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One of the major tasks faced by a human resources director or a hiring committee is the winnowing of thousands of applicants down to a promising few. Those who survive the application process are said to be on the shortlist. This is usually the final list of candidates presented for consideration by the ultimate hiring authority. For many applicants, the goal is to reach the shortlist in order to compete on a more level playing field.
Whenever an employer or government official announces an opening, thousands of resumes and applications may appear within a week's time. Through an elimination process called vetting, many of these applicants are rejected for wholesale reasons — location, experience, hours of availability, education, etc. This vetting process should eventually lead to the formation of a shortlist, the names of candidates who have proven themselves to be the most qualified for the position.
While the final announcement of a new hire may be kept confidential, the names on a shortlist are often disseminated publicly. If a university is seeking a new president, for example, the search committee may release a list of viable candidates for that position. By consulting this list, interested parties can scrutinize each candidate's background or assess other hiring criteria. It can also let other applicants know they did not survive the vetting process.
Being named to a shortlist for a promotion or a coveted office is often seen as a morale boost. Even if the position goes to a different candidate, if a person knows that his or her skills and experience kept him or her in serious consideration can be rewarding enough. A shortlist often contains some well-known names in the industry, so any candidate fortunate enough to earn a spot should feel honored.
Many executives and government officials deliberately stay out of the application process until a shortlist has been created. This policy can reduce any appearances of favoritism, since even a favored applicant would have to earn his or her way onto the list. The hope is that it does represent the most qualified applicants for a particular position, not necessarily the results of a popularity contest.