The job application process is about one thing: facilitating a job application from a candidate who intends to apply for that job and your ATS can improve that experience.

The candidate expresses their intention to apply for the job opening when they click the apply button. Whatever happened before a candidate clicks apply—such as the job searches, company research, passive interactions and numerous impressions that built the intent to apply—is largely the result of valuable and precious work done by talent acquisition, employer brand, recruitment marketing, employee referrals, job advertising, etc. 

It is not just sheer luck that there was a candidate waiting and wanting to click apply. You helped drive that candidate to your job application.

The problem with the application process right now is that 90 percent of the people you spent time and money cultivating intent in leave because the application process treats them like schmucks.

HR spends a lot of time “warming up” candidates to the prospect of working for their company. Repeated messages pulse out in all the right places: “We have a great culture, do interesting work, have inspiring values, early Fridays, etc.” And then the harsh reality of the apply flow throws a bucket of ice water on them.

Why is it acceptable that one piece of technology whose sole purpose is to take job applications online is permitted to undercut the majority of the valuable work done by recruiters, thus, preventing them from hiring many of the people they built up intent to apply in? 


Your ATS is a Transactional System

The sole purpose of an ATS is to receive and advance a candidate’s job application. It is one of a chain of many transactions or interactions that candidates will have with your company. Some are human-to-human interactions, others are human-to-machine-to-human, and some are human-to-machine — such as the apply moment. 

What is a transaction? Simply, it’s an exchange. We transact with information systems all the time in our lives. When it works well, the technology is completely transparent and the transaction provides a positive, efficient experience. When the technology gets in the way of people’s goals and anticipated outcomes, it creates a depth of friction that frustrates people, subverts their intentions and damages brands.

The quality of experience of this transaction the job application depends on attention to detail, what questions are asked, how long it takes, are you being asked to repeat yourself by re-entering the same data over and over? Is the system you are interacting with easy to use or does it encourage you to make mistakes, etc.? 

When the ATS experience makes candidates feel like you don’t respect them or their time, all the effort put into building intent and driving qualified candidates is put in jeopardy. Is their intent strong enough to propel candidates to “run the gauntlet” of a bad candidate experience and get to the finish line? Maybe yes. But why take the chance? The likely scenario is that almost all will disengage. 

The level of effort required to submit a job application should never be considered a screening mechanism to gauge candidate commitment or fit. That is the job of your employer brand, recruiting campaigns, talent assessments, and your recruiters and hiring managers. 

What Drives the Quality of the Application Experience?

Some of the factors influencing how candidates experience the transaction of applying for a job are impacted by your internal process and policy (required questions), while some are controlled by the ATS. Many of them, however, fall outside of either.

If you focus on just one of these levers, your candidate experience is going to fall short. Right now, we see leading companies are using every lever at their disposal to attract and hire the people they need to thrive

Here’s what we’ve learned from our customers: 

    • There is no magic number for how long or how many questions is appropriate. It depends on your organization, your hiring goals, your roles and other factors. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work.
    • Rather than fixating on length, focus on quality. We frequently find adding the right steps and information to an application process increases candidate conversion. Things like rich media content and videos from hiring managers, a welcome page that lets candidates know what to expect, how long the application will take and what information they will need on-hand to complete it. 
    • In many cases, though, there are questions that are no longer needed or not used by recruiters at this stage of the process, which should be cut.

We also leverage many consumer UX innovations that people use and love daily on their favorite e-commerce sites. In some cases, simple things like address autocomplete, responsive HTML, live form validation, touch-friendly controls, WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility, etc.

At the foundation of the experience are user-centered design principles, analytics and A-B testing that enables organizations to identify and remove the unnecessary friction that is causing qualified (and needed) candidates to leave from the apply flow.

We work with recruitment marketers to ensure that all the handoffs between the different candidate-facing systems are seamless, simple to use and non-repetitive.

Fixing the Apply Flow Will Fix Everything That is Wrong with the Candidate Experience

Sorry to disappoint, but no, it won’t. One fix won’t resolve systemic problems with candidate experience. We will never say that it does, either. 

Fixing the apply flow will have a lot of positive effects, though.

    • You’ll hire qualified people for your hardest-to-fill roles faster.
    • You’ll have to spend less money advertising and promoting your open roles.
    • You’ll get more applications from the people who want to apply using their phone, which today, is virtually everyone.
    • The candidate experience provided by your ATS will align with your employer brand and culture.
    • You’ll have happier candidates that think more highly of your company, whether they get the job or not.

Karl Wierzbicki

Karl Wierzbicki brings 20 years of technology and marketing experience to his role as Director of Marketing for InFlight, where he is responsible for marketing strategy and execution. Karl has launched dozens of new consumer and B2B products and is passionate about creating 'a-ha moments' for customers. Prior to joining InFlight, Karl led the Research and Insights team at BlackBerry, where he managed a portfolio of global projects to support marketing and product development teams.