Online Job Application
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What Are Online Job Applications?
Depending on the sophistication of your prior system for collecting job applications, an online application process replaces what was historically done using email, paper, or in-person conversations with people you already knew. It involves setting up an efficient system for applicants to view job descriptions of open roles and provide the information needed for an initial evaluation without collecting resumes and information via email.
In many cases, the job application system is a part of the company website and is linked directly to the company careers page. The application system is often a more comprehensive HR software platform that can include a full applicant tracking system (ATS), onboarding tools, employee data storage and management, compensation and benefits management tools, and more.
Alternatively, some companies post their jobs on an external site like Indeed.com and are notified of new candidates rather than creating or paying for an application system to use internally. This article is mostly agnostic on the question of which of those options is better and will focus primarily on the pros and cons of using online job applications.
History of Online Job Applications
The first online job boards and application sites appeared in the 1990s, with websites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder coming to prominence first. These sites allowed companies to post open jobs and candidates to post general resumes or directly apply for posted jobs. From there, companies began using ATS internally to collect and manage job applications. The online hiring process became more and more popular in the late 1990s throughout the 2000s, with sites like Indeed.com and LinkedIn providing simple (and often free) ways for companies to post and candidates to find and apply for jobs.
Since then, as the internet, connectivity, and general tech-savvy have expanded, online job application processes have become more ubiquitous. As many as 99% of Fortune 500 companies were using ATS systems in 2019. Smaller companies have transitioned a bit more slowly, with only 73% using ATS. Companies using online processes have a leg up in the search for great talent and often attract more applicants for open positions.
The Benefits of Online Job Applications
Making the switch to an online job application process can make a valuable difference for your organization.
Companies that invest in online job portals spend less time entering information into the system and communicating back and forth with candidates. Depending on the platform, an organization can use helpful features such as an automatic responder when candidates complete their applications or progress through stages of the hiring process. If you have more than a couple of applicants, these kinds of resources can save significant time for your recruiting team and hiring managers.
Greater Candidate Volume
Posting your jobs and allowing people to apply online gets the opportunities in front of far more eyes than traditional methods. In 2015, 79% of job seekers were already using online resources to find their most recent position. This has expanded in the years since. If the role you are looking to fill requires hard-to-find skillsets or backgrounds, making the opportunity more easily accessible and visible online increases the likelihood of finding the right person for the job.
Greater Candidate Diversity
Sometimes the increased candidate volume also increases the diversity of your talent pool, including attracting applicants in different areas who might be willing to relocate or work remotely. Using online processes opens up a world of possibilities in targeting more diverse candidate sources.
Disadvantages of Using Online Job Applications
In today’s hyper-connected world, it would be easy to think there are no legitimate disadvantages to using online application processes. Even though the pros far outweigh the cons, there are several potential problems you should be aware of and prepare for as you move to an online format.
Potential Inadvertent Discrimination
While online job application processes are generally more efficient and effective than paper and email, the digital world is inaccessible to some potential applicants. Implementing a process that only works online may make it difficult for these prospective candidates to find your opportunity and submit an application.
Inaccessibility to some digital equipment, tools, and resources can sometimes have a correlation with race. For example, at least one study in 2020 showed a racial gap in internet accessibility, with African American children and youth consistently having less access to the internet. With this in mind, it could be helpful to perform analyses on the candidate pool you receive through online means. Does it reflect the demographics of the region where you are recruiting? If not, you may want to consider additional recruiting avenues to ensure you are reaching everyone who may be interested and qualified.
In spite of these potential drawbacks, in today’s marketplace, an online application process opens up opportunities to many more people than it excludes. Without an online process, small businesses often rely on a very small pool of candidates who are very similar to the founders or existing employees. This makes the gains in diversity greater than the losses with online applications.
Potential Additional Expense
Depending on how you manage and publish your online job applications, you may face an additional expense. This will vary depending on the robustness of the HR or job tracking solution you select.
If the additional cost is a significant issue or an absolute deal-breaker, start by trying out free options that exist, such as Indeed and LinkedIn. After giving them a trial run to see how well your online job postings operate, consider whether something more comprehensive might be in order.
Easy for Candidates to Complete or Abandon Application
While the increased candidate volume can be very helpful in many cases, there is a limit to its value. Since the early days of job boards, many companies and recruiters have ended up frustrated due to the large number of completely unqualified candidates. Some professionals believe that when applicants went through paper or email which required more effort, the percentage of qualified candidates was higher even though total applicant volume was lower.
On the flip side, but resulting in similar problems, if your online application process takes more than a few minutes to complete, more qualified candidates may abandon the application entirely. If your candidate volume increases, but you lose some of the best candidates due to an application that is longer and more complex than just sending a resume via email, your proportion of qualified candidates will decrease.
Tips for Creating an Online Job Application
Since the method for creating and posting an online job description and opening it up for applications will depend on the medium you use, there is no one-size-fits-all process for how to go about it. Setting things up on Indeed or LinkedIn will be a different process than if you have purchased a more robust software tool to use internally. So for purposes of this article, we’ll provide some general tips to keep in mind as you get ready to kick off the process, rather than a comprehensive, step-by-step overview.
Tip 1: Write a Great Job Description
Regardless of the method you use, the first step is writing a job description that will effectively attract applicants with the skills and experience you are looking for. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting this right or you will have very few applicants and the application process itself may become a moot point. Take a look at this Eddy article on writing effective, compliant job descriptions to kickstart this.
Tip 2: Make It as Short and Simple as Possible
The longer and more complex an application feels, the less likely an applicant will finish it. Historically, many HR professionals and hiring managers thought that making the application a long process was a strategic move to weed out the least qualified, unmotivated candidates. However, according to SHRM, top candidates tend to have a lower tolerance for jumping through hoops because they often have multiple options and place a high value on their time.
Similarly, less-complex processes tend to encourage applicants to finish. For example, LinkedIn feeds have many posts about how frustrating it is for job hunters to be asked to upload their resume and then have to manually input the information that is already on their resume. There may be rational reasons for this, such as the use of applicant tracking software that more accurately scans and evaluates manually-typed information than an uploaded resume. However, since many applicants aren’t aware of this, it feels so pointless to them that you may lose the chance to interact with great talent because they are not interested in navigating through the redundancy.
With this in mind, we’ll provide a couple of practical pointers to consider when building any application process. First, you can often reduce the length of an application by narrowing it down to only those questions that are relevant for the initial screening. Many companies include questions about references or information that will be helpful when onboarding a new employee, rather than collecting more information later from candidates progressing through the final stages.
However, this practice unnecessarily lengthens the process for many candidates who won’t get past the initial screening. This can lead to negative word-of-mouth advertising from rejected candidates about how painful it was to spend an hour applying only to get a quick rejection. This could be a turn-off for great prospects who aren’t interested in completing the long application.
Tip 3: Remember and Emphasize Mobile Phone Use
Whatever platform you decide to use for your online application process, a significant proportion of applicants will find and begin the application using their cell phones. If your site is optimized only for desktop computer use, you are likely to have fewer applications than if you consider the mobile experience. Completing an application over a cell phone tends to make the process feel even longer and more complex than it is already — another argument for making the entire process short and simple.
Top Online Job Application Tools for HR
Free: Indeed and LinkedIn
You may have already used or become familiar with both of these tools. These two tools are almost always ranked the best for free or low-cost job posting and finding, and are the most used resources for these purposes today. Indeed.com is likely the most popular, but with LinkedIn’s professional social media and direct connection capabilities, it has been increasing in popularity for years. If your company does not have a budget designated for hiring tools, we recommend starting with these two sites and working up from there as needed. If you are a very small company, these may be sufficient for you.
However, if you frequently have multiple roles open at your company, investing in a paid option could benefit you. Even if you start your application process with Indeed and LinkedIn, you can pay to have your positions show up first for job searches. To get features to manage multiple roles and candidates on a consistent basis, you will likely want to transition to your own paid system.
We will use our own tool as the example of an online application process that comes as part of a larger HR system. But even if you don’t go with our platform, most HR software systems that include an online application process, careers page, and/or ATS will perform at least some similar functions. For ideas on other platforms, take a look at our HR software, ATS, and careers page articles.
Eddy’s online application system takes much of the work out of posting job opportunities. For example, once you input the job details, you can automatically post the job to sites like Indeed and Glassdoor. You can then review applications from multiple sites all in one platform: Eddy. We also provide an efficient applicant experience guaranteed to reduce the number of candidates you might lose along the way. To read about our other features, check out the link above.
Build Your Own
While this is more of a niche option, it’s possible to create your own internal system. There are relatively simple ways to set up an online application form using your existing web hosting provider. The process is outlined here. This can be a good option if you don’t think existing free sites will quite do the trick or you want a more personalized page at a relatively low cost.
If your company has more complex internal coding skills and is prepared to invest in building your own platform for posting and collecting job applications, that is also an option (though at least one source does not recommend it).
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Tyler is an HR professional-turned-career advisor. After earning a master’s in HR and an MBA, he completed several development rotations while working for a Fortune 100 financial services and insurance company. After gaining experience in HR project management, data and analytics, and as an HR business partner, he decided the right next move was a transition into higher ed and career services. He now provides career support for students in a top-ranked supply chain management program at a large Tier 1 university, but maintains a love for the field of HR and an interest in seeing HR professionals succeed and push the envelope!
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