The End of the Online Application Form

In the age of digital distractions, goldfish have a longer attention span than humans. Why are we still asking candidates to fill out online application forms?

In the age of digital distractions, goldfish have a longer attention span than humans do — so why are we still asking candidates to fill out online application forms?

I’d like you to take a minute to mull over the question I’m about to propose to you. Are you ready?

Why do online application forms still exist?

What’s struck me, from advising organisations on how to use technology to significantly improve their recruitment processes, is that although over the last 15 years there has been a monumental shift in digitising recruitment processes since the advent of online job boards, it hasn’t necessarily introduced any new elements into the recruitment equation. Instead, it’s merely transferred what were previously physical hiring materials, such as paper CVs, application forms and cover letters, onto digital platforms.

At first, this seemed like a big win for all parties involved. Theoretically, it enabled companies to reduce administration and improving reporting, and candidates to apply for multiple jobs without having to worry about whether their CV and cover letters were tailored and formatted correctly.

The trouble is, the balance of power has shifted. Previously, recruiters held most of the cards in the hiring process, and candidates had to do the heavy lifting, providing whatever information the organisation wanted to collect.

Today, candidate shortages in certain industries and the rise of remote working has created a candidate-driven market, while the increasing sophistication of internet and mobile have irreversibly altered consumer preferences and tendencies. In the age of one-touch purchasing, same-day shipping and AI virtual assistants that anticipate our every whim, it’s not exactly surprising that candidates are no longer willing to jump through so many hoops to move forward in the application process, while social media and sites like Glassdoor amplify every poor candidate experience.

Recruiters have clearly recognised many of these issues — the most common challenge brought to us by our customers is this: how can we make consistent and effective hiring decisions, while delivering a great candidate journey?

Giving Recruitment a 21st-Century Makeover

Part of the problem is a general lack of awareness about emerging technologies and tactics that might help improve the candidate experience and screening accuracy, all in one fell swoop. Some companies are recognising the value of using engaging mobile technologies that can subtly gauge a candidate’s baseline aptitude and interest in a position in a matter of minutes, rather than relying on onerous form-filling and box-ticking.

One employer innovating is McDonald’s, who recently launched its “Snaplications” programme, in which candidates submit a 10-second Snapchat video that serves as the preliminary application.

McDonald’s recruiters review the submission and, if they like what they see, reach out to the candidate and provide information on next steps in the application process. Personally, I think giving candidates the opportunity to Snap themselves in a virtual McDonald’s outfit is a bit of a gimmick, and 10 seconds of video footage is probably too little information, but the idea is novel, engaging and harnesses technology that their candidates use and enjoy.

Another new and engaging technology is gamification, which can be used during the screening stage to engage prospects while simultaneously evaluating their aptitude and skills: Arctic Shores specialise in game-based, mobile-optimised assessments that “deliver meaningful, job-relevant insights about people”, and their games are gaining traction with leading financial and professional services employers. Another platform, Headstart leverages AI technologies to proactively connect students and graduates with internships and jobs based on their interests, skillsets and behaviour, not just their social or academic background.

The common theme is, these new technologies create a light-touch candidate experience that is fun and engaging, while quickly and accurately qualifying candidates before they formally enter the assessment and application process.

A More Effective and Engaging Approach

Ultimately, it boils down to an order-of-operations issue: right now, we’re asking candidates for too much information at the outset, which in turn is putting them off applying. Instead, the focus should be on getting the candidate screened and entered into the process as quickly and seamlessly as possible, then asking for additional information.

By leveraging some of the aforementioned technologies, recruiters can deliver situational judgement tests and realistic job previews up front, effectively transforming the screening stage into a talent attraction strategy in its own right, and vice versa. But the key to delivering a great candidate experience is to create a journey that feels personal, relevant and seamless.

Nick Shekerdemian, CEO, Headstart agrees 'This trend is exactly what we’ve found within our most progressive clients. The way forward isn't about re-packaging old methodologies through new technologies. It’s about replacing them entirely and attracting candidates through an engaging journey that holistically and inherently assesses talent effectively. Although technology can help achieve this, the first step is in adjusting our mindset to those possibilities.'

The employers that are getting it right are those that are paying attention to the changes in technology and consumer behaviour, and changing their processes to keep up. For most, the paper-based CV is already a fading memory, but it won’t be long before the same will be true of any kind of form filling.