Job Application Evolution

Applying for jobs has changed a lot in a relatively short period of time. Not so long ago everyone went to the print shop and printed up their hard copy resume in bulk with no customization for a specific job. That was what the cover letter was used for. And a company posted their openings in trade journals and newspapers hoping to get a a reasonable qualified applicants in a a few weeks or months.

Then there was the first wave of online applications – basically email accounts where you’d send your resume as an attachment. No cover letter needed – or wanted at some firms. This required job seekers to become creative and start updating their resume for each position in order to stand out from the crowd. Those openings were posted for the first time online or on the comany’s web site and suddenly getting applicants wasn’t a problem but sorting through and keeping track of the copious applications became a problem.

Then came the wave of automated software that automatically parsed resumes looking for keywords along with application software to manage those applications allowing corporate recruiters to keep track of the thousands of resumes for each opening. I recently spoke to someone who posted a position for a CFO and had 75 applications on the first day, 70 of whom were all qualified for the position.

Even companies that should have the resources and talent to have a sophisticated process seem to miss the simplest steps. When I applied for a position at one Fortune 100 company I had to fill out the same type of application that your corner convenience store might use. You know what I’m talking about – what high school did you go to, did you graduate high school, etc. It was very jarring considering I had already had 3 interviews with company and my application was already in their online database.

The different approaches companies use with their application process may  reveal more than they intend. Some companies choose to be very company centric in their applications. Everything is designed for the benefit of the company with little thought or concern for the applicants. Some sites have you build your entire resume – bit by bit, text box by text box. With some applications taking 90 minutes or longer and that isn’t including the time it takes to write the custom cover letter.

While other sites have great backends that take your uploaded resume quickly parse and display requiring minimal changes from you the applicant and only a few minutes of time. The best companies then ask additional job specific screening questions – taking advantage of the time saving to allow you the applicant to use your answers to those questions to shine. One company has great software – check out The application process was so simple – companies that use this software show they are really thinking about how to recruit the best talent even in a down economy.

Another thing that amazes me is the tiny text boxes allotted to each application. You have to answer questions and cut/paste/edit your cover letter and resume in a text box with only five visible lines about 25 characters wide. There doesn’t appear to be a reason for such a small text box – it just appears to the applicant that that no one thought through the interface very much. It’s like trying to write on one of the first generation word processor/typewriters. It makes one wonder what other things haven’t been thought about. Benefits? Development? Business Strategy?

Obviously right now as far as applicants are concerned companies have an embarrasment of riches and are flooded with applications and times are good for coporate recruiters, but all things move in cycles and it won’t be long before getting talented people will once again be a challenge that the best companies will win. When that day comes you have to ask – “is our company’s job application process as easy for the applicant as it can be?’ and “Will our site help us get the most talented people?” If answer isn’t yes to those two questions, what are you going to do about it? And shouldn’t you be working on it right now, before you need it? -t

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