Tough Questions for Your Employment Website: Does Your Site Measure Up?

No matter how good or bad our “dot-conomy” may be at a given second, there will continue to be one fundamental truth about your employment website: it will talk to most candidates before you will. If you’re consistently serving up a bad experience to candidates every time they visit, chances are that your competition will be getting the cream of the talent crop and you’ll be getting their leftovers. Let’s preface this discussion with a couple of statements:

  • The Internet has recently proven that it is not a great place to sell bowling shoes, costume jewelry, or lawn furniture (my apologies to those who work for dot-com companies that sell bowling shoes, costume jewelry, or lawn furniture).
  • The Internet is the best place for job seekers and employers to connect and will continue to be for some time.

The Internet job boards are not the endpoint of this connection. Recent independent studies of job seeking trends consistently point to companies’ employment websites as the main communication mechanism between job seekers and employers. But it’s not one-sided: employers, recognizing the wealth of data and cost- and process-efficiencies they can realize, are funneling the majority of candidates through their own employment sites. So if your employment site is “talking” with candidates before you are, is it doing enough to help you recruit candidates? It’s time to interview your employment site to make sure that it’s the most qualified recruiter you have. The following broad set of questions and guidelines for answering them will help you determine if your site is up to snuff. These are broken down into the three main elements of your website: Design and Content, Features and Functionality and Usability and Navigation.

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  1. Design and Content
  • Does your employment site truly convince candidates to submit their resumes? Your recruiting team’s job is to persuade candidates that your company’s specific opportunities are right for them. And this same standard needs to be applied to your employment site. Too often, employment sites present rather than persuade, inform rather than convince.
  • Does your employment site give your company a competitive advantage? To gain a competitive advantage for talent, you’ll need to understand what your competitors are up to on their employment sites and in their recruiting practices. Reach out to your own employees and competitors’ employees using focus groups and surveys to find out. The above steps will present a great opportunity to improve other areas of your recruiting process in addition to your website. As a recent Harvard Business Review article states, “Putting a website in front of a flawed process merely advertises its flaws,” so if you can back up a great site with a great process, you will truly be a step ahead of the competition.
  • Is design and content targeted to each respective target audience group? It is important to recognize that each target audience will have different information needs, especially in a larger, more heterogeneous organization. For example, an IT professional will be much more interested in what technologies your company employs vs. a finance professional.
  • Has your site been optimized for web viewing? The well-chronicled short attention span on the Web dictates a different approach to content vs. traditional communication vehicles like brochures. General rules include making anything you say shorter and more direct, in addition to allowing users to customize their experience by using hyperlinks to additional information. User research will allow you to get an in-depth understanding of the information your specific target audience will be seeking and what their information priorities are. Design also must follow a different set of rules, as differing screen resolutions, browser standards and platforms mean that everyone will be seeing your design a little differently. Your design and programming must be flexible enough to support the multitude of standards that exist.
  1. Features and Functionality
  • Have you implemented features and functionality that will speed up the hiring process for candidates and recruiters? Employment website design and programming have evolved over time from simple “brochureware” – or a collection of static pages that may have been borrowed from or replaced the standard recruiting brochures your company used – to a dynamic, interactive experience that allows candidates to learn about your company, keep in contact with you over time, and check the status of submitted resumes. There are quite a few features that have the potential to make it faster for candidates to learn about openings and apply. Here are just a few: push technology (a.k.a. “agent” technology) can inform candidates of openings that match their search criteria via e-mail; e-mail address can capture and marketing can push out important information like upcoming events, company news or critical hiring needs; refer-a-friend and viral marketing tools and incentives like online postcards or external referral programs can turn job seekers into enthusiastic recruiters; and personalization tools can allow candidates to learn quickly about what matters most to them. These same features – and others like prescreening questions – can also make the hiring process faster for recruiters by forwarding more qualified candidates to your company more quickly than your competitors are seeing them, and allowing you to act on them faster. Depending on your recruiting challenges, there are many more customized features that can be just as useful to you.
  1. Usability and Navigation
  • How easy is it or candidates to learn about your company and apply? As noted usability expert Jakob Nielsen put it recently, “The Web, like nothing else, has taught people how easy it is to walk away from a poorly designed product. [Candidates] can just as easily click over to the competition. On the Web, the onus is off the user to make it work and on the Web site to get users to stay.” No matter how well-designed, informative, or feature-rich any website is, it will all be meaningless if you consistently put up barriers that block candidates from gathering information or taking full advantage of all your site has to offer. Nielsen went on to say that “users want to do things on the Web; they don’t want to use websites just for the sake of using websites.” Therefore, the most important consideration in the design of your employment website should be it’s usability, or how easy you make it for candidates to navigate around your site, get relevant information and ultimately apply. Sounds simple, right? Think again. If it was simple, most of the employment sites I come across would not have the glaring usability problems that they do. These problems range in severity from missing or broken links to vital information (like benefits) and poor design that makes it almost impossible to apply for openings, to inconsistent, disappearing links (even the Apply link) and almost complete inaccessibility for disabled and sight-impaired candidates. For these reasons, rigorous usability testing – including heuristic evaluations and user input and feedback – is a must for anyone considering redesigning, enhancing or just evaluating their employment website.
  • Are you promoting your website properly? The final aspect of your employment website that you should be paying close attention to is promotion. This is not like the movie “Field of Dreams” – if you build it, they will NOT necessarily come. A proper promotional program will include your employment website URL on all communications with job seekers and will utilize web logs to determine traffic activity and identify other promotional opportunities. Go even further by using re-promotion and viral marketing tools like email marketing, refer-a-friend/online postcards and push technology (all mentioned above) that will keep visitors coming back and referring their friends and co-workers.

Regularly “interviewing” your employment website will help you understand if you’re in a position to succeed in the competition for top talent. If you’re not taking the time to do this frequently and acting on the results, your competitors will literally be a click away. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


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