Have to ever logged into a corporate web site and tried to find out whether there was a job that met your skills and interests? Have you tried to apply for a job via the Internet? If you have, you may be as frustrated as the 19 people were who examined web sites for Creative Good, a New York Internet strategy and consulting firm. A few weeks ago they issued a report on 6 recruiting sites that span a variety of industries including high tech, banking, consumer goods, and construction. They looked at these sites from the perspective of a “normal” user – someone who is not a computer geek, but who knows how to access and use the web and does so on a regular basis. They watched how candidates use the site to find and apply for jobs. The amazing conclusion was that most candidates couldn’t do it! As you may have read in some of my earlier columns, the issue of web site usability has been an issue of concern for me for some time. There are at least three factors that contribute to making a site usable: an overall design that is human friendly (meaning flexible and intuitive), ease of navigation, and well-designed content. Designing a site that is comfortable for people to use is much harder than we think. Most site designers do not understand how important it is to make whatever we see intuitively easy to use and understand. We shouldn’t have to learn new terms or be required to type in commands or know that we should click the mouse on something. It should all be self-explanatory. America Online, despite being accused of a clunky and old-fashioned look, has a high usability. Most people can figure out how to get around the site, use email, and browse the web with no training. That has helped make them a success. As Joe Gillespie of Web Page Design for Designers says, “What made [the graphical user interface] all so easy to use was not the playful icons, the drop down menus, the helpful dialog boxes. It was because the whole thing was designed using a real-world metaphor that everybody immediately understood – a desktop.” Yet, almost every site I log onto demonstrates better how computers work, than how we work. It often isn’t clear where we should click for more information. Buttons don’t give much information. Forms are boring and tedious to fill out. Rather than inserting hyphens in phone numbers, as we normally do when writing, we now have to hit the Tab key to move between parts of the number. URLs are incomprehensible to anything other than a computer, so when we click on a button we have no idea where we are being taken. We have no way to get an overall picture of a site – no birds eye view to help guide our journey. Recruiting sites must be perceived as easy to use, and they must be tolerant of the human need to jump around, explore, repeat steps and generally do everything a computer would never do. Navigation has to be easy. I have a hard time using a site when I am not sure what the designer of the site wanted me to do. Did she want me to complete a form? Did she want me to go to a certain place first and then to some other spot? With a paper form, we can quickly scan and make judgments about how complex the form is and how long it will take to complete. Then we can decide if we want to spend that much time and energy doing it. With an on-line form we have questions, too: Is the form long or short? How long will it take me to complete it? Is there a way to get a quick overview of the questions or types of questions that will be asked? Did the designer want me to fill out every field, or can I skip a few? And so on. All of these questions, unanswered, make the candidate much less likely to complete the form and much more likely to move on to some other site. Moving around the site, navigating the complexity of most web sites, is a confusing proposition. If you see something interesting, how can you quickly get back to it? Do you have some graphic tool that can help you understand where you are in the site and what’s left to explore. Can you bookmark a page and get back to it easily even days later? Books and magazines make it easy for us to quickly flip through. Indexes and front-page referrals make finding articles easy. What is the equivalent for a web site? And content, too, has to be short and vibrant. Scrolling through long pages of text is a sure way to lose potential candidates. Very few of us are comfortable reading blocks of text that go on for several screens. Most things have to be said briefly and in a screen or, at most, two. What did the Creative Good analysts find? Pretty much what we would expect. Forms that went on and on, inconsistent navigation tools, confusing instructions, jargon and acronyms, content or graphics that required technical expertise and software to use or view. Little surprise that out of the 19 participants; only 5 were able to successfully apply for a job using the web site. And, the report is full of good suggestions on how to improve your recruiting web site. The 6 companies are used to illustrate the need for simple, human-friendly sites. Each company’s web site is analyzed and commented on from the perspective of usability. Each chapter ends with a section called “What to Learn from XXX.” I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of this report and give it to your webmaster and your friends. A better web site will bring in more than enough candidates to justify what costs you may incur. To get a copy, log onto the Creative Good web site and order it on line. Here’s to good (better) browsing!
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