Fix the Top 5 Online Job Search Frustrations for Applicants

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 11.00.21 AMBrilliant people and companies simplify; others complicate. The evidence of this principle is all around us.  Ebay simplified the garage sale; Google distills the enormity of the Internet in seconds; and Apple has engineered the “smart” in phones so that all of its customers don’t have to be.

Conversations with employees, colleagues, and friends have often centered on ways to simplify. Want to lose weight? Burn more calories than you consume. Interested in accumulating wealth? Save more than you spend. Want to have meaningful work? Know your strengths and passions and find a job that personifies them. When approached with a challenge, train your brain to think “what is the simplest way to solve this?” This question will predominately lead to an attainable strategy. We love simple and tend to avoid people, processes, and technology that complicate.

The winning teams always execute the fundamentals better. Are you and your company doing the fundamentals better than the competition?

Recently, I used Google Consumer to gather data regarding the frustrations of job seekers. The results suggest that while companies are entrenched in solving social media and new talent aggregation techniques, they are ignoring the basics. Neglecting candidates is like a surgeon failing to scrub before surgery. Sooner or later someone will suffer. Until your company is mastering the basics, consider not taking on complicated sourcing or talent acquisition strategies. If you build an amazing social media recruitment campaign and have no followers, you will fail.

A straightforward question was asked, “What is your single biggest frustration with an online job search”? The responders’ No. 1 frustration was a lack of response after submitting an application. Most applicant tracking systems afford the ability to do an auto response to the applicant, and the letters are usually filled with carefully crafted words to say, “We received your document, are reviewing it, and will get back to you if you align with our needs.” This is an excellent time to include paths to your company page on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to expand exposure and to improve your odds of getting referrals — the king of quality hires. 

When companies talk about building talent pipelines, the unmistakable element required is ongoing and two-way communication. There is a significant opportunity to work on your employment brand and reputation even during the “rejection” process. Once a job is filled, send a second letter to the applicant base to let them know the position has been filled. This letter should repeat the invitation to interact with your company’s branding efforts on social media platforms.

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Recruiting has a tough statistical wall in front of it, as the odds for an applicant to be successful are alarmingly low. When we do the math, a recruitment campaign that produces 175 applications represents the fact that only .006 (1 divided by 175) of the respondents will be excited about your decision. Branding is about consumer perception. By ignoring this article you risk branding your organization as one where communication only flows one way, you don’t care about anyone other than yourself, and the time the applicant spent applying has no relevance for you. Conversely, if you are interested in real solutions then follow the data; fix the fundamentals that lead to frustration for job seekers.

The chart above represents 1,502 responses attained through a nationwide survey on Google Consumer.

Some simple solutions to the top 5 applicant frustrations:

  1. Lack of response to application: To revive a quote from a famous apparel company — “Just Do It!”  Program your auto-response functions in your ATS to acknowledge the applicant. Thank them for taking the time to apply and encourage them to join your social media campaigns for additional information and postings of open opportunities. Close the loop once the position has been filled or canceled.  Applicants overwhelmingly just want to know what the disposition of their application is.
  2. No compensation data: This one has numerous options and should be handled on a position-by-position basis. Regardless of whether you choose to post base compensation data, discuss salary early in the interview process or use expected salary as part of your down-selection process. Passive candidates expect salary data as part of the value proposition. I hear many stories of dissatisfaction from candidates who invest time in multiple interviews before the hiring company discusses compensation.
  3. Relevancy of search results: Work directly with your recruitment advertisement provider and make sure that ads are directed to the correct audience. Include minimum qualifications at the beginning of the advertisement as applicants increasingly use smart devices that require scrolling. If recruiters spend six seconds scanning resumes, applicants spend similar amounts of time reviewing your post. Make sure that your ad is like a resume, and pay particular attention to vital real estate. View your ads on smart devices and mobile apps to see how recruitment providers present your advertisement. Top load your descriptions!
  4. Time required to apply: Pay particular attention to abandonment rates within your ATS system. An increase or higher-than-average abandonment indicate applicants’ frustration with the process and depth of the application. Less information may yield higher application rates. Eliminate anything applicants may hold as confidential. Carefully consider and review mandatory fields annually. State average application time to set realistic expectations and utilize progress functionality within the ATS.  Apply LEAN thinking and eliminate waste which is represented by over collecting information not necessary for the first stages of the hiring process.
  5. Difficulty on mobile device: The low rate here is encouraging and it should be monitored as things change quickly. Increase your response rate by “pushing” career opportunities both to the applicant individually and through your social media presence. Include simple phrases encouraging people to share, refer, and forward the opportunity.

As you consider changes, upgrades, and improvements in the applicant experience (and to how it relates to your overall branding campaign), be brilliant and make the process as simple as possible. Your attention to the fundamentals has the power to increase applicant satisfaction and contribute to your reputation as an employer of choice. Many applicant frustrations can easily be addressed and corrected. Doing so will help you focus on the objectives, not the obstacles, in the talent acquisition lifecycle.

Rick Moore has spent 20 plus years in the staffing and recruitment industry and evangelized Six Sigma into a top 15 staffing organization. He currently is co-founder of R-Forte executive search.


0 Comments on “Fix the Top 5 Online Job Search Frustrations for Applicants

  1. Rick – this is a well thought out and timely article. What I struggle with here is the LEAN part. While I’m all in favor of applicants having to spend less that say, 5-10 minutes on an application (im spitballing here) I’m not sure how we do that?

    You say “eliminate waste which is represented by over collecting information not necessary for the first stages of the hiring process.” But with EEO and OFCCP regs that makes it harder to eliminate pieces of data, does it not? Maybe i’m missing something.

    RE: Compensation – in no way, ever will I be in favor of advertising comp ranges. Leave that to the government. But, I think that every recruiter should be trained to have a comp conversation in the first call. It builds trust, and allows for not wasting the candidate’s or company’s time. Just a best practice.

    Thanks again for posting!

  2. A wonderful article, thank you! I agree with all five. I have 28 healthcare job boards that I work hard at items 1-4 continually. I also still recruit on a contingency basis targeting nurse managers, directors and CNO’s.

    The “hidden” compensation is a big one and I think it is a carry over from the dark ages. Any company of size actively posts a salary range internally in the interest of transparency.

    One “title” I work with for a nurse director has a range that I have seen from about $65k to $250k and many times the job posting looks for similar education and years experience. People looking at the postings want to know more before they spend their time applying.
    Most working people also want to protect themselves from being “found looking” by their current employer.

    Your comment: “Brilliant people and companies simplify; others complicate.” works for me. A “job description” should never be a “job posting”! One is for “legal” one is for “marketing”.

  3. Thanks, Rick. In an ideal world, all applicants receive a polite, professional, (and possibly even pleasant) application experience. In the real world, nobody gets rewarded for providing that, or punished for not doing so- and the vast majority of candidates don’t receive anything like what I’ve described. The overwhelming majority of companies aren’t even willing to invest in a $2.00/hr Virtual Candidate Care Rep to help with some of these things. IMHO,branding mainly matters if you’re trying to hire people better than your
    CDS (Corporate Desirability Score, you can reasonably expect.

    @Peter: 5-10 min is too long- I’ve read a survey (it was by a private company) that said you really get applicant fall off after 2 min or so. How do you keep it that short? Have them upload their resume and ask a handful of in/out questions. As far as advertising/not advertising comp ranges: IMSM, I’ve heard Whole Foods posts everybody’s compensation internally, and it seems to be working out quite well.

    @ Stephen: “One is for “legal” one is for “marketing”.”
    Somebody on ERE (which it had been me, but it wasn’t) came up with the idea of having Marketing “spice up” job postings after Recruiting has included the basics, since “spicing up” content is what Marketing does…


  4. Well done Rick!

    No question the lack of communication with Applicants is a conundrum – particularly considering companies like Yahoo! with CEO Marissa Mayer reporting 12K resumes received a week!

    Obviously, as Rick mentions, this is a huge marketing oppty if the company chooses to interact with these thousands more than merely sending a “we got your app” or a “Dear John” email once the job is filled…

    Probably the best line of Rick’s post is, “the unmistakable element required is ongoing and two-way communication.” For most, these are missed opportunities that an enterprising TA staff could use to turn around for their company’s benefit!

  5. I kept #4 in mind when selecting an ATS last year. My goal was 4 min at most to apply — the grief I heard about this from potential ATS partners was deafening. So many wanted me to get a full application, not just the essential data (name, email, phone #, and resume), but did not seem to understand that the longer the application process, the higher the drop-off rate, particularly for people w/hard-to-find skill sets.

  6. Good Article. I am a Split fee Recruiter.

    All candidates want Compensation details. At least a Range.
    Last week I tried to find a Fluent Spanish, IT Director with Apparel Industry experience. Client budget was $175k. But there are candidates getting $300k+. So without providing a compensation range there is no way we can make a candidate send across his resume just because the Job Title = IT Director

  7. @ David: Good article.
    “Sooner or later the economy will turn around, and it will be a job seeker’s market, not an employer’s market.”
    We’re waiting, David….


  8. Rick:

    Congrats on your article.

    I recently helped a friend apply for positions and the application process, in most cases, was daunting. One app took an hour. Ugh! A fulltime job trying to find a job.

    I recently applied for a job that interested me and got a response in less than 24 hours. It was a rejection. The gist of it was – “After looking at your qualifications – you’re not it.” I was okay with it. I was impressed that they gave me a determination that quickly. I much rather get a timely rejection than falling into the “unknown” abyss and not hearing. I think most applicants do.

    Sue Danbom

  9. I appreciated this article which reinforces my thinking about job boards. These boards could be more effective if there was a range of salaries to clarify what the recruiting manager is looking for and a way to get feedback. The frustration is to receive a form letter about not being qualified if you hold the necessary qualifications and credentials. While there must be a better way to communicate the message to a qualified person, what would really help the job seeking population is to have a way to request feedback from the recruiting manager, so a job seeker can obtain e.g., a new skill so that next time, they get the job they want.

  10. @Keith – I see your point. While I think “hey If I want that specific job, I’m willing to put in 5-10 mins”, I also see the value in a short process that captures the “fly by” seeker. I’d be interested to hear of examples of short application processes that you’ve seen work.

    Additionally, regarding posting salaries, sure, at retail places like whole foods, how much variance is there likely in ranges there. But when we’ve got a range for say an engineer role that can fluctuate between 75 and 125k. It’s the principle of capitalism. Why would I pay more for something than I have to? I think that’s a fair and valid argument.

  11. Hello,

    [Disclaimer]: I’m currently building a recruitment software which should be released soon. I don’t want to spam the comments of this blog so I won’t give the URL of my site (but feel free to email me if you’d like to know more).

    When I started looking at what the established players in the ATS industry are doing, I was puzzled when I noticed that most of them are making the life of the recruiter easier but they don’t really care of the applicant’s experience. When I was looking for a job, my main issue with ATS was the lack of replies and transparency. So I decided to do something to help candidates and recruiters to communicate better.

    With my software, recruiters will choose if they want to automatically update the candidates on the progress of their applications. They will be able to ask questions and give feedback to the candidates. The applicants will then receive a notification informing them that they need to log in to answer the question. It will be as easy as posting on any social network.


  12. @ Peter: Beyond the anecdotal evidence (the one company who said they’d found a big drop off after 120 s of application time) *I don’t have evidence either way. I do know that as a candidate, the shorter the application process is the better. You mention that 5-10 min would be OK for you to fill out an application- that’s not to bad. However, there is no relationship between the likelihood of getting a desired position at a company and any given-length application process, it’s better as a job seeker for me to maximize the number of applications I can do for the positions I’m interested in, since the probability of any given application leading to a job is small. On the other side of things, if you are looking for candidates and you have no information that any given candidate will be interested in your position, there needs to be a tradeoff between the number of candidates approached and how much time is devoted to any given candidate. That’s why I get frustrated with entitled and spoiled potential candidates who expect us to do an lengthy and thorough preparation to make sure that what we offer is exactly what they’re looking for and we make them feel like kings in queens up front. It would be nice to be able to do that, but if I have a lot of reqs to fill NOW, I can’t be spending hours carefully researching a given potential candidate, with no guarantee that they’ll be any more interested than one I spend a few minutes investigating.

    As far as posting salaries:
    Posting salaries could be a good way toward eliminating the gender cap in compensation
    (, but since having that salary information is powerful, most managers would be unwilling to release it.

    @Eric; show me those really recruiter-friendly ATSs.
    I’d be interested in seeing an ATS that keeps candidates informed without having a recruiter do it….



    *Does anybody? have a link to a formal study of this? If not, I’ll look and get back to you….

  13. UPDATE: While trying to look for research about application length and completion rate, I found a study (for all you assessment wonks) that says there isn’t much of an increase in the rate of incompletion for a longer as opposed to a shorter assessment test: (
    I wouldn’t have expected that. Who knew?

    This person doesn’t answer my question, but elaborates well on what we’ve been discussing: (

    I may be researching it improperly, but I can’t seem to find formal studies that address this. Thoughts, Folks?


  14. @Keith – I really enjoyed your comments. It does beg the question of a tiered recruitment funnels where we collect a lighter blush of information from candidates early on and more later as we screen to qualified and interested candidates. The challenge is making that initial pass of information speak meaningfully to the skills, attitude and attributes a successful candidate will have.

    I realize that is a pretty simple stance that does not take into account the complexity of employment law, but it still seems to make to sense to me.

    Thanks for sharing all of the research you found!

  15. @ Keith – First, thanks for the dialogue. It’s nice to be on these boards and have an intelligent discussion without it turning into a twitter spat. 🙂

    You make an interesting point there. The amount of time spent researching a candidate and the Kings/Queens mentality. Sadly, I feel that for some vectors of the employment market, we’re likely stuck there for a little while longer.

    RE: salary, I think that info is powerful 100% agreed. But sadly, and i mean SADLY, we live in an over litigious society, that people will look for any reason to sue. So not having the range information widely available helps to combat this a little bit. I’m not sure there is a perfect solution, but I don’t think that having it out there for all to see is the immediate answer. Maybe there is a happy medium.

    @Eric – I too would be interested to see what you’ve got. My first question would also be did you develop it with a Recruiter Board of Advisors. I swear that I think that is the missing link with most ATS’. They don’t rely on the subject matter experts (candidates and recruiters) who will use them most. But, without assumption here, I’d like to see where you are headed.


  16. Rick this is a great article, you’ve literally outlined the key steps for successful modern day recruitment. Simple is essential, and as you’ve shown, an underestimated part of our current application processes.

    After reading through everyones comments I thought it would be worth adding a tip on reducing application time. I work in simplifying recruitment where one of the main objectives is shortening online application times.

    Allowing candidates to apple to your online job ad with their LinkedIn or Xing profiles takes seconds, and can have your whole application process shortened to a few minutes with additional documents i.e. the cover letter.

    Since the rest has already been covered in this spot on article (and the comments that have followed) I can only stress the importance of stripping the application questionnaire down to the absolute bare essentials.

    A worthy candidate may be willing to spend 5-10 minutes an application, but when they’ve already spent hours trawling through saturated job boards a simple application will make that crucial difference between you and your rivals.

  17. @ David. Thank you. A couple of months ago, I thought about applying gamification to the application process. I don’t really think there’s a problem in asking (potential) candidates to do too much, I think there’s a problem in asking (potential) candidates to do too much WITHOUT GETTING ANYTHING IN RETURN. a SCENARIO:

  18. Everyone who applies in some capacity sees this message:
    “Thank you for your interest in us. We know your rime is valuable, and we respect that. The more of your time you give us, the more we’ll reward you for it.”
    LEVEL I- A one-click “post your resume”- you get an acknowledgement.
    LEVEL II- A 5-10 minute period answering a half a dozen-dozen basic questions a really nice acknowledgement and a cheap item of your company’s “gimmes/swag”: keychain, pen, do-dad, etc. and invitation to join the talent community… If they “pass” with their answers, then:
    LEVEL III- A 30-45 minute detailed application/assessment- some nicer gimme/swag, low-level gift card, etc. (Remember- these folks have already passed the first level- they’re now potentially viable…) and if they pass this:
    LEVEL IV- A 2-3 hour detailed work assignment: $100-$150 gift card, stuff, money, and if they pass this:
    LEVEL V- A F2F interview.
    Also, at every stage, there are gamified incentives for referring people, with the incentives based on how far along they get (I didn’t come up with this last part.)
    @ Peter: Thank you, too. I re: litigation- I can imagine a possible class action lawsuit (probably fail knowing courts these days) requiring the info to be posted be cause of how the lack of the info’s posting as a disparate effect on female applicants.


  19. @Keith: when I said “most of them are making the life of the recruiter easier “, I was thinking of features like:

    -Tracking applications,
    -Pushing the jobs ads to several job boards,
    -Automated responses,
    -Calendars, tasks management, reports…

    Most ATS have them in a way or another… But since I am still building my software, I would really appreciate to hear what features you would consider as really friendly from a recruiter’s point of view.
    But the purpose of my comment was more to state that ATS vendors do not really care about the applicants. It seems that they have never looked for a job themselves!

    @Peter: No, I do not have a formal Recruiter Board of Advisors but I am working closely with some HR practitioners and a couple of recruiting agencies. I develop the features with their help and based on my experiences both as a recruiter and an applicant.

    As a CFO based in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to participate to several “mass hiring”. Thanks to the booming BPO/call centers industry, it’s common here to hire people by the tens, and even by the hundreds. I witnessed the tedious process of managing a thousand applications with only the help of a shared spreadsheet. And believe me, I felt sorry for so many good applicants whose applications got lost in the process!

    As an applicant, my first encounter with an ATS was back in 2007, when I applied for a job at the Asian Development Bank. It took me more than an hour to complete the process and I never had any feedback. Since then, I knew something was “broken”. I had several others experiences with ATS, all with almost the same results.

    When I started thinking about developing my own application, I decided that I would take into account the candidate’s experience and realized that it would also help the recruiters to improve their corporate image.

    Thanks for showing some interest and I will let you know once we will be ready to launch!

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