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The UX of Job Applications: Less Is More

5 minute read
Debbie Levitt avatar
The online job application is your company’s first chance to impress — or scare away — a potential future employee.

Online job application. Just seeing those three words can call up recollections of awful application experiences. Convoluted forms that go on for pages clearly demonstrate no care was used in the design. But you persevere and submit your application — only to experience the void of not hearing from anybody for days, weeks or ever.

A 2017 Harris Poll found that among thousands of employers surveyed, 68 percent reported having open positions for which they were having trouble finding qualified candidates.

Some companies believe their jobs aren’t appealing enough. They might raise the salary a bit or add some perks. Some might also assume there just aren’t enough qualified people available. But what if qualified, available candidates are visiting your job website and viewing the application and just not completing the form? If people are starting the application process but abandoning it part-way through, chances are the problem wasn’t the salary or the number of vacation days offered.

First Impressions Matter

Someone is applying for your job. This might be their first experience with your company. They might not be a customer. They might not have even heard of you. The job popped up in a search, on LinkedIn, in a tweet, or maybe a friend recommended it. Now they are applying. What will they think of your company when they see the job application?

That job application is your company’s first chance to show a future employee what they can expect.

The key mistake companies make with job applications is a “more is better” approach. They require seemingly-endless form fields of personal information, employment history, educational achievements and other details. Those are frustrating to fill out on a good day, but if the candidate has uploaded a resume or connected their LinkedIn account, having to continue to fill out the same information from your resume becomes tedious.

Candidates should not have to spend time proofing how your automated system scanned their CV or pulled in LinkedIn data, forcing them to re-enter their entire life story, one small field at a time. Long forms, and making the candidate repeat what should have been automated for them, can affect how the candidate views your company.

Break the “more is better” spell by having a job application that acts more as a screening tool. Think speed dating. You probably only need a minimal amount of information about a candidate to determine whether or not you’d like to know more about them. For example, a job application acting as a screener could ask:

  • Name and contact information. You don’t need a candidate’s full address, social security number or anything personal.
  • Upload a resume, connect via LinkedIn or provide your LinkedIn URL.
  • Select no more than five short-answer or multiple-choice questions you can ask that will screen this person in or out. These might include industry experience, educational degrees achieved, or certifications and training. Keep these short and, where possible, easily clickable. Use checkboxes, radio buttons, droplists and more modern equivalents like segmented controllers to let people quickly provide information, especially from smartphones.
  • Do not ask for essay questions in the screening process. You can always ask for those if the candidate moves to the next step. Perhaps you ask the candidate for a personal statement or cover letter about why the job interests them, but make this optional since not everybody can tap out an essay on their smartphone on the bus ride to their current job.

Related Article: HR Managers: Boost Hiring Processes With These Digital Marketing Tips

'They’ll Fill it Out if They Want to Work Here'

A common but arrogant belief many HR departments have is if the candidate really wants to work there, they’ll fill out the application. This is untrue and lacks empathy. Imagine you are the job candidate. You are out of work or you are stuck at a job you need to leave. You might feel sad, angry, hopeless or desperate. You need that next job. You are already motivated.

Learning Opportunities

Without great UX specialists in your process, it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about human behavior. Stay away from beliefs that motivated or possibly desperate people will suffer through a poor user experience to apply for your open job.

Fill Out Your Own Application Form

Ira Wolfe, an author and speaker on workforce trends, cites having a simpler application among his five best practices to improve a company’s recruitment process. Employment candidates abandon forms that take too long, can’t be done from their device, or ask for documents the candidate can’t upload from their phones. Wolfe points out that applications should be vehicles, not obstacles, and companies need to take the time to pinpoint where in their application process people tend to abandon ship.

A great way to imagine the candidate experience is to stop imagining. Put on a heavy backpack, go ride a city bus or train during rush hour when it’s packed with commuters, and try to fill out your own organization’s job form. Where do you feel like giving up? This will put you in your candidates shoes and help you see if your job form is driving them away.

Related Article: How Bots Are Streamlining the HR Recruitment Process

The Candidate Is Interviewing You

Job applications and interviews are two-way streets. Employers no longer hold all the cards. Most job seekers have options. This leveling of the playing field has allowed candidates to develop job application standards and expectations they didn't always have.

Your UX professionals must be brought in to improve the candidate experience and your image, because you are also being interviewed, reviewed and considered.

About the author

Debbie Levitt

Debbie Levitt, CEO of Delta CX, has been a CX and UX strategist, designer, and trainer since the 1990s. As a “serial contractor” who lived in the Bay Area for most of the 2010's, Debbie has influenced interfaces at Sony, Wells Fargo, Constant Contact,, Oracle, and a variety of Silicon Valley startups. Her new book, "Delta CX," burns down what's hurting the UX industry and builds up what we must do instead to prioritize quality in every area.

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