Tips to Improve Your Online Candidate Experience

Imagine the look on the face of the recruiter who had this resume cross his or her desk:

Charles Brown, recent marketing manager of a major company’s Great Pumpkin division.
Objective: Obtain role as marketing manager for a company that has the vision to create new products or platforms that are absurdly profitable while narrow in focus. Has led profit and loss, website management and cross-functional teams that drove sales of roughly $750 million.

But wait, there’s more:

The former field goal kicker and pitcher at an East Coast university also held positions for pizza and peanuts divisions, where he developed alliances with industry notables Schroeder and Linus. He also served as an intern at a Christmas tree farm in Woodstock, N.Y., where he managed other interns, Lucy, Marcie, Pigpen and Peppermint Patty.

Or how about another resume from security systems programmer Chris Kringle, administrative assistant Ted E. Bear or environmental technician Jack Coostow?

Of course, none of these are real people. But their resumes and applications for positions with Fortune 100 companies are.

Each has served as an application as part of a grand annual experiment, the “Mystery Job Seeker” report, conducted by recruitment strategy advisory CareerXroads.

The fictitious candidates, created by CareerXroads’ brass of Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler, were put together to test the recruitment management systems and candidate experience of those considered the top companies to work for.

This year’s candidate was Charles Brown, and while some recruiters gave Brown a callback, most did not — despite the fact that his qualifications were tailored to be a nearly perfect match for the position with each company.

“The biggest surprise was just how slowly we’re making progress,” Crispin said, referencing the rate to which firms have improved their candidate experience.

Among the other notable blunders the report found: Even “the best” firms don’t provide enough information about the position and their corporate cultures; fail to make the application process user-friendly; besiege candidates with irrelevant questions; and require candidates to take 10 minutes or longer when applying for an opening. All are egregious missteps, according to Crispin.

In fact, many of the online applications took so long that a number of the volunteers Crispin recruited to help apply as part of the study quit after the first couple of applications. “They were just so frustrated,” Crispin said. “They did not anticipate it would take the amount of time that it took — all of those things led them to just give up.”

Outside of duration, the most glaring issue, Crispin said, still comes down to communication. There simply isn’t enough of it.

Nearly two-thirds of firms failed to provide two-way communication with candidates. Another one-fourth offered only minimal interaction. More than half did not set expectations for the process or offer closure if the candidate had not been selected for an interview. And more than 40 percent received poor to middling grades for the ease of navigation of the firm’s recruitment website.

This lack of two-way communication is bad for both sides, Crispin said.

On the one hand, candidates are left frustrated with their application experience — and, in some cases, might be inclined to have a less favorable view of the company as a result. On the other hand, companies are missing out on an opportunity, Crispin said, to not only positively portray their brand to the candidates — many of whom are likely to also be customers — but to collect and vet data on the effectiveness of their applicant tracking and recruitment process.

Crispin said companies should be applying for their own jobs multiple times a year to test their system. According to CareerXroads’ data, roughly half of recruiters at some point audit their own jobs in some way; only 7 percent, however, actually do an extensive mystery job seeker audit.

This is important because the most talented and in-demand job candidates are usually the ones who are only passively browsing the market. The longer and more frustrating the process is, the less likely the top candidates are going to bother taking the time to throw their hat in the ring.

And since most of these top candidates are already employed, Crispin said, there’s little reason for them to participate in an overly complicated and generally unpleasant applicant experience.

On the contrary, less desired candidates — those more actively seeking work — are the ones stuck with putting up with clunky, confusing and unresponsive applicant systems, Crispin said, because they are more desperate for work.

To be sure, there are some areas where companies have improved. Crispin said some of the firms audited in the study exhibited enhanced use of video on their online recruitment portals to show candidates what a job or working at the company might be like.

Above all, the biggest improvement Crispin said he’s most interested in seeing is employers giving more candidates some form of closure of the experience. Most candidates submit online applications without ever hearing back to learn if they qualify for the position.

And, at the end of the day, it would be best for employers to provide candidates with some form of closure — even if it is immediately clear to the recruiter that candidates are unqualified. Better to let them know right away than not at all.

“What we’re trying to do [with the annual study] is not necessarily make job seekers happy,” Crispin said, “but to make sure the companies that do, in fact, do a better job of giving them some kind of closure are highlighted.”

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at