September 22, 2014

Your Terrible Application Process is Costing You Big Time

FailJob seekers hate the application process. I can make that claim without citing a source, and no one will contest it. We just accept it as fact at this point.

The folks at Jibe, an HR software company that provides a set of cloud services for recruiting and managing talent, recently conducted a survey to find out just how much job seekers actually hate filling out applications. According to the 2014 Jibe Talent Acquisition Survey, applicants loathe the process even more than many of us expected. According to 35 percent of survey respondents, the job search is “easy.” Compare this to the 80 percent who said it was “time-consuming,” or the 78 percent who called it “stressful,” or the 71 percent who called it “discouraging.”

Similarly, 30 percent of job seekers said they would rather go on a blind date than fill out an online job application, and 22 percent said they would rather speak in front of 100 strangers. Heck, 12 percent even said they’d rather get a root canal.

Whenever anyone, anywhere would rather have a root canal than fill out a job application, we have a problem.

According to Ivan Casanova, Jibe’s senior vice president of marketing, there are a few (good) reasons why job seekers can’t stand the application process. “First off — and especially for enterprise customers — the application process is a function of the applicant tracking system,” he says. “A lot of that technology hasn’t evolved as quickly as customers need it to.”

Job seekers are also frustrated by another form of outdated technology: poorly designed company websites. “People are on the Web all day long, and if they’re on a crappy website, they tend to get off,” Casanova says.

Applicants run into a slew of problems trying to apply online: they cannot upload the necessary documents, or they cannot navigate the website on a mobile device, or the experience itself is clunky and repetitive, etc. 

Many job seekers have enough self-respect to walk away from companies who put them through torturous online applications. “[A person] looks at it like, ‘Do I really want to work here? No!’ Casanova says. “If they can’t even let me upload my resumé in a way that makes me comfortable, I probably don’t even want to work there.”

Losing out on Great Talent — Because the Application Process Is Awful

Jibe found that 44 percent of job seekers would “put off applying or not apply at all” if they had a frustrating experience with an outdated online job application. A full 60 percent of job seekers report quitting an online application before completing it, or losing all of their work because a confusing application process led them to believe they were finished before they really were. Those who lose their work do not try again: they move on to the websites of companies that aren’t going to drive them insane.

According to Casanova, employers of all types and sizes face the consequences of poorly designed applications. “There are always businesses where the quality of the talent is the crucial vector. They need to hire great people,” he says. “For those people, if you have a bad candidate experience, you’re going to lose the best people.”

Similarly, Casanova says companies that depend more on hiring high volumes of applicants may find themselves unable to fully staff their operations. “If you’re talking more of a volume business, where you’re hiring lots of hourly workers, you have to be able to fill those jobs, and if you can’t, you literally can’t run your restaurant, or your food chain, or your supermarket, or your retail store,” he explains. “Even with unemployment in the low sixes today, there are still a lot of business that can’t hire enough people. They’re going to lose out and not be able to run their business.”

As serious as these challenges are, Casanova refers to them as the “pedestrian perspectives” because, as he points out, off-putting application processes can hit businesses in ways they may not have even imagined. “I think what’s really at risk, though, in the bigger picture, is that there is some real brand halo associated with this,” he says. “There was a significant portion of people [34 percent] who responded to the survey that said that, if a process was terrible, they wouldn’t even buy anything from that company.” 

When job seekers have a painful time applying to a company, they may start to think about the company in a negative light. They’ll stop giving the company their business, and they’re likely to encourage friends and family to do the same. 

“The real danger for clients is that somebody who is a job seeker logs into your website or finds you on a mobile device, and the application process is terrible,” Casanova says. “They’re going to think that you don’t know what you’re doing or that you’re not as technically sophisticated as an organization as you need to be, and it’s going to make them think worse about you as a business. It’s going to have a brand effect.”

Casanova says that companies should treat the application process as an extension of their brand. “If they think about it that way, they tend to be more likely to invest in it and make sure it’s a great experience,” he says. 

But there’s more to the situation: despite the general unrest amongst job seekers and the negative impact that bad application processes have on organizations, many companies simply are not stepping up to address the problem. The reason for this? A general disconnect between what applicants really experience and what HR thinks applicants experience.

HR Departments: Keeping Their Heads in the Sand

According to Jibe’s survey, HR professionals are wearing their rose-tinted glasses: they’re seeing a sunnier, more optimistic picture of the application process than the one job seekers are seeing. 

“There’s a bit of the ‘head in the sand’ model for an HR pro,” Casanova says. “Consistently across the board, the survey showed that the HR pro was more optimistic about their process. They thought it was faster. They thought it was as good as it needed to be.” 

Casanova says that a significant portion of HR professionals are still not thinking in terms of candidate experience, and Jibe’s numbers support his conclusion: 64 percent of surveyed HR professionals believe is is important for the application process to be user-friendly, but 54 percent of HR professionals admit that their current application process is not user-friendly.

There is a disconnect between the picture in HR’s head and the real world that job seekers are facing.

However, Casanova does not blame HR entirely. He notes that many departments suffer from outdated, unwieldy tools. “A lot of it has to do with the life cycles of some of these big enterprise systems,” he says. “As long as the ATS is the core of how these large organizations are going to do recruiting, they’re kind of bound to those systems, and those things are not evolving as quickly as customers need.”

HR departments are having an especially tough time keeping up with advances in mobile technology. While 80 percent of job seekers expect to be able to use their smartphone during the job search, 27 percent of HR professionals at companies with 500 or more employees say they have not optimized the application process for mobile devices. Similarly, 36 percent also say that, if they were candidates, they would not describe the application process at their company as “mobile optimized.”

“If you work in an organization — you work for a corporation — and on day one, you’re given a laptop computer, that becomes your lens to the Internet,” Casanova says. “People just don’t realize that maybe, for some people, mobile is the only option.” 

We often think about job search in terms of executives and other “office talent,” but, as Casanova points out, there are other types of talent out there — and HR needs to think about how they can access job applications, especially when a company is looking for hourly employees. “We [Jibe] do a lot of work with hourly workers, and for a lot of those people, mobile is their only Internet,” Casanova says. “I think that maybe the HR pros are not aware that access is still a big issue from a desktop, and mobile is a cheaper and easier solution.”

Building a Better Application Process Requires Analytics

For companies interested in building user-friendly, convenient, mobile-optimized application processes, Casanova says the most important thing to have is analytics. Jibe’s cloud services all offer measurements of candidate experience — e.g., how long it takes candidates to complete applications, how many candidates abandon the process, etc. — which companies can use to continually improve their performance on the application front.

“If you really haven’t gotten onto a modern platform like Jibe, and you are still using legacy ATS technology, you’re probably not geared for the web,” Casanova says. “You don’t have the numbers to think about how you’re going to drive performance, and all that adds up to probably thinking that you’re doing better than you actually are.”

Casanova says that he — and the rest of the Jibe team — would like to see a world where job seekers have the experiences they expect to have when they log onto company websites. “When [a job seeker] logs on, it looks like a modern website. It feels like a modern website. The navigation of the application process is really, really positive for him,” Casanova says.

Jibe’s handy infographic illustrating the company’s findings:

Help Wanted: The Online Job Application Process

Read more in Hiring Process

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of