Could Your Job Applications Be Driving Away Potential Candidates?

I recently considered applying for a design position with a company I highly respect. The company fascinated me, and I honestly thought I was a great fit for the position. Then I opened their online application — provided by Taleo. What happened next? I decided I no longer wanted to work for the company and closed the application immediately. Now you may be wondering what about the application that could make me reconsider applying. Had I read the job description and seen the requirements beforehand? Yes, I did. Did I see it required a cover letter and was too lazy to write one? No, that wasn’t it either. I simply saw how poorly formatted the job application was and thought to myself, “If the design team has experienced this application in the past and after getting hired made no suggestions about improving the user experience of the application, do I really want to be part of this team?”

Besides the job description, a job application is the first impression an employer gives their potential candidates, and even a job description can be enough to turn away potential applicants. So why should a job application be treated differently, especially if you’re applying for a UX position? Why would a team of well trained UX designers let a job application be forgotten in the grand scheme of the company’s overall user experience? In this article I’ll be discussing:

  1. The design faults with this specific job application
  2. Why I believe job applications can either make it or break it for a company attracting the best potential candidates.

Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to attack the provider of the job application (Taleo), but is meant to provide an understanding of why the UX behind applying for jobs matters; especially when looking for designers.

The Application

Taleo Job Application

I’m not going to name the company that used this job application, but the system is called Taleo. I thought the design flaw was so obvious I was a bit surprised it was made; the application is MASSIVE. At first glance, the extensive amount of text caused me to experience cognitive overload. This resulted in my body immediately tensing up and I felt anxious; not a great state to be in when applying for a job. I originally thought, “Perhaps I’m just being a spoiled Millennial.” In order to test this hypothesis, I ran a Nielsen Heuristic Analysis.

My Nielsen Heuristic Analysis

Throughout the process of filling out this massive form you have no sense of how close you are to completion other than how far down the page you are. You’re left wondering, “Is this it? Do I need to fill out another page? Could there be more?” This can be very anxiety inducing, causing poor performance among applicants, leaving them with a bad impression about the company, or worse…leaving the application all together.

All the language is understandable by their broad target audience, considering the form is used across many different types of job applications. Of course they could go the extra mile and use more casual language for designer/UX positions instead of “Legal Last Name” and “Legal First Name”, where they could have included “Full Name” instead.

The user is given control and freedom to add to the fields and delete any unwanted content from them. Though if you upload your resume, you need to scroll about halfway down the page to click a button that removes it. But even after you remove your resume, all the information imported from it is still in the input fields.

This seems a bit counter intuitive, but as stated before, the user has full control to remove this information manually.

This application form does not follow the standards of modern job applications. There are various standards for forms that this application does not adhere to:

  1. It’s common UX practice that shorter forms perform better. This is by far the longest (height-wise) job application I have ever encountered.
  2. All unnecessary or optional elements are not removed.
  3. Labels are not arranged above the fields to the left, which optimizes readability.
  4. They use a multi-column layout for questions, which leads to confusion as to what label is associated with what field (primarily in the Personal Information section).
  5. Uses dropdown menus when there are three options or less instead of radio buttons.
  6. It explains that the fields with red asterisks are required, but doesn’t make it clear that other ones are optional. While some may argue that through deductive reasoning, one could come to the conclusion that it is optional, it is still best practice to inform the user that it is in fact optional.
  7. They use red to communicate errors when it is advised that red and green are not used in doing so because 1 in 12 men are color blind.
  8. There is nowhere to save a draft of your application that I have been able to discover. This causes an issue with milestone submissions and deters users.
  9. The forms don’t check to validate what type of input you’re entering. For example you can put in alphabetical characters in the phone number field and a number in the name field and it will have no issues as long as there is a value in the field.
  10. This form is asking for a password to be generated, but is not on a secure platform to do so.
Insecure Job Application Form

All the form does to provide error prevention is inform you that the required fields are signified by a red asterisk next to them, yet the form provides no feedback that the user has made a mistake until after they hit submit. Then a list of errors printed in red appears at the top of the screen. There is no validation as you are typing your email to inform you that the format may be incorrect or that your passwords don’t match. In short, all errors are only presented after you hit submit button, making the whole process a headache for any potential applicants.

They have autocomplete, which helps with recognition as opposed to recall. Placeholders could be inserted to enhance the recognition rather than recall here. Unfortunately, the system does not remember your previous applications, which would save repeat applicants vast amounts of time.

This heuristic is met. They provide autocomplete and tabbing through each field for those who are proficient in filling out job applications. They also allow you to upload your resume so that the form is filled out with the necessary information. This can save advanced job applicants lots of time, whereas the novice, who may not have a resume, can fill in his information manually.

This is where the form fails drastically. There is so much excessive and optional information on this form. A lot of the optional information could have been asked at a later phase of the application process, or been displayed if a conditional form setting was met. All the extra dialogue on this form causes cognitive overload for the applicant.

On top of this, all the sections seem to have been placed in a random, illogical order. This order causes the user to be confused about what is a priority; potentially scaring off lots of new grads since education is one of the last things they ask about (implying their education doesn’t matter). I personally think the logical order should be:

  1. Create an account with your email and password on a separate page
  2. Provide your name, contact info, etc.
  3. Upload your resume/connect your LinkedIn
  4. Provide a cover letter
  5. Do the vetting process — Are you legal to work, what’s your race, disabilities, etc.

Everything else can be derived from your resume, and references can be asked for later. It can be a conditional form where if the applicant doesn’t provide their resume, then you ask about their prior work experience, education, etc., but otherwise this should get filled in.

As mentioned above, you are not informed of any errors until you hit submit. Once you hit submit, a list of red errors shows up above the form that looks like this:

Error Message

As well as some validation messages below the input fields

Validation error messages

As you can see, these error messages place blame on the user instead of kindly criticizing and instructing them on what they should do to complete the form. Another issue with these error messages, as stated above, is that they rely on the color red, which as stated above, cannot be detected by the 1/12th of men who are color blind.

There was no documentation that I could find on the Taleo website. The only thing I could find was a FAQ PDF on http://swsi.edu.au that stated if an error message were to pop up while you filled out your application to take a screenshot, send it to Taleo support, put your application on hold, wait patiently for them to respond, and pray the job listing doesn’t close.

My Take On Taleo’s Design

The biggest design flaw Taleo faces is it’s length. Perhaps this was an intentional method of informing applicants of all the information expected upon applying. Nonetheless it causes a cognitive overload, induces anxiety, and leaves the applicant wondering where they should start.

This application could easily be enhanced by making it a multi-page form — with visual completion cues — that eradicated all unnecessary or optional information, and organized that flow of the form in a more logical and easy going manner. For example, disabilities are asked about in the middle of the form. On most forms this is the last thing applicants are asked about, and for good reason. Asking about something so personal beforehand could discourage the applicant from continuing. Once these elements have been corrected it would make the application a lot more approachable.

Error prevention should be enhanced as well. This would allow applicants to know whether or not they’re properly completing the form before they hit the submit button and would remove any need for the anxiety inducing, bright red error messages. This would cause the mapping the user has of most modern day forms to align with this one and decrease all usability issues that have been addressed in this article.

My overall take away from my heuristic analysis was that this application has a lot of design flaws that induce frustration among applicants. Lack of signifiers, accurate mapping, and helpful feedback are what make this application so frustrating. It seems outdated and definitely deserves a revisit that, hopefully, Taleo will provide soon.

Conclusion

UX is important in all aspects of business, even the hiring process. In this article I showcased a few simple changes that could increase the usability of Taleo’s application process. My hope is that designers will start taking responsibility for any design flaws observed within the corporation they work for. After all, that is what we are hired for. Many people will argue that this is HR’s responsibility and a design team should not be held accountable. To that, my rebuttal is: Every designer on any team has experienced the application process. If after getting hired they refuse to speak up about a design flaw in the application process they are not only doing their employer a disservice, but the fellow design community as a whole.

A well designed application will attract more applicants and allow companies to choose from a larger pool of competent and highly qualified candidates. If a company is having trouble hiring new talent, yet refuses to examine all aspects of their hiring process, they are the ones at fault, not the applicants.

UCSD Alumni.UI/UX Designer & Developer.User Researcher.Drummer.Published Co-Author.Avid User of Periods To Separate Terms Which I Believe Define My Identity.

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