The beauty and tragedy of posting for jobs online

Since the advent of the World Wide Web, businesses have tapped into it for various reasons, including marketing, sales, customer service, and beyond. There’s another area, however, that may not have improved its user experience as technology has made it easier, and that’s job posting and applicant tracking.

From early pioneers like CareerBuilder (née Netstart) to Hotjobs, Monster, and other 90s upstarts, we’ve now reached a point of having fairly sophisticated services that businesses and job posters alike are using every single day. There are platforms that singlehandedly remove the need for paper applications to be entered by an in-house staffer, provide online listings, and deliver digitally screened “results” to hiring managers and HR teams. There are third-party services that reach people where they already are, such as LinkedIn’s Jobs area, which offers an opportunity to collect “easy” applications where a user simply uploads a resume and shares his or her LinkedIn profile, or sends users to a company recruiting website, directly to the job that’s being reviewed. Some services are premium, others specialize in particular industries, such as Poached in the hospitality space, or Dice in the technology arena.

Seems great, right? Well, it’s not at all perfect.

For one thing, both job seekers and job posters aren’t managing the expectations of the other party. It’s become extremely easy to fire off a dozen applications and ignore even simple adjustments to a resume that might bust through the clutter for job hunters. Lots of hiring managers are leaving job hunters almost completely in the dark after an application is submitted. Again, not ALL hiring managers, but many are. I took an informal survey via Twitter, and the results were actually more grim than I expected.

In it, a whopping 75% of respondents said they received ANY sort of response (interview opportunity, follow-up for more information, decline) less than one-quarter of the time. Another 19% said they heard something back 26-50% of the time. All told, 94% say they hear back from a hiring company less than half of the time they post for jobs.

So with all that data, all that sophistication, one of the most simple things that could have been done – clicking a button to send declines to anyone who didn’t get selected for an interview, isn’t being done MOST of the time. If you spend less than five minutes searching online, you’ll see myriad complaints about this very topic. When I posted about this on Facebook, a few people commented or messaged me privately to say they’d actually really like to know they weren’t being considered, rather than be left in the dark. It’s a sentiment I agree with, and it only increases as you post for positions. On a personal note, I’ve applied for 150 jobs since the beginning of October. Some have gone through emails to hiring managers, others have been personal references, and I fall in that 0-25% bucket.

At first, I thought it was just me. As someone who’s hunted for jobs a few times in the last 20 years, I’ve learned a lot about having multiple versions of your resume, not simply copy-and-pasting your cover letters, and so forth. I’ve asked hiring managers for feedback on my resume or received unrequested feedback about it, which has been extremely helpful. It’s not just me.

After having spoken with a few friends that were hunting for jobs in three U.S. cities in the last 12-18 months, I figured it was worth asking those on the other side of the equation about online job posting platforms, and how they screened candidates. One is an in-house recruiter and the other works at a talent agency.

The in-house recruiter let me know that while his company’s online system did review and screen resumes, his team did actually review each and every resume that crossed their desk. Additionally, his company had created a color-coded system to flag positions, which individual departments were able to “set” based on a variety of factors. Still, the team reviewed the resumes that were funneled to them by the online system. His company does send out notices to those who don’t make it into the interview rounds.

The recruiter at the talent firm stated that he didn’t think a lot of the systems were as helpful for his purposes and found that people “just apply to any role they can if a company is of interest to them.” He also stated that keywords are definitely important when attempting to filter resumes and that while some Applicant Tracking Services had algorithms to attempt to show the most qualified candidates, it’s not a perfect science.

Beyond these details, he also shared that many recruiters would probably welcome a warm greeting or an emailed introduction rather than simply having candidates go through a system and send a cover letter. He recommends tracking down a hiring manager’s name or asking friends who work at an organization to help make an introduction, rather than simply submitting your application blindly.

For me, the challenge is that some of these application services take a fair amount of time to fill out, and it’s extremely frustrating to literally hear nothing after sending one along. While many services will parse an uploaded resume, no software is perfect, and you still need to review each of your positions for upload errors, including punctuation or spacing. It’s not always as “easy” as simply pasting your resume into a field and moving on. I’d rather get the decline and grasp that perhaps someone was on the other end.

This is clearly a frustration by users, and based on a few anecdotes, it doesn’t seem like hiring managers are all completely enamored by these services, either. At this point, it seems that taking the extra step of tracking down a hiring manager and reaching out directly is absolutely recommended. While not always a simple task, perhaps that’s the “clutter buster” that is required in today’s competitive environment where the ease of access to dozens and dozens (and dozens) of jobs makes it easy for individuals to apply at will.

My hope is that in the future, job searchers do a little less “willy nilly” posting for things that are creating clutter on the other end, and that those hiring for jobs can leverage the great technologies they have at their fingertips to keep applicants in the loop, without making it a burden on their own jobs.