Mystery Job Shopper Survey: Not Much Improvement From America’s Best Companies

CareerXroadsIf God hadn’t promised Noah to never again flood the planet and start all over, most of America’s best companies to work for would be moving to higher ground about now.

After 10 years of CareerXroads reports, the launch of the Candidate Experience Awards, and untold conference workshops about the damage the resume black hole does to an employer brand, 75 percent of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” are still leaving applicants wondering what happened to them.

“It’s not getting any better,” agrees Mark Mehler, a principal in the CareerXroads recruitment consultancy. In a survey conducted like mystery shopping, Mehler and his partner, Gerry Crispin, found 75 percent of the 100 have yet to tell job seeker Noah Z. Ark whether he’s even being considered.

Compiled by CareerXroads, the 11th annual Mystery Job Seeker report was released today. It details the job seeking adventures of one Noah Z. Ark, a fictitious character with a resume crafted to perfectly fit hard-to-fill accounting manager jobs. Not only does Ark have a B.S. in accounting, but his resume showed a Master’s in computer science from MIT.

Such a strong resume did Mehler and Crispin design, that three recruiters called to speak with him, and two companies scheduled him for on-site interviews. As flattering as that might be to the fictional Mr. Ark, it also proved the accuracy of the closing line on his resume, where it was disclosed Ark is not real: “Congratulations if you have read this far as most recruiters will not.”

Mystery Job Shopper - CareerXroads 2013Six companies, on the other hand, figured out what was going on. Karyn B. Maynard, recruiting director at The Container Store, even sent Ark a personal note, turning him down for the job, but asking him to call her, “If you have spoken to the Almighty and think a flood is coming.”

Funny it may be, but the purpose of the Mystery Job Seeker survey is completely serious: “To determine if companies were doing more than saying the right things about how they handle online job seekers.”

The results, as the failure to provide closure demonstrates, are mixed.

“77 companies sent Noah a thank you immediately after he applied,” Mehler pointed out. “That means 23 did not.”

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In addition to assessing how companies communicate with applicants, a team of recruiter volunteers searched the career sites assessing their ease of navigation, content, difficulty in applying, and other factors.

Just finding their way around on some sites was a challenge. Getting from the company’s home page to its careers site was either impossible or “a test in persistence” for one in five of the sites, according to the report. By a similar proportion, getting to a job was equally difficult. Eight companies got a zero score for their navigation.

When Noah’s helpers got to an appropriate job, 15 percent of the time they weren’t able to apply for it right there. The application process took 10 minutes or less for about half the jobs. Yet, for 46 percent of the applications, the process took longer than 10 minutes, and up to an hour in a couple of rare cases.

“The bulk of (the) subjective comments were critical of (the) experience,” the report notes. “They ranged from a complete inability to complete the application process to smaller glitches that complicated execution.”

A majority of the companies asked for information in addition to a resume, including in some cases a social security number, a personality test, or generic screening questions, though less than a third asked questions relevant to the specific job.

The report offers more detail and more specifics, and in particular comparisons between last year’s mystery job shopper experience and this year’s. It also includes an overall rating for key parts of the process, aggregated from the scores given by the volunteers.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


5 Comments on “Mystery Job Shopper Survey: Not Much Improvement From America’s Best Companies

  1. This is exactly why I say…mobile apply, blah, blah, blah!

    I must admit that I was on the mobile apply bandwagon for short period of time and decided to take a pause. I took a pause, because I realized we still had a lot of work to do in solving for timely candidate follow-up with our current apply process. If the job seeker is currently getting sub-par follow-up, why would I give them a shiny new mobile path to sub-par follow-up…it feels slightly abusive. Yes, I called my process out for not yet delivering the kind of follow-up a candidate deserves and I challenge you to call yours out as well and consider pumping the brakes on mobile apply, at least until you get back to those hundreds of applicants who haven’t heard back from you in weeks. Mark, Jerry…although I could guess the answer, I wholeheartedly invite you to mystery shop me at your convenience.

  2. Thank you. John. I have recently helped out the Candidate Experience Awards through reviewing the questions asked candidates and employers, and hope I may provide additional service in the future. That being said, I feel it necessary to re-state my strong conviction that the vast majority of employers provide no more than lip-service to CE, and that the worst offenders in this respect have little or no interest in competing for the CEA. While gathering clear information about CE is necessary, I do not believe it is sufficient to correct this large-scale institutional dysfunction, and that stronger behavioral reinforcements (both positive and negative) will be required to remedy this problem.


  3. Anyone who is at the forefront of talent acquisition as a job seeker will sadly not be surprised about this, and it leaves a serious amount of open questions to those that carry the titles of talent acquisition director/lead/manager etc. or in fact having anything to do with talent acquisition/recruitment in the respective companies.
    One could hope that as time passes as no information no longer difficult to assess, as many clever people giving much good advice here, at conferences, in blogs etc. that we could hope for some kind of evolution. Sadly that is not the case and as with a lot of other areas from which we humans should have learnt our lessons, it appear not being the case.
    The sad fact is that only market forces, legislation or own mind-set can and will change how people behave, meaning for the majority of companies it will only happen as and and when and if.
    The discussions about the Candidate Experience will rage on for a good long time yet, no particular improvement or changes will be seen or applied as either those leading talent acquisition/recruitment will not care or be indifferent to the whole thing and/or there will be no one enforcing a change of attitude. One can draw their own conclusions on this, I think it is shameful and show how we have come to regard our fellow humans, – with indifference.

  4. @ Jacob: “we have come to regard our fellow humans, – with indifference.”

    Who cares? 😉


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