Shortlisting candidates: guidance and template

Use our shortlisting grid to help you identify which candidates to invite for interview. Find out how to make sure you shortlist the right people, and that your process is fair.

Last reviewed on 11 June 2024See updates
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  1. Who is this for?
  2. Download and adapt our shortlisting grid
  3. Use fair criteria and rely only on evidence outlined in the application
  4. Decide on a practical number of candidates to shortlist
  5. Use the same panel to shortlist and conduct interviews
  6. Anonymise application forms 
  7. Collect criminal records self-declarations after you've shortlisted candidates
  8. Consider carrying out an online search on shortlisted candidates
  9. Shred and recycle the paper you've used
The 2024 version of Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) has been published, but doesn't come into force until 1 September.

There are minimal changes, and our summary will let you know what to expect.

We will update this article to be ready for the new school year. To receive a notification when this happens, select ‘save for later’ at the top of the article.

Who is this for?

As a governor, you're most likely to be part of the selection panel for headteacher recruitment, but depending on your policies you could be part of recruitment for other roles.

Download and adapt our shortlisting grid

Use the template to help you decide which candidates to shortlist for interview.

Download: shortlisting candidates grid template DOCX, 516.9 KB

How to use it

  • Add all the essential criteria from the person specification in your job advert
  • You can tick to indicate where criteria are met. Alternatively, use a scoring system to help you decide the extent to which a candidate meets a particular criteria. For example:
    • 0 – No evidence to meet the criteria
    • 1 – Evidence does not fully meet the criteria
    • 2 – Evidence meets the criteria
    • 3 – Evidence exceeds the criteria

Make sure at least 2 people are involved in the shortlisting process (see paragraph 220 of Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2023).

Use fair criteria and rely only on evidence outlined in the application

Make your system clear and straightforward. Shortlist your candidates based only on:

  • Criteria taken from the person specification
  • Skills and experience that are outlined in the application

By doing this, if you're challenged on your process you’ll be able to show:

  • Decisions were based on relevant criteria and evidence
  • You’ve considered each candidate fairly
  • That where a candidate wasn't shortlisted it's because they didn't meet the requirements

If someone challenges your shortlisting decision, you usually don't have to investigate. However, if you’re challenged on grounds of discrimination and fail to investigate and respond, you could risk having a claim made against you in an employment tribunal. Acas told us this.

Make sure internal candidates don’t have an unfair advantage

For internal candidates, you still need to rely only on the evidence they present in their application. You may find this more difficult, particularly if they haven’t written a good statement as part of their application.

Using a shortlisting grid to record whether they’ve met particular criteria can help you make sure your process is fair. 

Decide on a practical number of candidates to shortlist

There's no specific number of candidates that you must shortlist for a role. Decide how many to interview based on the strength of the applicants and the time you have available to hold interviews.

Think practically about holding interviews. The panels you're likely to be involved in usually have multiple stages to the interview, which will take a significant amount of time for each applicant. Take a look at our interview questions & tasks to decide what's right for your recruitment process.

Be confident that you'll be able to consider each applicant fairly - this will be more difficult if you're interviewing lots of candidates.

Only shortlist the most suitable candidates

For example, if you usually shortlist 6 candidates, and only 4 meet all the essential criteria for the role, don't put 2 unsuitable candidates on the shortlist just to meet a quota. You should just interview the 4, or consider extending the deadline for new applicants. 

Find tips here on what do to if your headteacher recruitment process isn't going well.

Remember, some candidates may drop out

Applicants will likely be applying for multiple roles at the same time. Remember that some may withdraw from your recruitment process between the application and interview stages. 

Consider creating an additional 'reserve' spot on your shortlist (if you have enough suitable candidates), who you can contact for interview if you lose a shortlisted applicant.

Use the same panel to shortlist and conduct interviews

The same people who will sit on the interview panel should also take part in shortlisting. 

This helps make sure shortlisting decisions aren't subjective, and the panel will have identified the questions that need to be asked to each candidate based on their application, making the interviews more personalised.

Using the same panel to shortlist and conduct the interview also reduces the risk of a data breach (as it minimises the number of people who will have access to sensitive personal data).

Read more about who is eligible to be on a headteacher selection panel.

Anonymise application forms 

There’s no requirement to do so, but it's good practice to avoid sharing applicants’ personal details with those who are shortlisting. This will reduce the possibility of discrimination, as such information could allow the panel to find out about a person’s protected characteristics.

This is explained in the statutory code of practice for employment from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (page 241). 

How to anonymise applications

Collect criminal records self-declarations after you've shortlisted candidates

You should ask shortlisted candidates to complete a self-declaration form concerning any criminal records or information that would make them unsuitable to work with children, according to Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2023 (paragraph 216). Your school leaders will manage this part of the process for you.

Do this after you've shortlisted candidates. 

The purpose of the self-declaration is to inform the conversations you have with shortlisted candidates, not to help you decide who to shortlist.

Consider carrying out an online search on shortlisted candidates

This could help identify any incidents or issues that have happened and are publicly available online, which you might want to explore with the applicant at interview. You should inform shortlisted candidates that you might carry out these searches. This is explained in paragraph 221 of KCSIE 2023. Your school leaders will manage this part of the process for you.

If you're doing this internally (rather than paying a company to do it for you), you'll want to be very careful that you don't unintentionally form bias or break the law. For example, it's best to avoid looking at candidates' social media profiles – read more from Acas about using social media information when hiring. Stick instead to news articles and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.

As an extra step to avoid bias, you might want to have someone who's not on the shortlisting and interview panel carry out the searches. This could be your SBM or HR team, if you have one.

This advice came from our internal HR expert.

Shred and recycle the paper you've used

Think about data protection and the environment:

  • Make sure you keep documents secure
  • Dispose of the papers used throughout the process in a secure and environmentally friendly way, and in line with your school's records retention schedule
  • Follow your school's personal data breach procedure if any personal data is lost, or seen by people who shouldn't have seen it
  • Speak to your data protection officer and school administration staff if you need help with any of these steps


Jacqueline Baker is an education consultant who specialises in senior leadership recruitment. She supports schools through the recruitment process and helps them develop leadership capacity. Jacqueline also has experience as a chair of a governing board.

Vicki Dennison is an HR advisor with HC Associates, and supports schools and academies with their HR issues.

Article Updates

9 June 2023

Updated in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education for September 2023 to reflect:

  • That schools should inform shortlisted candidates that they may carry out an online search on them to help identify any issues that are publicly available online (paragraph 221)
  • Paragraph number changes

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