Job Seeker: Why are you making me copy and paste exactly what is on my resume into your application form? Employer: We hate you.
Every person who has applied for a job online has probably experienced this baffling situation. What is the point of copying and pasting your work history into designated fields and attaching your resume?
The simple answer is that many employers sort and organize the information provided in their system or database for easier access. They will also occasionally rely on this as a qualifier, a way to parse out candidates who are unwilling to follow instructions. This also comes as asking the candidate to include a cover letter, or address their application to a specific person, or submit a brief paragraph of why you want to work at X employer, etc. However, the more complicated the application process becomes, the more likely employers will miss out on top talent.
Case in point, I was working with a client who would be considered a TOP PROSPECT (even before my help). She applied for five key roles as part of her job search. All five of them eventually responded.
However, the first one she applied to had a lengthy questionnaire that took over an hour to do. In fact, it was so excessive she paid me to help her with it. Although she was invited to a screener interview, she learned that the hiring process consisted of 5 additional interviews, one of which was a presentation. After receiving opportunities to interview elsewhere, my client took herself out of contention because of the difficulty of their hiring process.
The employer she accepted an offer from requested her resume and her LinkedIn profile, no application form or questionnaire. They then scheduled three interviews, which is standard for her professional level, and made an offer shortly thereafter.
An employer lost out on a talented candidate because their hiring process was too demanding.
A study by the Harvard Business School Found that “a majority of hidden workers, 84%, found the application phase difficult; both higher-skills and middleskills workers shared that complaint.” An additional source, the Candidate Experience Study, surveyed 1,200 respondents, of which around 60% claimed to have had a terrible candidate experience.
If poor hiring practices result in losing out on qualified applicants, why do employers still engage in them?
1. Weeding out Candidates: The explanation that most job seekers are familiar with is employers rely on complicated application processes to remove candidates from the process who are unwilling to follow instructions or who are mass applying roles.
The issue with this is there are easier ways to do this instead of a complicated, drawn-out, and tedious application process. I have mentioned it earlier, but wouldn’t you be happier if the qualifier instructed you to apply on a company’s website or write a few sentences about yourself instead of filling out an hour-long application form?
I think qualifying candidates can be an important element in the recruitment process, but it doesn’t warrant the tedious copying and pasting that many employers expect.
2. It Saves the Employer Time: HR and recruiting professionals, like many others, want to be as time-effective as possible. This often manifests in asking the candidate questions before the interview stage to parse out under or unqualified applicants or save time during the interview stage.
The issue with this is that while the employer may save a bit of time asking generic or easy-to-answer application questions, the long-winded process has a higher likelihood of deterring potential prospects. In addition, many applicants who have filled out dozens of these forms begin to, and understandably so, half-ass the answers. As after a series of disappointments at the hands of a tedious application process, it becomes harder and harder to commit to answering the questions with enthusiasm or vigor.
3. The Unicorn: Sometimes employers really want that one in a million candidate. They create a challenging, intensive, and tedious application process to match the excessive and unrealistic job posting they have been floating around.
In this case, unless you are that unicorn, it will be challenging to live up to the extreme expectations of the employer, and it may be better to move on. I will add, most job postings are a wish list, not a set-in-stone guideline, as I mention in my book and this blog post.
4. Dated Processes: When I got my first website designed, I hired a mediocre designer who did an okay job. But as time went by, I needed more changes done, so I hired a better designer. The problem was that the better designer just piled on to the pre-existing design, making the backend of my website a muddled mess, subsequently causing me to abandon ship and start from scratch.
This happens to many organizations. Instead of updating their hiring processes effectively, they simply add to it, creating a Frankenstein with redundant and tedious components that overlap. Whether it is a new ATS, multiple ATSs or CRMs, combined application forms, new tools, different ideas from HR, the result is a challenging applicant process.
This occurs for various reasons, but it could be the business is expanding, there is a new CHRO, HRBP, a merger/acquisition, etc. The problem is that it is better to reevaluate and execute in a manner that reflects the organization's goal than to rely on a series of dated processes.
PS: My current website is awesome. Check out my designer here!
5. Indecision and Confusion: HR can be a one-person generalist or an entire team. Regardless, not knowing what the organization wants when initiating a recruitment cycle can cause some serious issues when creating a candidate pool.
Without having a clear understanding of the employee they want to hire, the resulting job posting, application process, and interviewing cycle can be a complete disaster.
This often manifests in a confusing application process with conflicting or excessive expectations, job postings that seem like they represent a variety of positions instead of just one, and an interview process that loosely reflects the role the applicant applied for.
This is not as uncommon as you would believe, and often the reason behind the complicated application process is simply that the employer doesn’t know what they want.
What Can You do?
Applicants still have to withstand or undergo this grueling application process day in and day out. The problem with being a job seeker that only relies on online applications is that you’re entirely at the hands of the employer and their process, however awful it is. The only true way to avoid it is to leverage your network, get referrals, and surpass the conventional application process.
Remember to optimize your LinkedIn, be active on it, and reach out to professionals. It can save you a lot of headaches in the future. If you want help with your LinkedIn, check out my services.