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4 Things Job Seekers Hate About Online Applications

Updated Oct 27, 2023

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Most of today’s job seekers have filled out an online application for a prospective employer. These automated applications ask candidates to input their personal and resume information, usually in the form of dropdown menus and blank fields. That information becomes part of a vast database of applicants, of whom only a lucky few are ever actually contacted by employers.

While automated applications can save a hiring manager the hassle of sifting through a barrage of emails with traditional resumes and cover letters, many applications submitted online end up being ignored, without so much as an acknowledgment of receipt by the employer. This trend of silence in response to resumes is known as the “resume black hole,” and according to a 2013 study by recruitment service provider Sevenstep RPO, the online job application process is part of the problem.

This article is an update to an old story, but the trend remains relevant. Below are summaries of Sevenstep RPO’s 2013 study and some revealing present-day statistics that speak to a continuing trend, as well as some more recent data on online job applications, which illuminate the state of applying for jobs online in 2021.

Recent data on applying for jobs online

Several present-day findings corroborate the results of Sevenstep RPO’s now 8-year-old study. Here are some of those findings:

  • According to Indeed, 44% of online job applicants wait at least two weeks to hear back from prospective employers. Across all job applicants, 48% found the long wait times associated with applying for jobs online highly frustrating.
  • AARP found that the trend of seniors being ignored or even discriminated against in the hiring process has continued, both online and offline. In a 2018 survey, 61% of respondents reported either experiencing or witnessing workplace age discrimination. Another 38% described the practice as common.

2013 Sevenstep RPO study findings

“Since the economy bottomed out in 2008, the resume black hole has gained folklore status, cropping up in the national employment conversation every few months,” said Paul Harty, chief solutions officer of Sevenstep RPO, when the firm’s survey was first published. “While employers might prefer to believe it’s a myth, our recent survey of more than 2,500 job seekers indicated that this phenomenon is real, and that employers’ automated applications are a major contributor.” [Looking for work? Using these resume writing tips might help you land the job.]

Building a robust, sustainable talent pipeline should be at the top of every company’s agenda, said Harty, but employers aren’t managing the application process in a way that allows them to fully capture and leverage their candidates’ talent. Sevenstep used its survey data to reveal the top four problems candidates were having with online job applications.

1. Candidates who apply online are often ignored.

One-quarter of survey respondents indicated that they never received employer acknowledgment of their last online application. Seniors and millennials appeared to be the most likely of all age groups to be ignored by employers, with nearly 45% of seniors and 40% of millennials reporting that they didn’t get an employer response.

2. Online applications take too long to fill out.

Nearly one-third (30%) of all candidates wouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes filling out an online application, although tolerance for lengthy applications varied by age. Candidates ages 25 to 34 appeared to be the most impatient age group, as 36% of them were willing to spend 15 minutes or less, while 35% of millennials (then under age 25) were willing to spend 45 minutes or more on a single application.

3. Employers don’t stay in touch.

Sevenstep’s survey authors noted that employers should create true talent communities through networking to foster ongoing candidate engagement, even if there are no available positions for that particular candidate. Two-thirds of all candidates surveyed weren’t asked to join prospective employers’ talent communities, meaning there was no further communication after they submitted their applications.

4. Candidates get an automated response, not a response from a real person.

More than 40% of all survey respondents said they seek out a direct human resources contact on the business’s website, even after filling out an online application. This behavior is especially prevalent among higher-income households: 80% of candidates with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 reported that they would rather apply directly through a hiring manager than through an online form.

Based on Sevenstep’s study, the best way for employers to avoid pushing talent away is to be responsive to and engaged with candidates. Looking to make the recruiting process easier on candidates? Read our reviews of the best HR software, many of whom offer recruiting tools.

Nicole Fallon
Contributing Writer at
Nicole Fallon has written hundreds of B2B-focused articles on topics such as marketing, business technology, leadership, and HR/organizational management. In addition to covering small business trends and software reviews, Nicole runs a digital marketing agency, where she and her team create high-quality content for a wide range of B2B and B2C brands.
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