Hiring process

Candidate evaluation: How to assess candidates + hire with confidence

Fairly and accurately assess skills, potential and candidate fit so you can confidently hire your next team member.

Candidate evaluation: How to assess candidates + hire with confidence
Listen to this article. Audio recording by
Brook Fischer

Evaluating candidates is more than just scrutinizing applications or conducting interviews.

It's an intricate dance of matching skills, experience, potential and deciding if someone will be a great culture add to your team.

In our 2023 survey on hiring and onboarding, nearly 25% of respondents revealed they have difficulty effectively evaluating candidates.

Screenshot of bar graph showing the challenges businesses face in the hiring process
HoorayHR and Homerun Hiring and Onboarding survey report

This isn't just a minor inconvenience – it's a crucial part of the hiring process – and if you make a misstep, it can really set you back!

The stats say it all: people need more recruitment tools and strategies to evaluate candidates with ease. Stick with us and we'll show you how to find your rhythm with a straightforward and effective candidate evaluation process.

Table of contents

  • <a href="#candidate-evaluation">What’s a candidate evaluation?</a>
  • <a href="#benefits">Top 5 benefits of a candidate evaluation process</a>
  • <a href="#categories">Candidate evaluation categories and areas of focus</a>
  • <a href="#how-to">How to evaluate candidates like a pro</a>
  • <a href="#final-tips">Final tips on candidate evaluations from our Head of People</a>

<div id="candidate=evaluation">What is a candidate evaluation?</div>

A candidate evaluation is the part of the hiring process where you figure out if someone's likely to succeed in a role you're hiring for. You look at their skills, experience and potential and then consider how they would function within your team's dynamic.

Typically, this involves reviewing candidates’ work experience, conducting structured interviews, checking references and sometimes giving skill-based tests or assignments. It might also include personality or behavioral assessments to get a sense of how they might mesh with your team.

<div id="benefits">Top 5 benefits of candidate evaluations</div>

Identifying the best hire from your applicant pool (and not who you might initially think would be the best hire) requires a fair and structured evaluation process. This means you select the right candidate based on objective criteria rather than gut feelings.

Here are the top 5 benefits of implementing fair and structured candidate evaluations:

1. Improve hiring quality

A detailed evaluation means you’re more likely to find candidates who are the right fit in terms of skills and company culture, which translates to better job performance and employee retention.

2. Mitigate bias in hiring

A standardized process minimizes hiring biases and promotes diversity and fairness by making sure decisions are based purely on qualifications and fit.

3. Save time and resources

Pinpointing candidates who are a good match early on cuts down on lengthy interview processes and resources spent on applicants who aren't the right fit.

4. Enhance candidate experience

Candidates appreciate transparency and organization in the evaluation process, which leaves them with a good feeling about your company (and shows you care about people-first hiring).

5. Allow for smoother team integration

By focusing on both skill set and culture add, new hires are more likely to complement and enhance your existing team. This leads to a more collaborative and productive work environment.

<div id="categories">Candidate evaluation categories and areas of focus</div>

Experience 💡

This is when you look at the tangible stuff in a candidate's journey, like their application, CV, LinkedIn profile or portfolio. It’s about understanding their professional path, roles they’ve held, projects they’ve led and achievements in their life.

Potential 🌳

Evaluating potential involves looking at a candidate's ability to grow and tackle future challenges within your company. Consider their curiosity and eagerness to learn (for example, the pursuit of professional development courses or self-taught skills), and their response to hypothetical scenarios during interviews.

Soft skills 💗

Soft skills evaluation looks at communication, teamwork, problem-solving abilities and other interpersonal skills. This is often gauged through behavioral interviews or situational judgment tests to see how they interact with others and fit into teams.

Hard skills 🛠️

These are the technical or specific skills necessary for the job, which can be assessed through competency tests, technical interviews or practical assignments. It's about verifying if the candidate has the right toolkit: coding proficiency for a Developer, design skills for a Graphic Designer, etc.

Culture add

Rather than just fitting in, this assesses how a candidate's unique perspectives or skills will contribute to the company culture. Value fit interviews or discussions about work style help you work out if they can enrich your team’s dynamics.

<div id="how-to">How to evaluate candidates like a pro</div>

1. Before the interview

Put together a pre-hiring candidate profile

The first thing you need to do is decide who you'd like to hire. Not the actual person, but the ideal candidate you're looking for!

Start by creating a pre-hiring candidate profile. It may be a mouthful to say, but getting it set up isn't that hard. Just follow these 5 steps:

  1. Define the role and what gaps you need to fill – List the traits, skills and experience that’ll make the candidate successful in this role. Include both essentials and nice-to-haves.
  2. Outline ideal candidate traits – Consider things like necessary qualifications, characteristics that might help the person succeed in the role, competencies (remember, many can be learned!) and alignment with your company's core values.
  3. Decide on clear evaluation criteria – Figure out which qualifications really matter for the job, pinpoint must-have skills for success and decide which personal qualities will be important for value fit.
  4. Share the candidate profile with your hiring team – Once everyone has had a chance to share their thoughts and you agree about candidate expectations, you can move forward.
  5. Stay open-minded and flexible – Be prepared to adapt and edit your candidate profile as needed to accommodate any insights you’ve discovered about your candidate pool during the hiring process.

Set the stage with a perfectly-crafted application form

Next up is the job application form. Don't just ask for a cover letter and CV and call it a day!

This is your first chance to understand the candidate's experience, skills, personality and potential. Craft your application form questions in a way that will give you the information you need to guide your evaluation process.

Before and after of a job application form created with Homerun
You can create a job application form with custom questions and assignments in Homerun.

Quick job application form tips:

  • Keep the form short, sweet and easy to fill in
  • Ask a question that allows candidates to show their personality
  • Include practical, deal-breaker questions

📣 Need more help? Check out our article on how to make a job application form

Screen and shortlist

You have a well-defined candidate profile and insightful application questions. Now it's time to sift through the applications to find your top contenders.

Here's how to efficiently screen and shortlist candidates:

🔍 Review applications against your criteria – Start by comparing each application to the must-have qualifications, skills and attributes you've already outlined. This initial filter helps you quickly identify who meets the basic requirements.

🤩 Look for "wow" elements – Keep an eye out for candidates who offer something extra. This could be a unique skill, an impressive project or an experience that adds value beyond your initial criteria.

Use a scoring/rating system – Assign scores based on how well candidates match your prioritized qualifications and key skills. This objective approach helps keep the focus on the role's requirements and makes it easier to compare applicants.

🚀 Consider potential and culture add – Remember to factor in candidates' potential for growth and their potential contribution to your team's dynamics. Sometimes, a candidate with high potential and a great cultural add might outweigh one with perfect qualifications but less room for growth.

🤔 Shortlist thoughtfully – With your scores and observations in hand, select a manageable number of candidates for the interview stage. This list should represent the best fit for your needs, balancing qualifications and potential.

2. During the interview

Interview with purpose (Hint: Use scorecards! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

This is where preparation meets execution.

Put simply, “Know what you're going to ask and what the process will look like,” says Rita Wittek-Verbeek, our Director of People.

Interviewing with purpose using scorecards (or candidate scorecards) means entering each interview with a clear set of criteria you’re evaluating based on the role’s requirements and the ideal candidate profile you’ve developed. Interview scorecards will help you assess each candidate objectively and consistently, and keep the interview focused on the attributes that matter most.

Where to review candidates in Homerun's scorecards

Before the interview, prepare your scorecard with categories that match the qualifications and traits important for the role. This could include technical skills, communication abilities, problem-solving approaches and alignment with company values.

During the interview, use the scorecard to guide your questions and note observations (at Homerun we call them "signals") that indicate the candidate’s strengths or weaknesses in each area.

This structured approach ensures you’re not only interviewing with a clear purpose but you’re also capturing the data needed to make informed hiring decisions.

You'll give every candidate a fair and equal opportunity to show you what they'd bring to the role. 💪

Ask structured interview questions

We've all heard of the benefits of structured interviews, like reduced bias and a focused and fair process. Now it's time to learn why structured interview questions make much more sense than “winging it” or going off on tangents.

These interview questions are carefully designed to work within a structured interview framework to reveal information about the candidate's experience, skills and suitability for the role. Every candidate interviewed for the same role should be asked the same set of structured interview questions to ensure fair and consistent candidate evaluations.

📣 Check out our guide on how to conduct a job interview

Here are some examples of structured interview questions that you can plug into your interview question list:

  • Skill-based: "Can you describe a project where you had to use [a specific skill]?"
  • Behavioral: "Tell me about a time you faced a significant challenge at work. How did you handle it?"
  • Situational: "Imagine you're working on a project with tight deadlines and you realize you're behind schedule. What steps do you take?"
  • Value fit: "Our company places a strong emphasis on [insert core value here, e.g., 'innovation', 'teamwork', 'integrity']. Can you share an experience where you demonstrated this value in your professional or personal life?"

Whether you're looking for general screening interview questions or specific role-based questions, Homerun has an interview question template library just for you.

Look for signals

As you delve into the structured interview questions, pay attention to the direct answers and the subtleties in how those answers are delivered. Are candidates demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and genuine engagement? These nuances can be telling signals about their fit for the role and the company.

Next to each category or question on your scorecard, make space for notes on the candidate's body language, tone and any particular impressions they leave. Did they light up when talking about a collaborative project? Were they able to articulate complex ideas with ease? These observations are valuable.

How to rate and score candidates in Homerun's scorecards ATS
Create your scorecard rating criteria for each interview stage and job role

When jotting down a signal, it should be something solid and irrefutable. Instead of noting general impressions like "seems confident," try to pinpoint exactly what gave you that impression, such as "provided detailed examples and maintained eye contact."

Sometimes, what the candidate doesn’t say or do can be as insightful as what they do. If you notice they aren’t sharing examples when discussing a specific skill or they’re hesitant to talk about teamwork, make a note. And if you weren't able to get the info you needed, write "No signal." These gaps can guide your follow-up questions and help you explore further later.

3. After the interview

Fill in your scorecards independently

Right after the interview wraps, take some quiet time to fill in your scorecard while the conversation is still fresh in your mind. Rita insists, “It's really important to block some time immediately after every interview. You can write down everything as soon as possible. That way you can actually uncover a lot about specific behaviors and competencies.”

You may feel like chatting about the candidate with team members, especially if you were in the interview together, but hold off. This solo reflection period is your chance to process and evaluate the candidate's responses against the role’s predefined criteria without any outside influence. Sticking to this disciplined approach reduces hiring biases like groupthink. It also promises that your evaluation is based on your own observations and the candidate's signals.

Come together as a hiring team to discuss next steps

After everyone has completed their independent evaluations, it’s time for the hiring team to come together. This is where collaborative hiring shines. Share your insights and scorecards, and discuss any differing perceptions to get a more well-rounded view of the candidate.

Decide on what comes next — be it additional interviews with other team members, an assignment to assess skills in action or moving towards making an offer. This step reinforces the shared responsibility of hiring decisions and alignment on the candidate's next steps.

Compare scorecards and make a decision

Once all interviews and assessments are finished, it’s decision time. Review the scorecards, along with any notes from follow-up interviews or assignments.

A hiring team asynchronously discussing their candidate scores and ratings in a candidate scorecard in Homerun

Discuss and consolidate the final feedback, focusing on how each candidate stacks up with the role's requirements and company values. This comparison is crucial for making an equitable and informed hiring decision. The hiring manager or recruiter can then take the lead (supported by the team’s input) to extend a job offer to the top candidate.

📣 7 job offer letter templates to help you seal the deal!

<div id="final-tips">Final tips on candidate evaluations from Rita, our Director of People</div>

Rita shares some additional poignant tips on conducting candidate evaluations:

✔️ Address bias

"We are all biased. We know it, and that's not a problem. It's how we handle bias. Training your team on unbiased hiring practices is invaluable.”

✔️ Ask the right questions

”There are so many questions that are tailored to give you answers about certain behaviors or values. You might say to a candidate, 'Tell me about a disagreement with a coworker or manager and looking back on this you felt that you were wrong.’ That might not sound like a complicated question, but it will tell you about someone's conflict resolution skills, their empathy, communication skills, if they're open to feedback or not, if they're willing to speak up and more.”

✔️ Be prepared to go further to gather signals

“Remember, no signal = no conclusion. Don't write something down because you think that's what the person would have said. If it didn't come up, then you need another interview.”

Kick off your candidate evaluation process

Now that you have a thoughtful and structured approach to candidate evaluations, it's time to give it a whirl. Approach each step with intention and discernment and you'll be able to hire the right person with confidence.

About the author
Brook Fischer
With a background in education and journalism, Brook has spent the past 18 years crafting and editing insightful content for small to medium-sized businesses. Her current favorite topics in the hiring space include employer branding and how to create a positive candidate experience. She lives in Toulouse with her husband, two sons and one sweet Staffy.
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