A Simple HR Solution for Handling Online Job Applications Courteously and Efficiently
I recently moved to a much larger city than Carlsbad, NM: Fort Worth, TX. I assumed that by moving to a larger city, there would be more job opportunities. I was, of course, correct, yet vastly incorrect at the same time. There are many more job opportunities here. Within a month of moving, I had applied to several positions at a local college and a few businesses, mostly for tutoring positions and secretarial work. Thus began the long wait. Having been through the gamut of government hiring, I am used to long waits. It is not unusual to wait 2-6 months from application to finally getting your butt into an office. I am also aware that many institutions and businesses will not hire anyone unless they physically apply in person at headquarters. Many local government listings, even if posted online, will notify a candidate that applying online is not an option, and will provide printable forms to be mailed or delivered in person to town hall. I am not talking about these types of physical applications, though. Rather, I am going to focus on electronically-submitted, online applications. Submitting the application is rarely the problem. The trouble begins after the application has been submitted.
An HR department’s purpose is to work with employees, including potential ones. According to Lisa Mooney of Hearst Communications, Inc., “Recruiting and training new employees are primary responsibilities of the human resources team. This part of the job often entails advertising open positions, interviewing and hiring candidates and setting aside hours devoted to training the new recruits” (Key Functions of an HR Department). Once an applicant has submitted their forms, the accepting HR department should immediately filter and file the application. The HR department should be prepared for processing and communicating with applicants in whatever form–electronic or otherwise– the department accepts applications. In the digital age, communication is nearly instantaneous and is extremely cheap. In addition, applicants submit their contact information to the hiring company, so communicating with online applicants should be fairly easy, especially via email.
An ideal HR situation involves two-way communication between HR staff and potential employees.
Yet, HR departments across America hardly communicate with job applicants. In fact, many job applicants never receive any notifications whatsoever, not even cookie-cutter rejection notices. This is unbelievably nerve-wracking for an applicant, especially for midlevel jobs. A”midlevel job” is a one that requires education beyond high school or that requires some level of specialized experience: managers, educators, specialists, and the like. The people applying to these positions have usually invested a great deal of time and effort to prepare themselves. In addition, applications for midlevel positions can involve intense work, often requiring detailed resumés, references, cover letters, curriculum vitae, portfolios, demonstrations, background checks, and the like. For example, one of the jobs I applied for required an education-specific resumé, three references, a cover letter, a questionnaire, and a short answer questionnaire in addition to the regular application (demographic data, age, background, etc.). I submitted all these documents directly using the institution’s career website in early October. It is now December and after logging in (many websites require you to create an account) to check for updates, calling, and emailing, I received no response at all, not even a form letter. People have not answered the phone, returned my calls, replied to emails, or changed the status of my application online (“Pending” has almost become a taunt). Some might chalk this up to any number of reasons, but I am not alone in my experience. You can do everything right and still a company will never contact you.
“No Calls Accepted” listings are especially suspect and aggravating. It removes one of the applicant’s active roles in the hiring process, grinding progress to a halt, especially if the HR department isn’t communicative. In that case, the candidate may be stuck in a terrible Catch22: they’ve applied to a “no calls” jobs that they are very interested in and qualified for, but have been waiting a long time with no response. However, a lesser job replied quickly and wants to hire them. What should they do? Take the job offered to them immediately, but sacrifice the possibility of the “dream job,” or hold out in hopes that the no-calls job will “get back to” them? It can be an agonizing decision. I’d rather get a nasty rejection letter rather than a fuzzy, static silence. It’s very unprofessional to treat people like paperwork (file them, stack them, stuff them in a drawer, forget). My advice: call them anyway. At least you might annoy them enough to get a polite, perhaps even rousing, rejection. If you’re lucky, you’ll get someone on the phone who can get you some worthwhile information about the status of the job.
The lack of communication isn’t just frustrating, it’s a huge red flag to a potential employee. I have been told that I “didn’t try hard enough” or that I “didn’t want the job bad enough,” but that’s not the case. I did try and I do want it, but if I can’t even get a straight answer (or any answer at all) out of someone in the HR department after multiple tries, it makes me wonder: if it’s so hard to get ahold of someone before I’m hired, how hard is it going to be to get help from them once I’m inside? Will I be waiting three weeks for someone to file my insurance paperwork or discuss a mistake on a paycheck?
What is lacking from the hiring process is a good communication process. I have worked in an office. I have dealt with the deluge of phone calls, emails, and visitors that seem to come in crashing waves. It can be hard running an office of any sort: people are always asking questions and demanding swift answers that you may or may not know. It’s constant work and it can be hard to get around to satisfying every inquiry while still completing a myriad of other office duties. The way to keep afloat in such situations is by putting processes in place to control the flow.
An ideal HR department would have such a process in place for job applications that has distinct steps for both applicants and the hiring staff. Right now, the process for each company is dependent on the individual company. There is no standard hiring process for any given career, as the processes vary by state, institution, even by hiring manager. It’s foolish to think that there is any “one size fits all” hiring process. However, there is just one simple process that would make the whole online hiring process so much easier and concise for both the candidates and HR staff. It’s as simple as an email list:
HR: List the Job
HR (or the responsible manager) posts an approved listing. Most larger companies and institutions have templates and requirements for such things, but just in case: How to Write a Job Posting. Potential employees appreciate having all the specific duties outlined in simple bullets. Generic “team attitude” and “fast-paced environment” do not help us understand what’s expected of us. List the duties honestly. We also appreciate if the hourly wage range (or salary range) is posted clearly. Most importantly, include the name of the responsible hiring party (contact “Mrs. Leveries” for example) and both their phone and email if possible, as well as available hours. It’s hard for potential employees to give important follow-up calls if we don’t know who to call!
The Candidate: Submit Application
We work hard putting together our documents, so if one is missing or corrupted, we are always grateful to hiring managers who let us know! If your company has a preferred file type (MS Word or PDFs, for example), please make that clear in the listing. The only complaint I have is being asked to upload a resumé and then being confronted with six pages of forms that want me to cut and paste the entire thing into separate boxing is annoying and wastes time for everybody. I know that it helps filter out applicants quickly, but please, pick either an upload or a form, not both. As long as you make your application process preferences clear, I will do my utmost best to get all the materials together for you, from typing tests to driving records and beyond!
HR: Create a Mailing List
This is what all my rambling has been building up to: The List. All applicants are required to submit their contact information, including email. As soon as a job is created, a mailing list for that job listing is also created, i.e. as soon as a “Senior Marketing Specialist II” listing goes up, a “Senior Marketing Specialist II” mailing list is created. These lists can then be populated as applications come in. Every time a new application is submitted, the person’s name and email is immediately added to that job’s mailing list.
The Candidate: Contact Employer
This the traditional point at which the applicant should begin contacting the employer if they haven’t gotten any response from HR within a week or two. Calling too soon may seem presumptuous, but such nuances must be dealt with on a case by case basis. Some employers encourage applicants to call while other post the dreaded “no calls accepted.” However, if a company has gone to the trouble of including contact information (especially individualized contact numbers for specific managers, etc.), a smart applicant will ring them up to double check that the application has arrived. An equally smart employer will answer.
HR: Send Notifications
The List for each job isn’t just there to keep track of candidates. It’s an active tool for keeping communication open with potential employees. If a job listing is “open until filled” and ends up dragging on for weeks or months, the mailing list tool offers a simple way to let applicants know you haven’t forgotten them. The hiring process often stalls if someone higher up retires or a crisis happens. Don’t leave us applicants in the dark! Send out a “Application received. Please be patient while we continue reviewing applicants. Thank you” notice. Continue to do so at regular intervals if the process is going to take months to complete or a project must be put on hold. Did a grant-funded position lose it’s funding? Don’t just let the applications fester and leave the candidates in the dark! They will be disappointed, but let them know the situation and keep their resumes (and Mailing List) on file just in case funding reappears.
HR: Filter Candidates
The List allows hiring managers to quickly send out interview info, hiring letters, and rejection notices. Calling to schedule interviews is still the preferred method, but in an era of mobile networking, many people will appreciate an email sent out in tandem that details the agreed-upon times and address. Once the interview process is complete, it is quite easy to simply remove the chosen applicant from the rest of the mailing list and send them a congratulatory letter. Their email address can then easily be added to the regular employee mailing list. The unfortunate souls left on the job mailing list can then be sent the usual brief rejection letter. While receiving one is painful, it’s better than never receiving one at all, leaving you hanging onto vain hope for months on end! It can be as simple as:
“Thank you for your application. While we appreciate your interest in our company, the position has been filled.”
Bam. Two sentences. That’s all it takes.
I am well aware of the arguments that this is an “employers’ market” and “you take what you can get,” but that is no excuse for denying someone the common courtesy of simple communication. It doesn’t even have to be personal. I don’t need a cutesy letter riddled with entertaining one-liners and small talk from the president of the university. I just want an update, a rejection, or better yet, an interview! Anything but being left in the deep void of Application Land…waiting…