Rethinking the Employment Application

Woman using her cell phone in front of her laptop screen

At one time, paper applications were the logical first step to evaluating candidates for employment. As a result, they were a tool to begin the largely administrative process of hiring a person. All those details that needed to be recorded for later verification, documentation, and legal protection were all scribed on this multi-page nightmare of detail. I just saw a candidate doing one the other day at a restaurant. There he was, writing away on that awful thing. He was there before we started our leisurely meal and was still there as we left. It was like being reminded what it was like to use a dial up modem to get on the internet – I shudder at the thought.

I suppose the employer mentality was, “I’ll need all of this stuff eventually, so you might as well give me all the details now.” I guess I can understand that. I can even understand the candidate perspective – if he or she went through the trouble of going out to the business’s location to complete the application, why not get it all done in one trip? The thing is – paper applications are yesterday’s tool. Online applications are not just the future, it is what is needed now to access candidates.

So now we have online applications. The problem is that most organizations just took the content from the paper application and put it online. Zero thought was placed into the fact that changing the medium dramatically changes how the application will be experienced by candidates and how the hiring process works when online.

Here is what has changed and how you should respond with your own employment application:

What Has Changed

1. Candidate Expectations and the Mobile Age. I can take a picture of a check on my phone and the bank will cash it in less than a minute. I can use my phone to identify a song playing on the radio, buy it, and have it playing on my phone just as quickly. From the same device, I can place and pay for my order at Starbuck’s as I monitor my Uber ride heading to my location. Online doesn’t just mean accessible by the internet anymore. The expectation now is that if it is online, it is also accessible via my mobile device. What do you think candidates expect when applying for a job? Typing long responses, providing detailed information about jobs you’ve had years ago, and providing information that isn’t absolutely necessary just isn’t functional when you are on your mobile device. It needs to be quick, easy, and something I can complete from nearly any place I might be on my phone.

2. The Age of Information. We live in a time that an amazing amount of information is at our finger tips. As a result, we want it about everything and we want it to be easy to consume. When a candidate applies, the candidate has begun to show interest in your company and that is the chance to grab their attention by both ears. The candidate isn’t a captive audience at your location and you don’t have the luxury of a human touch at this point so it is crucial to not only collect information, but to also begin sharing it immediately as well. If you focus only on collecting information, you’ve missed an opportunity.

How You Need to Respond

3. Get What You Need, When You Need It. Why would you ask someone on an application if they can legally work in the US if you are going to verify that before hiring them anyway? Why do you need so much detail about each of my previous employers if you aren’t going to use 90% of it unless you offer me the job? And what exactly are you going to do with my address? Do you plan on mailing me something before you hire me? Limit the information you request to the actual information you use to screen in/out candidates. For example, contact information and availability – that’s important. Previous experience is as well, but it isn’t necessary to collect exact dates of employment, supervisor names and phone numbers, etc. You don’t use that information to screen, you use it to check references and verify accuracy. It can be collected later, if and when you need it. Providing it is difficult for candidates and most candidates have to look it up or find it and the detail means a great deal of typing. Fully consider what you ACTUALLY use to determine if candidates meet your requirements and what discerns a good candidate from a bad one and ONLY request that information.

4. Attract and Repel with Education. What are the things that most candidates don’t know about the job and your company? Do you have strict appearance guidelines? Do you have great benefits? Are the job responsibilities often misunderstood? Think about what information will allow candidates to self-select out of the hiring process. Save them and yourself the time of applying and interviewing if there are basic things that would cause a mismatch. On the other hand, what might draw candidates that will fit to your organization? Share it – a job is more than a set of tasks, there are many elements of your culture you can share to immediately make your company more attractive from the start. And don’t stop at just pulling together a description of these things – use video and other mediums to make it easy to passively consume the information. Don’t limit yourself to words; use imagery, music, and any other medium that can engage and captivate your candidates.

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