, but be sure to avoid only asking generic questions that your candidate undoubtedly practiced and produced generic answers for. Throw in some curveball questions to catch the candidate off-guard and get honest, on-the-spot answers.

Ask open-ended questions to get honest responses. Propose potential problems the candidate may face on the job and see how the candidate reacts and would solve the issue. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for a person trying to escape a poor job; you’re looking for a candidate who’s eager to advance his or her career.

Most importantly, ask the candidate to explain his or her goals to see if they fit those of the company and the role, and get to know the candidate a bit on the personal level to see if he/she is the right fit for your company culture.

Chances are you’ll get a few candidates who are equally qualified, so it’s best to find those that fit best with the culture. This can also be accomplished by introducing the candidate to other coworkers and seeing how well they interact, and asking them a few lighter questions about their life outside of work.

Lastly, allow the interviewee to interview you. Drill him/her on your company and the position, make sure he/she did some research and read the job description closely.

Some not-so-common interview questions to ask:

  • What are your parents’ views on your career decisions and path?
  • If you had the choice, what would your ideal job and career be?
  • If you were hired, what would you do in the first hour of employment?
  • If you were given 10 million dollars to start a company, what would you do?
  • What ideas do you have to make our department/company/industry better?
  • If you could be a well-known figure, who would it be and why?
  • How would your friends and coworkers describe you?
  • If you get this job, what kind of rewards/perks would motivate you to be a top performer?
  • What publications or literature do you read the most often?
  • Why should I invest X-amount of money hiring you? How will you make my money back?
  • What superhero would you be and why?
  • How would you rate my interviewing skills?

Step 7: Reference Check

Asking for references from a candidate’s former employers or managers is a good way to verify both work history and work ethic. Be sure to request the reference’s full name, position and phone number to make the process easier.

Ask the reference about the candidate’s title, duties performed, strengths, weaknesses and work ethic. Ask about the candidate’s ability to perform job-related tasks that weren’t required at previous positions. Also ask about punctuality as well as the candidate’s attendance record. And be sure to get a sense of how the candidate interacts with peers, superiors and, if applicable, their juniors.

Overall, ask questions you didn’t ask the candidate or those whose answers seemed vague or incomplete.

Step 8: Background Check (Optional)

If it’s legal in your state, and you feel it’s necessary, a background check can be helpful to filter applicants. The first step in every background check is to gain written consent with a Background Check Release Form. This can prevent any lawsuits that may arise with a claim of privacy invasion.

Keep in mind that performing background checks can be tedious and costly, so consider them carefully before proceeding. For example, while a thorough background check is critical for a security guard or a position with access to cash or trade secrets, checking the criminal record of a freelance graphic designer may be unnecessary.

One thing to be cautious about: if you perform a check on one candidate for a specific position, you must get a background check on all candidates for that position. Failure to do so may result in a discrimination lawsuit.

Step 9: Credit Check (Optional)

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires all businesses to gain a potential employee’s written consent before seeking a credit report. It also requires all employers to provide a copy of the credit report as well as a notice of the candidate’s right to challenge their decision if the employer rejects a potential hire because of the report.

Bankruptcies are public record and may appear on credit reports, but keep in mind that the Federal Bankruptcy Act prohibits employers from discriminating against candidates who’ve filed for bankruptcy.

Like background checks, credit checks should be applied only to relevant positions, such as those involving money, finance or accounting. Just as with background checks, be sure to perform credit checks on all candidates if you choose to check on one in order to avoid discrimination claims.