Humanizing Online Applications

by Ryan Kohler

There are a lot of sad truths in today’s job market. One of them is that a lot of highly qualified candidates can’t get a job-and not because there are no jobs to be had out there but because they can’t get past the online application software. With thousands of applications uploaded for a single position, some of the most ideal candidates get overlooked due to the sheer volume of resumes flooding online application software each day.

In fact, experts at Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other established business media outlets advise job seekers to find a contact person at the organization where they’re seeking employment (by scanning the potential employer’s website) and email a cover letter and resume directly to that person-either in addition to using an online application or in place of it. If the expert advice is a “work-around,” perhaps it’s time to reconsider the system.

In an interview with PBS, Peter Capelli, professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, suggested that part of the problem is the lack of human involvement in the candidate selection process. In his book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, he reveals many scenarios where online application software is failing: “[A human resources contact] told me that they had 29,000 people apply for a reasonably standard engineering position, and nobody made it through the screening process. The software told them nobody was qualified.” While this is an extreme example, there are similar ones from large firms and small organizations in the United States and overseas.

The good news is that there’s a fairly straightforward solution to at least this part of the problem with applicant tracking systems: People. By involving more human oversight into the hiring process, employers have a better chance of finding the well-rounded candidates hidden in a pile of resumes-or, in a mess of online keywords, as it were-and reaching out to them for interviews.


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