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    « HR Happy Hour - Episode 5 - Why HR? | Main | Do you survey your Applicants? »

    Why is it so hard to apply?

    I was not planning to write another post on online application processes and Applicant Tracking Systems, but yesterday a post by Laurie Ruettimann at PunkRockHR (and the ensuing comments) on applicant frustration with online corporate application processes I thought calls for a more lengthy comment than I cared to place on PunkRockHR.

    Besides, I did not want to cloud up the lively debate going on about which place was worse to work for Taco Bell or Del Taco. Flickr - Majiscup - Drink for Design

    The gist of the issue is candidate frustration with the tedious online application processes of most companies, and the fact that in a wide-ranging job search, the job-seeker is frustrated entering more or less the same information over and over again (in slightly different formats) on numerous corporate job sites.

    Laurie expressed the desire for a sort of 'universal candidate profile' that job-seekers could set up once, and leverage throughout most online application processes, perhaps using Facebook Connect or LinkedIn in some fashion for authentication.

    It is a great concept, and I'd like to offer a few reasons why a 'universal profile' does not yet exist. By the way, I do know about ResumePal, which does appear to have most of the features that were discussed, but has not really gained much headway in the market.

    Barriers to the Universal Candidate Profile

    1. It already exists, it's called LinkedIn

    LinkedIn has about 21 Million US based profiles. How could a new 'Universal Profile' platform get very far competing with what LinkedIn already offers job seekers.  Free access, ability to connect with thousands of recruiters and HR professionals, (the Boolean Black Belt says 5% of all US profiles are recruiters or HR), networking with affinity groups, and lots of job opportunities listed throughout. Every recruiter I know uses LinkedIn to source and research candidates.  I am not saying LinkedIn is perfect, or even easy for a less tech-savvy candidate to navigate, but it has enormous size and influence certainly scaring off potential competitors. 

    LinkedIn certainly has the muscle to get behind initiatives to build out its profile to support more of the concepts of the Universal Profile, but that may not really be in their strategic plans.  One commented on the PunkRockHR post correctly pointed out the ATS vendor JobVite does allow candidates to include their LinkedIn profile on their job application, but that is only a benefit if you are lucky enought to be applying for a job with a JobVite customer. And, the company still will typically require a resume, cover letter and other fields above and beyond the LinkedIn profile.

    2. Attracting enough candidates to a new Universal Profile

    Face it we are all pretty much overwhelmed with online accounts, networks, user names and passwords. Without an incredibly compelling argument, (one click to find a job listing, two clicks to apply to any company), a new Universal Profile System is going to have major problems attracting enough candidates to survive. No candidate will want to invest much time and energy creating and maintaining another online profile without a realistic expectation of some unique benefits.

    3. Integration with corporate Applicant Tracking Systems

    This may be the single largest barrier to widespread adoption of a Universal Candidate Profile.  There may be 150 - 200 different ATS on the market.  Granted, the Fortune 1000 probably cluster around the largest 10 or so vendors (Taleo, PeopleSoft, SAP, Kenexa, Oracle, etc.), but realistically a small percentage of job seekers target only super large firms.  As Meg Bear pointed out in a comment to the original post, HR-XML standards have been developed to facilitate this process, but for numerous reasons have not really gained much momentum in this area.

    Corporate ATS range from really, really simple and straightforward, to incredibly complex.  Developing a standard methodology to allow all these disparate ATS to connect to the Universal Profile and have the Profile automatically populate the necessary information on the Corporate ATS is a daunting proposition. Again, ResumePal seeks to solve this, but as yet has not seemed to grab the attention of the market.

    4. Corporate Motivation

    This is closely related to Reason 3.  Essentially, the vast majority of corporations would not place 'Modify or upgrade the ATS to support the Universal Profile' very high on a list of HR Technology initiatives. In a labor market where applicants for most positions are plentiful, many HR, recruiters, and hiring managers are already drowning in resumes.  Projects that can be partially interpreted as leading to even more applications, are not likely to be well received in corporations. In fact, I have heard more than a few hiring managers profess that they like to keep the online application process cumbersome, as applicants that 'stick it out' and complete the process demonstrate some level of commitment or desire to want to work for the company.  In a way, the difficult application process is the first (and sometimes only) pre-screening that takes place. Until the economy improves, I would not expect corporations to be all that interested in the Universal Profile.

     5. Compliance Reporting

    This may seem like a minor issue, (and one that candidates certainly don't care about), but almost all US companies have strict EEO and affirmative action related compliance reports that must be fild periodically. Applications that flow from the Universal Profile to the corporate ATS would likely to be augmented or enhanced in some manner to facilitate the preparation of these reports.  And that is not really something candidates would want to do, they have already completed the profile, they would be unlikely to then go to the ATS to fill in yet more data.

    These are just a few of the reasons that came to mind today when reading the original post and comments.

    I will have to write a follow-up post that attempts to describe what I think might be a better way forward for applicants and corporations alike, but honestly with the complexity and sheer number of ATS on the market, and the above described corporate barriers, there are no simple answers.

    Do you have any ideas to improve the experience at the macro level for applicants and corporations?

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    Reader Comments (9)

    There have been a number of application standardization schemes over the years. All of them failed. There are several reasons:

    - for standard applications to work, all applicants have to use them. Companies would have to not take a good candidate who didn't fill out the right form. No smart company will put form over substance in that way.

    - for a standard to work, most companies would have to use them. With 8 Million employers in the US alone, across 700 professions in 200 industries, an application that served everyone would be unweildy.

    So, it's a chicken and egg situation. Linked in could replace the resume. Unfortunately, only 50% of american jobs use a resume.

    July 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Sumser

    Resume parsers to some extent have simplified application processes. A resume parser is a tool that lexically parses and extracts information from resumes formatted in MS Word, HTML, PDF, or plain text. However, the quality of integration of parsers into application processes varies greatly. Also the results a candidate experiences with a parser will depend to some extent on the layout of content in the original source resume.

    As I've pointed out in ancient writing that has disappeared from the HR-XML website, HR-XML’s Resume and Candidate specs principally have been used as an intermediate format between resume parsers and consuming applications such as employment portals and applicant tracking systems.

    The idea of candidates writing in some structured, portable format simply is a pipe dream. Giving a little more attention to integration and deployment of semantic processing engines - like resume parsers - is a far better route to explore. Better employer understanding of the standards behind, and mechanics of, deploying resume parsers might be a start in improving candidate's application processes. Let me just say that not many (any?) employers were ever involved in discussions regarding HR-XML standards to support resume parsing services.

    Here is at least one related old post that still is out there discussing some of these ideas:

    While LinkedIn has added a bit of structure to profiles using hResume, it does puzzle me that they haven't gone a further. With a little more structure, you'd think a LinkedIn profile might be an excellent starting place for the lexical processing and parsing of data into an application form - much better than an MS Word doc.

    July 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Allen

    Hi Steve, great post. ResumePal is gaining traction, so you'll start to see it popping up on employer sites very soon. Like PayPal, each employer site will also be a creation point for ResumePal profiles, which is how PayPal became the universal standard online payment method (with 175 million users). To be clear, ResumePal does not have to replace the ATS job application -- just like PayPal did not replace paying with a credit card. It's just a heck of a lot faster and easier to pay with PayPal. You can still whip out your credit card on Amazon, eBay, iTunes or any of the millions of other e-commerce sites out there...but why do that when you can use PayPal. ResumePal is the same concept. Here's a partial list of employers signed up to accept ResumePal so far, and you'll see ResumePal on their careers sites this summer, as the ATS vendors integrate ResumePal into their summer product version releases: http://go.jobfox.com/ResumePalEmployers.html. So stay tuned - we just announced ResumePal a few months ago. Millions of vendors and 175 million people didn't switch to PayPal overnight -- moving that industry took 10 years. I welcome your feedback - feel free to give me a buzz if you want more info.


    Steven Toole, VP Employer Marketing,

    July 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Toole

    John - I appreciate the insight and the perspective you bring to these issues and thanks for commenting. I do see from time to time such a strict need for companies to adhere to their internal processes for accepting applications that indeed they do turn applicants away, either directly, or indirectly as candidates simple give up. I am not saying it is a sound business practice, but it definitely happens. I am curious like many are as to the direction LinkedIn will take, with its size and momentum you would think they could drive this area.

    Chuck - thanks for the education on some of the details of the HR-XML standards, and your views on resume parsing and its place in improving the application experience.

    Steven - I very much appreciate you weighing in here and providing more information as to what is happening with ResumePal. I appreciate the fact that it takes time for a service like yours to gain traction, and indeed the utility it offers job seekers can solve the main issue or complaints that were the basis of the original post on PunkRockHR. So thanks very much for the detailed information.

    July 16, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    It depends on the level of the position and the culture of the company. Most of my recruiting, when hiriing, is not for the professionals that are on LinkedIn or other social networks. Instead, I am usually filling production positions for precision manufacturing. That being said, for most of my applicants, the completion of the job application is key.

    The job application will also ask questions for which the answers would and should not be provided via online resources. I.E. reason left last position, name and numbers of references, and wages.

    That being said, your proposed solution is great for corporate America, but more difficult to administer for us solo hr providers.

    July 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRMSmithJr

    Thanks RM for the comments, you make some excellent points that further drive home the magnitude of these issues. Solutions that work for some types of applicants and industries do not work well for others. Large companies sifting through hundreds or applications have different motivations than small ones. I appreciate the insight and the perspective, and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    July 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Sorry for the very late read/comment on this (day job getting in the way!) but I do appreciate you bringing this issue to the front and as I mentioned before I am very interested to be kept in the loop if/when new ideas come up to solve this problem. I think a pan-vendor solution is certainly needed and it would be good for all ATS vendors so I think keeping the faith is a good strategy.


    August 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Bear

    Thanks Meg for sharing your thoughts. I know that this issue will only become more important, as the days of high rates of unemployment seem to show no signs of waning. I like your comment about a pan-vendor solution, as the job-seeker really does not want to be 'punsihed' having to grapple with myriad, sometimes confusing technologies. Thanks again Meg.

    August 8, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    www.inparser.net has an application that we have been using to parse the data out of linkedin profiles. It works well. Gets the person name, title, company, email, phone number and a link that can take you back to the persons profile. We are able tosource candidates faster and import them into our ATS easily.


    November 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

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