Technology and the job application process

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One of the biggest gripes HR professionals have is advertising online for jobs, only to get lukewarm results, then hiring someone who isn’t the ideal choice—only to discover there were other applicants.

One of the biggest gripes candidates have? Not being able to get their application noticed.

It’s fair to say technology has both a positive and a negative impact on the job application process.

SEE20 resume mistakes to watch out for (free PDF)

Online recruitment is trending upward over the next five years as employers look for new ways to interact with candidates, according to Appcast, a programmatic job advertising company that helps optimize job ad spend.

Revenue for the online recruitment industry is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 7.3%, to $11 billion by 2023, Appcast says, citing IBISWorld research.

The availability of qualified talent is the biggest pressure on HR professionals, says Mary Hassan, HR leader at AG Mednet, an electronic data collection service focused on increasing data quality in clinical trials. 

With an unemployment rate in the US of 3.6% overall and 1.3% in technology roles, says Hassan, “HR professionals need to employ every tool available to hire competitively.”

The pros and cons of technology in a job search

While technology has increased the speed, ease, and efficiency of applying to a job posting, this can produce an overflow of candidates— but not necessarily ones who are qualified, she says. Then, recruiters have to spend a lot of time sifting through and screening large numbers of candidates.

Application tracking systems (ATSs), especially those emerging with AI embedded, are game-changing, Hassan says, as they have “eliminated significant amounts of administrative time and effort.”

The right technology increases the reach of job postings by expanding the sourcing geographically at a low cost, she says. “The use of web-based interviewing tools allows for [the] screening of remote candidates effectively, without the cost and time associated with travel for onsite interviews prior to a face-to-face screen.”

It creates a better candidate experience, too, because “these tools allow for ease of response to each candidate at every stage, thus, communicating professionally and quickly with candidates.”

In 2018, 55% of applications were submitted via a mobile device, notes Leah Daniels, senior vice president of strategy at Appcast. This year, it’s trending to be over 60%, she says, “but mobile devices make the process very arduous and painful, and in this environment, with a low unemployment rate, candidates have a very low tolerance for a 15-page application.”

Mobile devices are often used to speed up the application process and also because some candidates don’t have access to a desktop. This is less than ideal because the ability to access information and fill out an application from a mobile device is sometimes impossible, Daniels says. “For example, asking candidates to write a cover letter in Word and upload it [from a mobile phone] is somewhat comical.”

As a result, the percentage of people finishing an application is much lower on a mobile device than on a desktop, she says. “As a candidate, applying on a desktop increases your chances of getting through the process and therefore, looked at.”

Losing the human factor

In discussions Hassan has had with candidates about the hiring process, she has gleaned “that in some ways, it is far less human than it should be” as ATSs have become more widely used.

The systems can end up focusing more on “facts and hard skills,” and far less on “the cultural fit and soft skills that have become increasingly more important in today’s workforce,” she says.

Daniels believes algorithms factor into the process a lot less than candidates think. “A lot of recruiters don’t trust them or like them,” she says. “It’s better to spend less time agonizing over the right words in your cover letter. It’s more important to get [your resume] to the top of the stack. It’s all about speed.”

Hassan says she has gotten positive feedback from applicants who say the process at AG Mednet is “refreshing,” compared to other experiences they have had where they “feel like they got lost in the black hole of the candidate pool,” she says.

“As a smaller company in a very specific technology niche, we have been able to keep a fairly high level of personal touch in our hiring process.”

Tips for job applicants

If you want to beat the system, so to speak, make sure you apply from a laptop or desktop, says Daniels. And time is of the essence. “A candidate who is going to be hired will typically apply within the first three days of a job being posted,” she says.

Also, you cannot get hired for a job if you are candidate #687, so look beyond the first page of jobs being advertised, she stresses.

“Job boards serve up ads, so if you’re looking for a customer service position in Topeka, Kansas, and type in certain keywords, you’ll get a number of hits, or job postings shown,” Daniels explains. Many candidates will spend too much time and energy looking at each job posting on the first page, then going to Glassdoor to see how the company is ranked, then going back and applying, she says.

That is wasted effort because a recruiter who has 30 open jobs on their plate isn’t going to go through 600 applications for each job, Daniels says. “They simply don’t have the time.”

For example, “on average, SAP gets 825 candidates across the entire set of jobs they have,” she says. “The reality is they’re not looking at all 825 resumes.” The jobs that show up on the first page of results on a job site are “oversampled,” she says. “So you need to be first—or you need to walk away.”

Regardless of the site, if the job doesn’t say that it’s a brand new posting, “skip it and go to pages four and five—which don’t have competition,” she says.

Although psychologically, you might think the ones on the first page are a better fit, “in actuality, it has to do with who pays the most money.” Location and keywords are also factors.

Being first may help your chances, but so does taking the time to proofread your cover letter and resume, advises Hassan. That may be old-school advice, “but it’s very, very relevant in today’s environment where candidates can quickly reply to a posting electronically.”

Far too often, she says, candidates forget to change wording in a cover letter they are repurposing from another job response, or they use abbreviations or lack of capitalization in emails and letters, as if they were texting a friend.

Also, “do the research to make sure your resume is search engine optimized,” Hassan says. Resumes that are customized to include specific skills or other key words highlighted in the job posting are far more effective.

Last, but not least, don’t discount the power of networking. “Use social media sites to research who you may know at a company you are applying to, or other ways to network, such as seeking out a fellow graduate from your college, or a sorority or fraternity.”

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