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Back to the Basics: HR Technology and Candidate Experience.

 I spend a ton of time talking to talent acquisition leaders all over the world, and the one thing that still surprises me is how few recruitment professionals have actually applied to a job at their own company.

I’m not talking about performing periodic audits as a standard part of your TA strategy, which is, by the way, a best practice we should all be in the practice of – I’m talking about applying for any job at their company, ever.

This being recruiting, a relatively large amount of us don’t even have to go through the standard application process as candidates, or it’s done as an afterthought. We’re good about skirting the system, primarily because we know that most of the time, the system doesn’t really work.

Most candidates, of course, don’t have that luxury – which is why it’s impossible to fix the candidate experience without first, you know, knowing what that experience is really like. If you haven’t done so recently, I really recommend you apply for some random req at your company as soon as possible. Trust me on this. I just did.

You’ll learn a lot. You might not like everything you find out, but you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it’s there. And my recent “candidate” experience convinced me that, if nothing else, it’s not hard to do the little stuff a whole lot better – and make a real impact on your total talent efforts.

Let’s start at the very beginning. First off, I went to our careers site to look for open jobs, which is the primary point of having a careers site in the first place. To even figure out what openings we had took me having to go through three different landing pages just to get to the search screen.

candidate journey

That’s a lot of clicks, I thought, but at least I was where I needed to be to see what our current career opportunities were across the company. So, I performed a search, and got quite a few results. I clicked on one at random. Instead of seeing the job description, however, I instead saw another landing page pop up.

This one informed me that to see the “job posting” (that’s apparently not completely posted?) I had to be logged into the job seeker account, had I previously registered one, or I’d have to create one, if this were my first time applying for jobs at the company.

Now, I know I’ve logged in before, because I do this exercise at least once a quarter, if not more. But when I went to log in, I was told that my password and/or user name were incorrect (they hadn’t changed).

Frustrating, OK. But that’s why there’s the “Forgot My Password” option listed on there, which I clicked to get a link to reset it. A minor inconvenience, but no biggie. I just needed to click on a link in an email. So I opened my inbox and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Black Hole Sun, Won't You Come?

I’m still waiting. And as I wait – I’m guessing I get this blog post done before that email ever sees the light of day and yes, I’ve checked my spam filters – I’m wondering why any website out there somehow can get a reset password email out in an instant, but it takes my ATS at least several days (and counting) to do the exact same thing, if it is even capable of sending said email. I’m not holding my breath.

I’m guessing most of our candidates aren’t, either – they’re probably onto the next job well before they realize that they can’t even get the credentials needed to apply in a reasonable time frame and that this portent probably does not portend so  well for the rest of the hiring process.

They’re probably right.

ai tti

I wish this was unique to my company but the thing is, our process isn’t that painful compared to many out there, and this is the problem. I’m not going to lie, I apply for a lot of jobs at our competitors using an alias (Guy Incognito is one heck of a recruiting ops exec, for future reference).

This I do for competitive intelligence, and I get plenty of ammunition, given the prevalence of problems far more pressing and pervasive than password reset issues. Like the one that wanted my social security number to register for access – good news being that I wouldn’t have to remember a password, since I was required to use my SSN and email to log in. Uh, no thanks.

And let’s not even get started on mobile apply. I mean, most employers – and my company – have already figured out how to optimize their career sites across devices. Most ATS providers, sadly, have not, because the experience of going from our branded landing pages to that dreaded “log in required” pop up is like going from technicolor Oz to back to black and white Kansas.

You just have to click three times and believe in the impossible.

Don't Get High On Your Own Apply.

In the case of my company, the mobile apply process was smooth enough, even getting to the search screen. It had geolocation capabilities enabled, meaning all I had to do to find jobs in my area was enter my zip code, which unlike my SSN, I feel OK giving out online.

I got a few hits, and just clicked the first one.

On mobile, lo and behold, it opened without my needing to register – and so, I started applying as a “guest” (I had to create the username and password as part of the apply process in this case).

Now we were cooking with fire…only for most job seekers, the fire has gone out right around the time you asked them to create a registration for the privilege of seeing public job postings. And all that’s left are applicants seeing smoke, and a whole lot of potential candidates who have probably gotten burned by an unnecessary and unwieldy process.

I know – this password and username requirement aren’t specific to TA or hiring. Most enterprise software uses these requirements, primarily for security and data protection. It’s just that an ATS, on the front end at least, isn’t an enterprise system – it’s a consumer technology.

Candidates don’t often know what an applicant tracking system is, but after encountering most, it’s a moot point since they don’t bother becoming applicants to begin with. The black hole works both ways.

I’m still waiting for that reset email. I’ve tried getting it sent a couple times, and checked every random Gmail account I would have set up credentials with at any point in the last, say, decade or so.

Still nothing. So I know it’s not me. And I know it’s irrelevant, because it’s been long enough that I don’t care all that much anymore – I can’t even remember what the job I was trying to apply for actually was. At this point, it doesn’t matter – even if it was just a test application.

The test failed.


Which tells me that, frankly, we’re failing our candidates – and the fact is it’s not my fault. It’s not theirs. If we want to blame someone for the rotten state of recruiting, well, I suggest that we need look no further than our front end systems.

If I was lucky in this situation, I would get the email and reset my password, but there’s a good chance that would fail because, well, there was already an account associated with my email address, or I’d already used that password, or some other barrier to the simplest part of the process, in theory. You know the drill – you’ve gone through it, at some point, I’m sure. It’s not fun.

The candidates with enough fortitude and tech savvy to actually get through the full application process, of course, are lucky enough to then have to figure out how to fill out all the fields required under work and salary history using some counterintuitive formatting or code, or have to answer a bunch of automated screening questions, or, best of all, then have a couple minutes to get camera ready so they can do the standard video interviewing questions required of every applicant. These are the lucky ones, by the way.

This should tell you something.

Candidate Experience Isn't A Product.

Look. In recruiting, we rely on systems to save time, automate manual tasks and make sorting resumes and qualifying candidates as simple, quick and ultimately as compliant as possible.

Of course, the companies we rely on to provide those systems are also the same ones who create the manifold problems their “solutions” have created. In sum, those same technologies are the reason we sometimes fail at candidate experience.

This is why we shouldn’t depend on those same vendors to fix candidate experience; that they actually sell candidate experience solutions as a product set is frankly insulting, since improving the application process and streamlining hiring should be the essential product goal of every HR Tech partner or provider. It’s not an additional revenue stream or services play – it should underpin every roadmap for every company in this space, tech or otherwise.

Because without candidates, there is no recruiting technology.

There are no recruiters. And that should be a pretty compelling business case for anyone in the business of talent to take a stand and start demanding better. We deserve it – so do our clients, our coworkers and especially, our candidates. They’re the ultimate end user – and the reason we invest in tools and tech in the first place.

Just like we sometimes get the late 70s confused with the early 80s (trust me, there was a pretty big difference between Carter and Reagan, between Donna Summer and the Sugar Hill Gang, between Atari and NES, etc.) but I think we have a similar sense of confusion when it comes to separating out the application and candidate experience processes with on boarding.

We need to know where one begins and the other ends, because until a new hire becomes an employee, thing is, they’re actually still a candidate. Recruiting doesn’t stop with an accepted offer. Candidate experience shouldn’t, either.

Update: still waiting on my email.

The Candidate Journey Starts With A Single Step.

Over the past several months, I’ve been speaking on these issues whererever TA and HR people congregate, such as the HRO Today Forum and the HCI Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference. Both are extremely senior level, contain content that’s highly strategic and often immediately actionable, and also allow talent professionals and practitioners to exchange ideas, best practices and, often, empathy from someone else who gets this weird little world of ours.

I can tell you without exception, candidate experience remains top of mind for every talent leader today. We know it’s a problem, and we’re acutely aware it’s one that needs fixing. The real question everyone wants to know is how, exactly, we go about doing that.

I don’t know if this is the right answer, but it seems to me that if we’re truly committed to candidate experience and seem to universally consider it a strategic imperative and a business priority, then we should probably stop focusing on the promise of ease of automation and AI and all that other stuff, take a step back, and ask: if we have cognitive computing, blockchain and machine learning capabilities already well entrenched in this business, why can’t we just make finding and applying for a job easy?

It’s really not hard. We just need to stop drinking the Kool Aid and start demanding better from the same companies whose systems we rely on as the front end of our funnel, and use our collective purchasing power and influence to get them to understand that instead of the next shiny object, we demand they get the fundamentals down, first. And that, it seems, starts with the application process.

If your provider can’t figure out how to fix what’s broken there, there’s a darned good chance they’ll never really be able to nail that whole AI algorithm they’ve been trying to sell you on for the past couple of years, now.

Because we really need to stop looking at what’s next. Instead, let’s get right now right, and the future of recruiting should be a whole lot better for everyone.

Particularly your recruiting efforts. 

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    Written by Craig Fisher
    Craig Fisher was head of marketing and an employer brand subject matter expert at Allegis Global Solutions. He has consulted with companies like CA Technologies, Hootsuite, Yum! Brands, LinkedIn, FOX News and many more on sales, brand and recruitment strategy. Craig created the first Twitter chat for recruiters, and partnered in the first LinkedIn certified training company in North America. He’s been detailed in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Forbes, Mashable, NBC News, The Huffington Post and NPR. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @fishdogs and on his blog at Craigh moved on from AGS in 2020.