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Updated Feb 27, 2024

4 Things Job Seekers Hate About Online Applications

Many job seekers are frustrated by online application processes. Learn how to simplify the process and attract top talent.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
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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 drop-down menus and blank fields. This 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 hiring managers the hassle of sifting through a barrage of emails with traditional resumes and cover letters, they’re not without trade-offs. 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.” According to a widely cited 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. We’ll share more about why applying for jobs online can be frustrating and reveal what previous and current research says about the online job application process.  

Why applying for jobs online can be frustrating

The online job application process is rife with problems that frustrate job seekers and keep employers from attracting and retaining top talent. Here are some of the most significant issues plaguing the online job application process: 

  • Hiring managers miss many online applications. According to TopResume, 99 percent of large organizations use an applicant tracking system (ATS) as part of the recruitment process. It’s easy for qualified applicants to fall through the cracks with these systems and never even get a response from hiring managers.
  • Job seekers worry about discrimination in online applications. According to Greenhouse’s Candidate Interview Experience Report, around 20 percent of workers admitted to changing their name on a resume to avoid discrimination. Of that 20 percent, 45 percent wanted to sound “less ethnic,” 42 percent wanted to sound younger, and 22 percent wanted to sound like the opposite gender. Clearly, candidates are concerned about conscious and subconscious bias in the hiring process.
  • Online job postings may not accurately describe a position. The Greenhouse report also revealed that 22 percent of employees had worked jobs that didn’t match the online job description
Did You Know?Did you know
ATSs are one part of job searching in the digital age. Other tech hurdles include navigating virtual interviews and dealing with social media screenings.

What job seekers hate about online applications

The groundbreaking Sevenstep RPO survey was published in 2013, but its findings about issues with online applications still ring true for today’s modern hiring process.

“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 published. “While employers might prefer to believe it’s a myth, our [survey] of more than 2,500 job seekers indicated that this phenomenon is real and that employers’ automated applications are a major contributor.” 

Harty said building a robust, sustainable talent pipeline should be at the top of every company’s agenda. Still, employers aren’t managing the application process in a way that allows them to fully capture and leverage their candidates’ talent.

According to Sevenstep’s survey data, here are the top four problems online job applications present:

1. Candidates who apply online are often ignored.

One-quarter of survey respondents indicated 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 percent of seniors and 40 percent of millennials reporting they didn’t get an employer response.

2. Online applications take too long to fill out.

Nearly one-third (30 percent) 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 percent were willing to spend 15 minutes or less. In comparison, 35 percent 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.

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. The survey’s authors noted it would benefit employers to nurture talent communities through networking to foster ongoing candidate engagement, even if no positions are currently available for a particular candidate. 

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

More than 40 percent 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 percent 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. 

TipTip
Looking to make the recruiting process easier on candidates? Read our reviews of the best HR software to learn about platforms with robust recruiting tools.

How to simplify the online job application process

Applying for jobs online can be daunting for candidates. They’re asked to complete complex applications and may never hear back from prospective employers, let alone receive a job offer. The process can leave them feeling defeated. 

Fortunately, employers can easily improve their online recruitment strategies to make the online application process more palatable for job seekers and help ensure they find the talent they need. Here are a few tips for improving your hiring and recruitment process when using online tools. 

  • Communicate during the online job application process. Responding to every online application may not be feasible, particularly for job postings with hundreds of responses. Still, prioritize responding to as many candidates as possible. At a minimum, send polite and professional rejection notices to those you don’t plan to work with. This way, they’re not left hanging. When interested in a candidate, communicate regularly and update them as they go through the hiring process.
  • Create talent communities. Creating a talent and networking hub for candidates can help them feel more connected to your brand — even if no current roles are available for their skill set. Cultivate a space where they can network with like-minded professionals and access new job postings. These communities help keep you close to talented professionals whose skills you might need down the line.
  • Simplify your online application process. Many applications take at least 15 minutes to complete. This can be a daunting requirement for candidates who currently work full time and apply to multiple companies in their free time. Pouring their best efforts into application after application can be exhausting, especially when company replies are few and far between. To improve the process for your candidates, create a quick and straightforward application that allows them to succinctly showcase their in-demand career skills and experience.
TipTip
When you get to the interview stage, it's crucial to avoid illegal interview questions that you may think are innocuous. For example, asking a candidate where they're from may open you to discrimination accusations.

Finding the best talent via online applications

Online job applications are the standard today, and for good reason. When done correctly, they’re convenient, provide accurate information, and save hiring managers time sorting through countless resumes. However, to find the best talent through online applications, strive to meet your candidates halfway by cultivating a straightforward, immersive experience. Follow the above tips to create a warm and inviting online environment for your job seekers and ensure excellent potential team members don’t fall through the cracks.

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Nicole Fallon is a small business owner with nearly a decade of experience overseeing day-to-day business operations. She and her co-founder self-funded their company and now lead a team of employees across multiple disciplines. Fallon's first-hand experience as an entrepreneur running a staffed business has given her unique insight into startup culture, budgeting, employer-employee relationships, sales and marketing, and project management. Fallon's business expertise is evident in her work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she analyzes small business trends. Her writing has been published in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Newsweek, and she enjoys collaborating with B2B and SaaS companies.
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