How to Create a Smooth Online Job Application Process

As any recruiter or HR professional will tell you, one of the primary considerations you should make with any new recruitment technology is the candidate’s experience. Process automation is great, but first, you have to get good, qualified candidates to apply for your positions. And it all starts with having a robust, smooth, and easy-to-use online application process.

Application Lifecycle Management

We’ve worked with hundreds of companies to set up their online career site, job board, and online application. We also talk with candidates applying on these sites, so we hear first-hand how they can get frustrated and tripped up. The following are some of our suggestions for a great online application process.

Brand your employment site to match your website

The first thing a candidate will notice when they hit your employment portal is the overall look and feel of the site. Of course, having your company name and logo is an excellent start. Still, even better is having a site that matches your main website’s design and navigation to give a consistent, professional impression to the candidate.

For example, here are a few live examples of customer employment sites that we think provide a consistent, clear brand image to the candidate:

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 cPanel’s Employment Site
Bright Automotive’s Employment Site
Didlake’s Employment Site
Peak Vista’s Employment Site
Keep in mind that having an employment site that matches your website doesn’t require your existing website administrator to create the site. Many third-party systems for employment sites can create a “skin” that matches the website, so it will appear consistent to the candidate even though it’s running on a different system.

Make sure your job information is up-to-date and complete.

You want to make sure the list of jobs and job descriptions on your site are complete and up-to-date. One of the primary benefits of an employment site is to enable candidate self-service, so they are not calling up your company to inquire about your jobs. But if you have out-of-date jobs on your site or don’t provide all the details of your jobs, you will be missing one of the primary benefits of an employment site.

Having a good applicant tracking system is an excellent way to make sure the information on your employment site stays up-to-date and complete. For example, when you post a new job, you can push it automatically to your employment site. Similarly, if you modify the details of a job or close a job, the change can be made automatically in real-time. This sure beats having to submit a request to your website administrator to update your site each time your jobs change.

Decide how much you want to ask of candidates when they apply.

When designing your online application, you should consider how many fields you will ask the candidate to fill out to apply. For example, many organizations just ask for basic contact information (Name, Address, Phone, Email) and a Resume. In contrast, others may ask the candidate to fill out a complete Employment Application with separate sections for Personal Information, Education, Employment History, References, etc. Still, others will ask for basic contact information and then ask some job-specific screening questions.

There is no right or wrong size for an online application, but you should weigh the trade-offs. In general, the more fields you ask in an online form, the fewer people you will have to complete the form. However, it is often advantageous to collect all the information you need in your hiring process up-front, rather than request it later in the process. Also, many companies, such as those under OFCCP regulation, must review each application and document the review, so it may be advantageous to restrict applications to only those most serious candidates.

Keep the application simple.

These days, many forms on the web, especially those designed by web developers, tend to be a bit “too clever.” Developers have this nasty habit of taking advantage of every technology at their disposal, even if it doesn’t improve the user’s experience. Of course, you want to project a modern image to your candidates, but if you try to make your application too fancy, it can make it hard for the candidate to fill out.

For example, scripts and animations during the application can look cool but can also get in the way of the basic task of filling out the fields. This is especially true of longer applications such as a complete employment application. Web technology was built with a very simple but robust way to capture data through forms, and often just sticking to these web standards will result in the most usable forms.

Any website should keep in mind that users will be coming from multiple environments and browsers, which is even more reason to keep the application simple and stick with standards. For example, the animation where the screen scrolls up and prompts the user to fill out a missing field may look great on your browser, but someone on another (older?) browser may find it prevents them from completing the application. Better to just do the validation when the user clicks Submit and come back with a prompt for any missing data.

Don’t make the candidate re-enter data.

There’s nothing more frustrating than asking to fill out questions in an application process that you’ve already answered somewhere else. For example, you provide your Contact Information when you register with the system, but then when you apply for a job, the system asks you to fill it out again. Or even worse is when you apply for one job, then go and apply for a second job and the system asks you to fill out the complete application again.

A good application system should save an applicant’s information and re-use it later in the process to prevent duplicate (or triplicate!) data entry.

Be careful of data loss resulting from timeouts and lost sessions.

Actually, there is something more frustrating than having to enter data you’ve already entered somewhere else, and that is having the data you’ve spent so much time entering suddenly lost. We’ve all had the experience of filling out a form, entering a comment or composing an email, and then clicking Submit only to lose the data entirely. Sometimes a person will take the time to enter the information again, but they will often just leave in frustration.

The usual culprit in these situations is system timeouts and lost sessions in your application system. For example, if a candidate has the Apply page up and partially filled out, then is called away from her computer suddenly, when she comes back to Apply, she may find that her session with the system has timed out. The data she entered on previous pages is lost.

Most good application systems will be engineered to prevent this type of data loss, but you should definitely test it out. For a simple test, just start an application and go halfway through, then leave the screen up overnight and in the morning try to submit. If the page comes back with a “Your session has ended” message, and you can’t get back to your data, there is a session timeout problem, and there’s a good chance it will affect your candidates.