Claudia Faust, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Claudia Faust, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Claudia Faust returns to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board this week with a post about online applications. As a recruiter and leader of corporate recruiting organizations for 15 years, Claudia Faust brings her passion for people and analytics to hiring and retention. She has recruited and managed staffing organizations for globally recognized brands such as T-Mobile USA,, Microsoft, Sprint PCS, and Burger King Corporation. In 2006 Claudia founded Improved Experience to provide business intelligence diagnostics for Human Resources and staffing leaders. Full bio

The Trouble with Online Applications

by Claudia Faust

Recently I completed a study for a client who was receiving negative feedback about her company’s online job application.  Her quest for drivers of dissatisfaction posed an interesting question: what really causes poor experience in an online application? Is it technical glitches, cumbersome usability, poor content, or simply cranky, unqualified job seekers who are tired of competing for jobs in a depressed market?

Applications are a complex trigger in the hiring process.  By the time one is submitted, an employer has invested in a career website/applicant tracking system, branded, advertised, and engaged candidates into opening the application.  Assuming the candidate actually submits an application, the fine print is filled with disclaimers.  The “don’t call us, we’ll call you” email is sent.  And the job seeker’s information is sucked away into the candidate unknown.  Managing candidates is a costly business: high-touch (intentional or otherwise) comes at a price, the impact of which can’t be underestimated.

Candidates see it from the other side of the curtain, of course.  It’s hard work, and more than a little humbling, to look for a job.  Recent economic woes aside, consider this factor as well: job hunting is only one of many things that candidates do online.  Internet use continues to grow at an exponential rate, as does the ease and intuitive nature of some of its more common activities : social networking, gaming, emailing, texting, and search.  Face it.  Job seekers know what makes a good online experience and what doesn’t.  And they bring evolving expectations to an application near you.

Many factors can influence experience at the application stage.  The challenge is to determine how each of them is at play.  For example:

Technology – How old is your online application software? How compatible is it to current internet browsers? What is the condition of internet access points for job seekers? Which users have the most technical difficulty? How reliable are third-party service infrastructures?

Usability – How easy is it for job seekers to “learn” to use your particular software? How quickly can they do the tasks required to complete your application? When job seekers return to your candidate portal, how easy is it for them to remember how to use it again? When an error is made while using the software, how easy is it to recover? How pleasant is it to use the software?

Clarity – Technically a subset of usability, I suppose, but important enough to consider separately.  Do candidates understand what information they’ll need on hand to complete the application?  Do they know the time commitment required to get it done? Are instructions clear on each page?  Can they see the progress made toward completion of the application?

Candidate Expectations – How sophisticated are your candidates in terms of internet usage?  How easy do they expect the collection and uploading of digital information to be on your site? What do you tell them to expect about your hiring and assessment process, if anything? Is that process clearly communicated anywhere? Better yet, is the delivered experience consistent with your description of it?

In my estimation, poor candidate experience at the earliest stages of talent acquisition is due to employers that don’t differentiate right up front between the general job seeking population and qualified future talent.  Imagine for a moment a world in which completing an application for your company was a permission-based activity, and that no one was considered a candidate until you deemed them so.  In other words, what if it was not possible for just anyone to drop a resume into your ATS.  Instead, the candidate had to be pre-qualified to gain access to the real juice of your company’s candidate experience?

The benefits of this demarcation line would be substantial: candidates win because submitting an application suddenly becomes evidence of mutual interest, rather than a one-sided “notice me!” gesture from the faceless crowd.  De facto, it would also carry with it a “membership has benefits” cachet– a ticket to candidate experience that is intentional and easily compared between employers in a competitive talent landscape.

Employers would win in this scenario as well because the cost of building relationships with future talent suddenly becomes controlled, in contrast to an open-checkbook approach to influencing employer brand among the masses.  Candidates become a defined pool of desired talent, and the cost and quality of delivered experience to that group can reflect an intentional, targeted, and manageable recruiting strategy.

This approach shifts the focus of true candidate identification back to the hands of the sourcers and recruiters where it belongs.  And candidate experience remains a competitive differentiator for employers, as it should be.

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