01/13/2016 Molly Moseley

Anatomy of the perfect employment application

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How do you design the perfect employment application? An application that collects all of the information you need about an applicant, without asking superfluous questions that frustrate and turn off quality candidates. We asked HR Expert Liz D’Aloia, CEO of HR Virtuoso, in the second of our two-part Q&A with her on employment applications.

Liz got tactical to share the optimal length of an application, which questions you should, and maybe more importantly, should not ask, and explored whether or not you should feature multiple versions of your application for different roles or different devices. Her suggestions just might surprise you! Also, be sure to checkout part one of our Q&A on application mistakes that turn off candidates.

Q: What is the optimal number of questions to have on a job application?

A: We typically recommend 5 – 10 screening questions on a job application that are directly related to the role(s) applied for. It’s all about your candidate abandonment rate. On a typical Applicant Tracking System (ATS), even the “mobile” enabled, the abandonment rate is 60 – 75%. We’ve found that by keeping the application time to five minutes or less on a mobile device, we can deliver up to a 78% application completion rate. People simply don’t have patience for long, cumbersome processes, so shorter is definitely better.

Q: What important questions do employers neglect to include on their applications?

A: They neglect to include screening questions that are specific to the job opening. For example, it makes sense to ask truck driver candidates about their driver license number, expiration date, and driving history. But it doesn’t make sense to ask these same questions of someone who isn’t in a safety sensitive or driving role.

Employers also often neglect to state that their application is only good for a set period of time (usually 60 to 90 days).

Finally, employers can make it easier for people to apply by offering to infer data onto applications from Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. Just don’t mandate it, though, since many job applicants are hyper aware of security and don’t want their social media accounts to be associated with an employment application. Also, we’ve found that requiring a login (user ID and password) is one more arduous step for a mobile user, and will lead to higher application abandonment rates.

Q: What questions should employers avoid on job applications?

A: Don’t ask for sensitive personal information (social security number, DOB) on a job application. Most of us guard our social security numbers carefully. Personally I don’t even give it to my doctors, so why would I give it to an employer that I probably will never hear from again (and who might get hacked)?

Employers should also be very careful about asking about criminal convictions. Over 100 cities and counties, and 19 states, have “ban the box” regulations that require employers to consider a candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record. Remember, criminal convictions should only be considered if they are job related.

Again, try to give candidates options — and control — over how they fill out the application. Don’t require data to be inferred, but offer to do so if they log in with a social media account. Remember, millennials especially like a personalized experience, and the application process speaks volumes about your company’s brand and culture.

Q: Should employers have multiple versions of a job application for various positions and/or devices being used (mobile app vs desktop app)?

A: We’re great believers in having multiple versions of a job application for various positions. This really helps keep the application process short for candidates, and helps employers hone in on qualified candidates.

We also believe that it’s extremely important to offer job applications in multiple languages, especially for entry-level hourly roles. This helps increase your candidate pool by making it easier for people to apply who don’t read or write English fluently. It also helps with a company’s affirmative action outreach efforts and supports diversity programs.

We don’t think that it’s necessary to have two types of applications for mobile use versus desktop use. If it’s configured correctly, it should be just as easy to apply on a mobile device as a desktop. The only challenge that comes into play is with resume uploads. Savvy mobile users will upload a resume from their cloud storage system. We’ve solved this problem by simply adding a field for candidates to link to their LinkedIn profile.

Again, the platform really comes down to the type of candidate you need to attract. For example, most exempt employees tend to be more highly educated and enjoy a greater income than hourly employees. They also have more access to computers. According to Pew, people of color and lower income workers rely more heavily on their mobile devices to access the internet. These folks bypassed computers and went straight to smartphones for access. So, stop making them visit your location’s kiosk or a public library to fill out an application. You’ll generate a lot more candidate flow by making it easier for them to apply on their phone.

Liz D’Aloia is the founder and CEO of HR Virtuoso, a mobile recruiting company based in Dallas, TX. She is an HR professional, employment attorney, speaker, and blogger. Prior to launching HR Virtuoso Liz worked at national transportation companies and at a global retailer. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn and follower her @hrvirtuoso

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