While teaching professional development classes, I often help students navigate job postings and guide them through the job application process. Most companies these days use some sort of online job application forms or systems, which ultimately leave candidates frustrated and wanting to give up. I’d like to share my experience helping students battle their way through these systems in the hopes that online job search service providers, as well as the companies that hire them make a few changes. If you are using such a system, or have an extensive online application process, I truly believe that you might be missing out on some of the best candidates out there.
Here is my Top 10 list of why your online job application system sucks:
1. It Takes Too Long!
On average, it takes about 20 – 45 minutes to fill out an online job application form. Yes, I understand that if I really want your job, I should take the time to apply – otherwise I’m not worthy, and it should be an honour to work with you. Ok, I get that, you want to weed out the people that are resume bombing, but… What about the really great candidates that are currently working and too busy to spend 45 minutes to apply. They may be interested in your job, but simply can’t pencil in 45 minutes to fill out every field in your form. I know a few people that gave up on their applications completely because it took too long. Good people are busy, in demand, and don’t have the time to regurgitate what’s already on their resume. Have some respect for their time.
2. Auto-Fill From Resume Uploads Rarely Works Properly!
Many systems allow you to upload your resume or LinkedIn profile, which then auto-populates all of the fields in your online forms. This sounds great actually, and is designed to save you time, but… It doesn’t work! In the end, I spend more time correcting information, than if had I just written out my resume from scratch. The system doesn’t always capture the correct information to put in appropriate fields. This is likely because everyone’s resume is not formatted in the same way. Surprise! Job applicants are trying to impress you by having a clearly formatted resume, but there is not a prescribed format across employers and industries. As such, resumes look different. Also, some people may use tables, bullets, or other custom formatting that looks the same on paper, but doesn’t read well by the automatic robots that translate this information. This adds to the time and frustration experienced applying for your job.
3. Why Do I Need To Create An Account?
Some online job application systems require me to create an account in order to apply for a job. An account? Why? Ok, so let me get this straight. Before filling out your 100 fields of data, I need to create a unique user name, an insanely long password with character combination requirements that I’ll never remember, and input all of my contact details that I have to repeat during the application process all over again? Sometimes it’s a bigger process to apply for your job than applying for a passport! I understand that some applicants apply for multiple jobs, so this is ideal for your own tracking and should technically be easier for the applicant, but what about the busy professional that doesn’t have time for your drawn-out process? Also – who really needs another account anyways? And I really don’t want your newsletter or other jobs sent to my inbox. I applied for the one I’m interested in. You don’t need to capture my email, thank you. Here’s my favourite in this category: If multiple employers utilize the same online job application service, candidates are unable to create a new account for the second employer using the email address they’ve set up for this first employer. Better yet – If a system in fact does allow applications to multiple employers using the same account, sometimes they don’t allow you to transfer your basic information over! This means candidates have to enter all their information from scratch even though it’s already in their account. The other option is to use a different email to set up the second account, which brings me back to…How many accounts do I need? I’m applying for a job, not residency status.
4. Too Many Fields!
So you’ve asked me to upload my resume already, but then I have to enter every single employer, education, skills, and other items separately. Not only this, but each employer entry is split into several fields – Title, Company Name, Start Date, End Date, Supervisor Name, Supervisor Phone, Job Description, Starting Salary, Ending Salary, Accomplishments, Why You Left, etc. Do you really need all of this information at this point? Aren’t these questions you should be asking in an in-person interview? Oh wait – if my salary expectation was too high, your robots automatically filter me out as a candidate! What if I’m ok with a lower salary? I guess you’ll never know. On top of this, some systems have all sorts of additional pre-screen questions with drop down menus and checkboxes that I have to fill out to identify and rate my own skills. Really? I’m a 10 at everything! Ok… not really, but my point is, how honest do you expect candidates to be here? Why would they select a skill and rate themselves a zero?
5. Your Criteria Is Too Strict!
Yes, online systems can provide a great deal of time saving automatic pre-screening and sorting for you. However, you should know that the best candidates might not fit the exact mold that you’ve set in your system. For example; You ask the question: “Do you have over 10 years of Whole-Wheat Bread Baking Experience? – Yes/No?” What if your candidate is amazing, but only has 9.5 years of experience. Are you willing to have them automatically disqualified because of half a year? What if they had other traits that well surpassed any other candidates and they are the most enthusiastic employee you’ll ever encounter? I guess you’ll never find out because your screening criteria is way too specific. Now, I understand why these questions are useful, but my point is that it can be frustrating for candidates that have more to offer than this. So as a candidate, I have two options: 1. Tell the truth and get automatically sorted out of the running, or 2. Lie. You’ve forced someone to lie because they didn’t quite fit your mold, but had no other way to explain their situation. Ah yes… they can explain in the comments section… Not really. It’s useless! You’ll never read it because you’ve already pre-determined that this candidate is not qualified.
6. Your Questions Are Useless!
Earlier I talked about pre-screen skills questions where people can rate themselves a 10 for everything. Well, what about Honest Joe. He’s the best candidate you could ever find, but… he sucks at resume writing and job applications. And then, there’s Fibbing Fred… He’s an expert at job application forms! He knows all the shortcuts, is amazing at manipulating his resume to fit your mold, but he is just that – a manipulator and great at selling himself. Never mind his poor work ethic, ego and terrible attitude. Hey, but at least he looks great on paper! My point here is that just because a candidate is not good at writing a resume or filling out your online form, doesn’t mean that they should be disqualified as a candidate. You have no idea what someone’s personality, work ethic, and attitude is until you meet them in person. You’ll never get a sense of that through an online system. Wait! There’s a questions for that. Yep… scenario based questions to judge someone’s values and ethics match. In short: People lie, and you can’t see their face to make an informed judgment on this, but yet, you do.
7. Your File Types & Size Limits Are Too Restrictive
Thank you so much for the opportunity to upload my resume. It’s so nice to be able to send you my perfectly formatted, clean and organized documents. Crap! You don’t accept PDF? What about my beautiful formatting? Ok. I’ll send it as a word doc. This can frustrate candidates because almost everyone else on the planet accepts PDF, and they would like to send you the best looking resume possible. Have some flexibility here! I understand that your automated system can only read certain file types, but don’t make candidates re-do their resume to apply for your job.My favourite: You only accept 200kb max. What??? 200kb? Really, is this 1993? They don’t even make thumb drives that small anymore. You’ve asked for additional supporting documents such as reference letters and it would be great to have at least 1mb per file. This is not unreasonable these days and truly necessary for richly formatted documents. I’ve taken the time to scan my reference letter, but I’d like you to have the ability to read the thing. Be realistic with today’s document sizes and what you’re asking for.
8. Copy & Paste Text Only? Argh!
Candidates take the time to prepare a carefully crafted resume that is organized and formatted appropriately. Nothing is more frustrating than having to copy and paste your resume into a tiny box. It looks awful with formatting removed and takes some time to re-format things to fit your fields. In fact, most often it doesn’t paste properly because of the formatting that people have in their resumes. This means that candidates can’t just select their whole resume and paste it. They have to create a new plain text document, re-formatted to fit your system, then paste it. All of which adds to the frustration.
9. It’s Glitchy
Sometimes technology fails, or you’ve decided to get the cheapest service that really doesn’t work very well. Nothing is more frustrating than having to re-enter an entire page of information because the system crashed or had a glitch. Or what about systems that only work on certain web browsers. Or it won’t upload a file. Or it won’t allow you to select the appropriate selections. Or…Or…or… Name your technical issue here: (_______). If you use an online system, you’d better be sure that it works properly and is regularly monitored and maintained. Frustrated candidates might just give up, or worse – they generate a negative opinion of your company and make sure to tell everyone in their network not to bother applying.
10. You’re Not Helpful!
Regardless of the technical issues your application system is experiencing, don’t make matters worse by being impersonal and unhelpful. Here’s an example: A long time ago, I spent approximately 45 minutes trying to fill out a job application that kept crashing. I am fairy technically savvy and realized that the issue was on the programming end of the system that this particular employer set up. So I called their HR department and politely informed them of the issue, asking if there was another way that I could submit my application. The person on the other end was extremely annoyed that anyone had dared to call her. She told me that I had to call their IT department to get support. Well, I had already spent 45 minutes on their site, and I really didn’t want to spend another 45 minutes getting technical support to apply for a job. So I asked again if I could submit another way, perhaps an email or in person. She was irate at this possibility and said that it was their organization’s policy and that they would refuse any applications coming in through any other method. Needless to say that I decided not to proceed with my application for this position. Funny enough – the job posting is still being promoted and re-posted years later. I should have really thanked her though, because she painted a clear picture of what that organization’s culture was like.
Remember – Your application process, the help that you provide or do not provide, and most importantly your attitude towards candidates, leaves them with an impression of what it would be like to work for you. This is often a first impression, which could lead to a final impression of your organization. Do you really want people telling others how impossibly frustrating your application process is and how unfriendly your staff is? Great candidates spend time with other amazing people that could also be potential employees of yours, but you’ll never have the privilege of receiving their application because of the reputation you’ve developed.
Finding the right person for a job is a very personal thing. Someone that is a right fit for your organization and its culture is not easy to come by. So why is your application process so annoying and impersonal? Are you really going to leave the pre-screening of your candidates up to a computer and poorly written software? Unless that computer is an excellent judge of character, you’re probably eliminating some amazing people that don’t even have a chance because their resume never reaches your desk.
I challenge organizations to come up with more creative ways to find the best candidates. Look beyond the piece of paper and the box you’ve created for them through your application process. Don’t dismiss candidates because they’re missing one thing out of ten. You might be surprised with what else they bring to the table and how quickly that “one thing” is not so important anymore since they outshine in all other categories. I encourage you to allow people to drop off resumes in person, or to call you to ask questions about the job. Give the keeners an opportunity to demonstrate their enthusiasm and explain why they’re the best person for the job.
What do you think? Tell us about the experiences you’ve had with online job application systems. Comment below!
About The Author
Michael Granek, MBA,CSEP,PID is a Management Consultant at Granek Solutions Inc. located in Vancouver, BC. He specializes in project management, event management, training & development, presentations & public speaking, as well as identifying the cause of business challenges and making recommendations for improvement. Michael is a successful entrepreneur and an award winning event producer with two decades of experience in the special events industry. In addition to his experience, Michael brings a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree with Management Consulting specialization, a Diploma in Adult Instruction (PID), and is an internationally Certified Special Event Professional (CSEP). He has also served on the board of the International Special Events Society Vancouver Chapter for eight years, three of those as President. He was recognized by industry peers by receiving the highly regarded “Spirit of the Industry Award” for his contributions to the special events industry.