The Right Way to Use Online Applications

by Ryan Kohler

Online job applications are a smart and common way for companies to appeal to a wider pool of prospective employees (that is, virtually anyone with an Internet connection). Frequently, however, employers miss out on the vast potential of this online tool because of poor design or excessively lengthy applications that can become unintentionally prohibitive or off-putting. Here are a few tips on how to create online applications that suitably represent their organization and make the best of the information they solicit.

What to Ask

To develop an online application that provides insight into an applicant’s suitability, reliability, and career goals, employers need to craft precise questions that, when answered thoughtfully, provide a well-rounded view of the applicant. Whether a resume file is to be uploaded or parsed out into individual input fields, the online application should go beyond a mere recitation of the applicant’s prior work history. For example, it allows employers to ask why applicants left previous positions and how to contact former supervisors. It can also dig for details that a resume and cover letter often fail to address: Is the applicant able to travel as much as the job requires? Could the applicant provide an example of when he/she performed XYZ (relevant task)? What does the applicant find most appealing about the organization?
Naturally, questions about an applicant’s ethnicity, gender, age, religion, marital status, or sexual orientation are prohibited by law. In addition, requests for personal information (including passwords or family details) are off limits.

How to Ask It

Streamline your online application process and keep your questions simple. Particularly for executive-level positions, top-quality candidates-namely, highly skilled individuals who are already employed full time (possibly for a competitor)-are often pressed for time and therefore easily dissuaded by long and cumbersome online applications. Consider allowing an applicant’s uploaded resume file to speak for itself, without asking that individual input fields on each former position also be filled in (unless the feature that allows for automatic population is finely tuned so that applicants don’t have to sort through a chaotic jumble of words pasted into random answer fields).

Regardless of the number of pages in your online application, be sure to explain each step beforehand and offer applicants the option to “Save” and return to an application at a later time.

How LinkedIn Fits In

In the land of LinkedIn, are resumes and customized application questions even necessary when prospective candidates can instead just upload their LinkedIn Profiles with one click? Well, yes. LinkedIn is an exquisite tool for networking and job hunting, but profiles are often written in narrative form, which can inadvertently (or very, very purposefully) put a spin on a person’s actual job duties and career goals. Allowing candidates to merely upload a LinkedIn Profile would certainly simplify and streamline the application process, but there’s something to be said for requiring that people identify and effectively communicate why they want to work for your company specifically.

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