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What’s a Job Application Got to Do with It?

A man stands in front of hurdles symbolizing a complex job application

Do you think of each applicant in your database as a client? If you don’t, it’s time to start. But where to start? Where else but at the beginning of your organization’s relationship with any potential employee: their job application. But why treat an applicant as a client? Why think of them as a customer of any kind, especially when they’re the one asking you for money? Such thinking is precisely the problem.

First, if an applicant isn’t hired by you, particularly a star applicant, eventually they will be hired by someone else, perhaps even a competitor. Second, assuming that an applicant is completing a job application merely for money is not only selling them short, but it’s selling your organization short as well. Money is not as crucial a motivator as some employers assume, particularly among passive – a.k.a., currently employed – applicants, who are considered the most desirable talent to recruit. Is it so outlandish to think that so many applicants have done their research and chosen your organization among a select few to apply to? And if that’s the case, then why? Simple: it’s because of your employer brand proposition, or in other words, everything that your organization communicates to applicants – both actively and passively – about what you can offer employees not only in terms of compensation, but in terms of corporate culture, professional development, work-life balance, and more.

Unfortunately, what many employers don’t realize is that the experience an applicant has in completing a job application factors greatly into that applicant’s perception of the employer’s brand. That perception can then ripple throughout the applicant’s network in the form of complaints and warnings or, if the experience is good, as praise and recommendations. That’s why when too many applicants have a bad experience, it can significantly harm an organization’s reputation. In fact, according to a 2012 US study conducted by Harris Interactive, 42% of those who have a bad “candidate experience” with an organization would never reapply, 22% would tell others not to apply to that organization, and 9% would tell others not to buy that organization’s products and/or services.

Given these stats, the job application is the chance to make a good (or not so good) first impression on an applicant. And while it’s true that the “candidate experience” will encompass more than just the job application for a select few (as we’ll get into later on), for most, the job application will be the candidate experience, leaving no opportunity to make amends later on. In fact, according to the Harris Interactive study, 82% of applicants expect to hear something back after applying to an organization; yet 75% of them never do. That equates to 75% of applicants left with a bad taste in their mouths.

A good job application starts with a good job description

Many employers might argue that, because of the sheer number of applications received for each job posting thanks to easy-apply, internet-based methods, there simply isn’t an efficient way to respond to every applicant these days. First, “easy-apply” doesn’t apply to every online job application – more on that later. Second, if you’re receiving a deluge of mostly unqualified applicants every time you post a job, it’s time to look inward.A man reads a confusing job description

Many would-be applicants don’t apply to a given job because they can’t really understand job description. Too many employers post job descriptions that are too vague. If an applicant can’t get the gist of what a job entails from the job title, they aren’t likely to keep reading, let alone apply. Likewise, if the job description is littered with generic jargon, such as “self-starter”, “high-energy”, or “big picture”, it also risks deterring the applicant. Quality candidates do in fact appreciate job descriptions of between 700 and 2,000 words, but that’s because they’re after details. They’ll know filler when they see it. The fewer details there are, the more quality candidates will be turned off – and the more lesser-quality applicants will apply simply hoping for the best. Bottom line: detailed, targeted job descriptions result in fewer, but higher-quality candidates.

Where it’s ATS

Of course, you can’t proclaim that the internet is responsible for an unmanageable onslaught of applications without considering the applicant tracking systems (ATSs) that are the repositories and organizers of all that information. While the advantages of ATS recruiting is obvious from an employer’s point of view – allowing one to collect, store, and sort by relevance the top applicants for any given position – they less often prove advantageous in creating a positive candidate experiences. As the Harris Interactive study suggests, and as is often expressed by frustrated applicants, once an applicant has submitted their job application, they often feel they’ve tossed their resume into an abyss. All too often, employers focus only on those applicants the ATS deems worthy, while the rest are dispatched to the void.

A black hole where many a job application can end upHowever, many ATSs come with features that allow for proper applicant relationship management. Having the system send a personalized (addressing the applicant’s first name), personable (friendly and caring in tone) acknowledgement email once a job application has been submitted should be part of any organization’s ATS recruiting best practices. It’s also worth integrating social media with your ATS, which is an option that many ATS vendors now offer. Allowing people to apply via your organization’s Facebook or LinkedIn page, for instance, not only ensures more potential applicants will see it (not to mention more qualified applicants, since only those who are truly interested in your organization will be following your social media), but it also brings your ATS to the forefront of people’s internet browsing habits rather than having it remain an inert appendage of your organization’s website.

The most important feature of any good ATS, however, is its user-friendliness. Test it yourself. Go through the entire process. Then get your own employees to do the same and get their feedback. Does everyone agree that the interface is intuitive? Hard-to-navigate ATS interfaces are a major contributor to applicant drop-out rates, and so is the convolutedness of the questions asked. Remember: an ATS only asks an applicant what it’s told to ask, so you should only request information that is truly relevant – or just downright crucial – to the role. And if a lot of questions are required, create a message that lets the applicant know approximately how much time it will take them to complete the job application. They will appreciate it. Finally, ensure that the interface of the backend, not just the front (applicant-facing) end, is also user-friendly for the sake of yourself and your staff.

Other online job application tips

Keep the following in mind:

  • Although they are powerful logistical – and even relationship management – tools, ATSs are often criticized for the way they shortlist applicants. They work like search engines, identifying keywords in each applicant’s resume, cover letter, and other submitted documentation. It is therefore very possible for top talent to be missed simply because they didn’t use the proper keywords in their submission. Job seekers are often advised (via industry thought-leadership vehicles such as thA man jumping through a hoopis blog) to look for repeated and/or important-sounding terms in a given job description and to use them in the documents they submit in order to overcome such limitations. With that said, however, the thoroughness of the job description once again proves key.
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  • While integrating your ATS with your social media accounts is a great idea (see above), remember that many applicants will access your ATS directly via your “Careers” or “Jobs” section on your organization’s website. Ensure that a link to this section is present and conspicuous on your organization’s homepage if not on every page of the site. The last thing you want is to bury it beneath layers of other sections.
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  • Remember to consider whether an ATS is necessary for certain positions. If you’re confident you’ll attract a more manually manageable number of applicants for a certain role, asking each applicant to email their job application is a viable option. Email is quick and easy for the applicant and there’s no need to worry about the ATS weeding out what could be some of the most qualified people.

There’s more to candidate experience than the job application

As touched on earlier, the job application stage encapsulates the entire candidate experience for most applicants – and we’ve seen how that initial stage alone, if mismanaged, can have serious ramifications for an organization’s brand and ability to recruit talent. So you can imagine how imperative it is to ensure that those who make it past that stage continue to receive the same level of consideration. If one or more of your candidates is currently employed, do your best to accommodate their situation by scheduling interviews outside of regular work hours. Also, don’t leave them hanging. Excessive amounts of interviews and long periods without communication in between interviews can easily alienate candidates, causing them to second-guess your value as an employer and allowing them to get picked up by faster-acting competitors. If that happens, instead of the cream of the crop, you’ll be left with the bottom of the barrel.

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