Why Make Applicants Jump Through Rings of Fire?

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Jul 28, 2015
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

I attended a recruiter networking luncheon in Dallas about a year or so ago and sat down next to a well-dressed corporate recruiter who was having an animated conversation with the person across the table from him. The recruiter was saying “if a candidate doesn’t want to take 45 minutes to fill out our online application then they’re not interested enough in the job!”

He. Actually. Said. That.

I did not say anything to him, mostly because I was so stunned, but also because I didn’t want to be rude and probably wouldn’t have been able to think of anything polite to say.

Applicants aren’t really required to jump through actual rings of fire to apply for a job, but most online applications are almost as painful. In case you have never had the pleasure, it is quite an experience to fill out online applications that require you to cut dates, company names, locations (including the street address), titles, job descriptions, salaries, reason for leaving, and more from your resume and paste it into little boxes for every job you have held your entire career.  I have even seen applications that ask for the exact day when a job starts and ends and not just month and year.

And let’s not forget about having to create an account for each of those applications too.  Better use a spreadsheet to keep track of all those usernames and passwords if you plan on making applications to very many companies.

What does a company gain by having applicants go through all that? I get that those online applications pretty much force candidates to give recruiters all the basic information needed to decide if someone meets the minimum qualifications for a job and would be worth the time to talk with in more detail. But isn’t it part of a recruiter’s job to read resumes and talk to candidates to find out if they are qualified for a job? You are either going to have to read the resume provided by the candidate or the application they filled out at some point anyway, so why not find a way to make it easier for everyone?

Let’s get rid of all those little boxes! Instead, requiring applicants to fill out a brief questionnaire, no more than five multiple choice questions, with their resume submission, is a good way to strike a balance between making it easy to apply for job seekers and recruiters not having to spend time chasing down applicants who don’t meet minimum qualifications such as needing a sponsor, four-year degree, or whatever it is for the particular company or position. Some ATS systems can even score an application based on a person’s responses to the questionnaire and you don’t even need to open the resume and read it if the score is below the minimum amount you have set.

If you don’t have the ability to set up a questionnaire for applicants to fill out, using an ATS to do keyword searches on applicants is another way to quickly sort through a large volume of resumes. You can use the ATS to search for keywords on just the resumes attached to a particular requisition. After all, if an applicant does not bother to put basic information on their resume that is relevant to the job they are applying for, then I don’t feel bad about rejecting their application. In fact, it seems like a pretty good way to me to eliminate a lot of unqualified people right from the start.

After an applicant has been selected for an onsite interview is a better time to ask them to fill out a detailed job application if an application is required by your company. By that time, the candidate is more invested in the process and will probably not view it as an imposition of their time.

For a lot of professions, it is a candidate-driven market, and not many qualified people apply to jobs to begin with, so why do anything to run off the very few qualified people who do apply? Is that really the company image you want to project to a potential employee?  Better to have the application process a person has with your company be quick and easy rather than annoying and tedious, which risks someone not completing the application.  You don’t want qualified candidates abandoning the application process, which only increases the amount of time it will take to fill the position.

Yes it would make all our lives a lot easier if candidates sent us better resumes. It is frustrating when candidates send me horrible resumes that leave off most of the information I need to have and what they do put on there is vague or so badly formatted I can barely read it. But better screening of applicants with brief questionnaires and ATS key word searches should help narrow down the search. Making it easier to apply will no doubt increase the total number of applicants but hopefully it will also increase the number of qualified applicants. And that is good news for both recruiters and candidates.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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