I write a lot about candidate experience, because employers can’t get enough of this stuff. On the other hand, I really wish we could stop just saying shit that’s common sense and treating it like some sort of breakthrough best practice.

“The longer your job application process is online, the fewer people are going to finish it” doesn’t require surveying tens of thousands of job seekers or doing a webinar or writing a case study to prove this fact.

But that doesn’t stop some vendor from underwriting this content because they want their software to be associated with “candidate experience,” ostensibly to cover up the fact that their tech is one of the primary problems (and causes) of what’s supposedly an endemic issue in the industry.

I have worked on a ton of candidate experience related research, and every data set I’ve ever seen from job seekers that asks them about their overall experience actually shows that they’re much more likely to say they had an overall positive experience than a negative one.

Overall, people kind of expect applying for a job to suck, but if they successfully do so (and most, in fact, do not), than that, for them, is a big enough win. It’s only when the survey starts breaking down that answer by asking specific and leading questions about things like whether or not they thought it took too long or if they were frustrated by the follow up communications they received that these satisfaction scores start going south.

Well, yeah – of course it took you too long and no one ever followed up on your blind application. That’s recruiting, and one could look at the raw data (which is, of course, always confidential as the massaged message must always be approved by marketing – that’s the stuff you see) and make a pretty compelling case that, in fact, candidates don’t really have, on the whole, a huge problem with their experience.

The Candidate Journey: A Recruiting Reality Check

The whole cottage industry around telling recruiters that this is an issue is specious for anyone with common sense, but this being recruiting, has turned into a concept that’s as altruistic as donating to a charity simply for the tax write off.

No one’s going to ever come out and say, “you know, yeah, candidates should have a shitty experience,” so what this is basically doing is creating and commoditizing an issue rather than solving the fundamental stuff that really would improve candidate experience.

But then again, that really has nothing to do with recruiting. It’s all technology, and it’s not the fault of recruiters or employers – it’s the fault of the same technology vendors who are cutting fat checks so they can publicly show their support for candidate experience.

Speaking of common sense, you would not believe how many recruiters haven’t audited their own application process or even had the curiosity to try applying for their own jobs. When you suggest that this might make sense, most will act as if this is the most astonishing thing that they have ever heard. The fact that most have not thought to do this is likely because they’re spending so much damn time on the backend, and not realizing that candidates actually have it just as bad as they do with the software governing the job search process.

So I thought I’d audit one for them. Some of this might be more detail or exposition than you probably think is necessary, but I didn’t ask for the process to be this complicated. But maybe the vendors can fix this, because the part where I used Google was pretty easy, really.

I started with the most common general job related search string, which is my function or job title, the word “jobs” as a modifier (this is much more commonly used by candidates than the word careers, despite the fact employers insist on that taxonomy) and my location.

As you can see, among the 17.6 million results returned, the first two, from Indeed (which touts its competitive advantage as coming from the fact that it generates more traffic than any other job site, despite the fact that apparently much of this is likely bought) and something called MarketingEdge.org, which is some sort of non-profit whose sparse marketing budget was apparently misallocated on really general AdWords campaigns that don’t target the entry level and limited experience candidates for whom their services are exclusively designed.

Adding a modifier like “entry level” to this string would save a ton of cash, but then again, I guess when you’re a non-profit, you really don’t have to worry about ROI. You can’t multiply 0, after all.

Display ads are the search equivalent of chain letters from Nigerian princes; no one is actually stupid enough to click on them, and most have a conversion rate of under .05%, and most of those are probably accidental, considering the aggregate bounce rates of over 90%. I only throw that in there to say I, like the great majority of internet users, instead chose the first “organic” option (quotations used considering the millions of dollars spent on SEO strategy, services and support for that inbound traffic).

I was surprised, in fact, Indeed wasn’t #1 on here; it is for most job categories and searches, which probably explains why they were paying to own this one, too. This is what their business is based on entirely – owning these job slots. But in this case, my buddies over at CareerBuilder, the #2 job board, triumphed on this fairly high volume, highly targeted search term.

I clicked over to CareerBuilder and refined my search term to “content marketing” jobs in Fort Worth; the marketing jobs page I originally landed on from Google was mostly those pyramid scheme, get rich quick type pyramid schemes that get passed off on job boards as “direct sales” or “marketing specialist” opportunities. Sorry, CutCo, not sure selling my family and friends knives I have to front the cash for counts as a marketing job. But whatever.

7 results down the list, ranked by date of posting, I found a job that kind of fit my background and level. It’s not exact, but Fort Worth isn’t exactly a hotbed of digital marketing opportunities, let alone ones in content creation for HR and recruiting, Starr Conspiracy and my living room aside.

It was for a Senior Manager, Internal Communications, for a company called G6 Hospitality. I clicked over to the job description, and noticed that G6 must have paid CareerBuilder a pretty penny, because they’d bought the package with the fully branded job descriptions.

Some sales rep convinced some clueless generalist that if they spent an extra few grand a year on their posting package, they’d get this solution, which allows them to “stand out” to job seekers by putting a face to their brand, or making sure that their employer brand was consistent across platforms, or some shit like that.

Let’s hope not, because, well, let’s go ahead and agree the 90s style disposable camera long shot and the crappy iStock photo flanking a poorly resized logo and shadow fonted mission statement do not do this company justice as an employer. Although, since this is the parent corporation for Motel 6, I suppose that this craptastic cut and paste header on here is consistent with their consumer brand.

We’ll leave the light on for you, and for the poodle sized rodents lurking in the $19.99 an hour bathroom. And yes, that is a dead hooker in the tub. Just ignore her.

I then did not scroll down through the job description, again trying to replicate job seeker behavior. So, while it’s cool that there’s some Microsoft Word Art on there, punctuation be damned, no one reads that crap (which in this case, is probably a good thing). Nor do they read those really boring bulleted lists underneath the cool Tripod headers that actually says what the job does and the minimum qualifications a job seeker should receive before applying.

Nope, forget that – not when there’s an orange button at the top telling me I can just apply now.

Which is all I really want to do. So, at last, I get over to the job description, having made the decision to apply and…

I hit this sexy little landing page. Notice the clean, minimalist design that tells me I either need credentials or to create an account just to see the job description on their website. The one I just saw before clicking over. WTF? But, whatever. I decide I’ll create an account.

So, I click on the “Register” button and it redirects me to this screen, telling me that a pop-up window should have appeared, but if it didn’t (it didn’t) then I should click the link in on that screen, rather than just linking me to that URL in the first place.

Mind you, I haven’t even applied for the job yet, but simply to register for the privilege of submitting a resume I’ll never hear back on, I still have to provide my personal information, including e-mail, phone number and THE LAST FOUR DIGITS OF MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER. For a company I’ve never heard of who apparently owns a brand that, let’s just go ahead and say, I’m not trusting with my credit card information as a rule.

No way am I giving you this normally, but in this case, I gave them 4 false numbers. I then created a log-in and password that are unique to this specific software instance at this specific employer, which I will need should I ever want to see the status of my application, modify it or apply for new jobs. And you wonder why you’ve got so many duplicate records in your database?

I start scrolling through this window. I just want to get down to the register button so I can see the job I want to apply for. But my mouse stops, as I am required to scroll through two boxes of very small, very crowded text. These are the terms of service and privacy statement of PeopleAnswers, who makes this amazing applicant tracking system.

Normally, I’d scroll right through these – which, by the way, PeopleAnswers forces you to do, and these are long, by the way, before you’re allowed to advance to the next screen. They want to be sure they have a record you read their ToS because, well, they’re probably going to do some shady stuff with your information.

I decided to read through these requisite legal statements, which I never do. I must confess, this scared the shit out of me. Here are some gems from the PeopleAnswers User Agreement I was accepting before I was even able to apply for a job:

Terms of Use: You may be requested to provide your cell phone number. By providing such number, you authorize PeopleAnswers and the Client-Employer to call you and/or send you text messages.

Great. Nothing could ever go wrong by giving a software vendor explicit permission to call your cell, right?

“By accessing the Site, you agree not to bring, file, or participate in any claim, suit, or complaint against PeopleAnswers as a result of any hiring or termination decision made by any Client-Employer or by any other person.”

This is the first of what is about 4 pages of PeopleAnswers basically saying that they’re indemnified from any liability in every imaginable circumstance, and that the fault lies with the employer who probably bought their software for compliance and litigation mitigation to begin with.

“Your answers may also be used later by PeopleAnswers to prepare different Assessments for other Client-Employers (ones different than the Client-Employer to whom you are currently applying and in connection with which you originally supplied your answers and responses to PeopleAnswers).You grant PeopleAnswers a non-exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free license to use the responses and/or answers provided by you in any manner and through any medium in the sole discretion of PeopleAnswers (If you do not want your responses or answers used or re-used in this manner and/or an Assessment shared with any Client-Employer(s), you must click that you do not accept these terms (i.e., click the “I Do Not Agree” button) , though doing so will preclude you from using the Service or the Site.”

To view this job, I have to give this company I’ve never heard of permission to use my employment related answers to build more products to sell other companies without having to tell me, and if I have an issue with that, I’m not allowed to use this software. If I can’t do that, I have no way of legally applying for this position. Talk about Catch-22.

But I’ve come so far…

So I register as a user on their ATS. And then I start my application:

Time: 1:41 PM

I quickly found out that, on the first page of what turned out to be way more than I expected (not that I got any indication), there was a 10 character limit on the fields, meaning that when it asked me for the job I was applying for, I couldn’t enter the name of the position that was posted on the system that just forced me to register. I had to go with, “Mgr. Comm.” Awesome.

And if you’re wondering why we have a source of hire issue, here you go. I found this ad on CareerBuilder, which I first found through Google. Was this an ad or internet application? Since ‘ad’ was the first field, that’s what I clicked, and that’s what the company will recognize as my source of hire, even though it’s completely non-specific, a little misleading and will be useless for any further analytics like cost-per-hire or source of hire.

I then filled out the rest of the job application. It was basically the online, fielded equivalent of a paper based application, and just as much fun. I had to provide an employer I’ve never met with a copy of my resume, and also my employment history for the last decade (capped at 7), providing the full address, supervisor name, complete salary history and contact information for each, among other information that’s really unnecessary at this step.

PeopleAnswers also required me before applying to fill out mandatory fields asking for three professional references, their contact information and how long I’d known each, and I’m pretty sure no one in their right mind would provide this information to a company who they’d just come across online for any consumer purchase. But I went ahead and filled in some stuff so the system would finally let me turn in my application, and when I finally clicked submit…TA DA! A form telling me “Thank You and Have A Great Day!”

Well, I was having one before all that shit.

Time: 2:08 PM

I should mention that I timed this little exercise. From filling out the first field on the application to seeing that screw you message pop up on the screen, it took me exactly 29 minutes and 42 seconds. That’s a half hour of my life I’ll never get back to apply for a job I didn’t really even want.

What did I get in return? This e-mail, which, by the way, proves you are indeed thought leaders living up to the whole “hospitality” part of your brand name.

So, yeah. That’s what one random job search looks like. You get an average of 80 of these per open job. That’s a full work week’s worth of time spent applying while you bitch about how no one’s applying for your jobs, and then wonder why it’s so hard to find talent.

Then, you ignore them to go to some webinar on candidate experience that your vendor sent you an e-mail about. After all, they’re doing such a good job.

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