Your job application process can bring in qualified candidates – or drive them away. Here’s how to spot and fix problems.

When you’re hiring for an open position, are you getting the number and quality of applicants that you want? If not, your online job application process could be part of the problem.

A frustrating online application process can scare off good talent. If it’s too difficult or confusing, busy jobseekers simply won’t apply. Or worse, they may develop a negative view of your company and share their bad impression with others.

This means not only your recruitment process is at stake but also your brand.

Let’s take a look at five subtle ways your online job post or application may be discouraging candidates from applying – and discuss what you can do about it.

1. Your job description and application are too long.

When candidates go online to apply for a job you’ve posted, they need to be able to fill it out completely and submit it in 15 minutes or less. The longer it takes to apply, the more candidates will drop out of the process.

That means you may need to edit your job description to make it brief and to the point. Put the most essential experience and skill requirements at the top of your list.

You may also want to consider reducing the number of form fields in your online job application. In an era when many candidates use their smartphones to apply for jobs, requiring people to key in lots of information can be a dealbreaker.

Instead, try collecting only the basic information that’s necessary for the first stage of consideration, such as name, contact information and resume.

Asking for too many details may exhaust candidates’ patience. They may even give up halfway through the job application.

Asking for employment history for more than the five most recent years can also turn applicants away, too.

2. Your employment application process is outdated.

You may have noticed there was no mention of a cover letter in the list of what to include on the online application.

That wasn’t a mistake – cover letters are dead.

The traditional request that candidates upload a resume in PDF format is changing, too. Many employers now allow candidates to provide a link to their LinkedIn profile. That creates a faster and more seamless way to apply, especially on a smartphone.

Note that LinkedIn is designed to showcase candidates’ professional experience, education and expertise. It was common several years ago (and controversial) for employers to request candidates’ personal social media pages on sites like Facebook and Instagram, too. Now, most candidates view that type of request as intrusive, which means they’re likely to abandon the job application and look elsewhere for work.

3. You don’t include a strong employer brand message.

Do your job postings and employee applications tell candidates “what’s in it for me”? If not, including a clear employer brand message may boost the number of candidates who apply.

Today’s candidates are interested in salary range and traditional benefits like a 401(k) and health insurance. They’re also interested in employers who offer a good fit for their values and lifestyles.

For example, many Millennial and Generation Z candidates want flexible hours or remote working options. They’re also looking for work that has meaning to them or makes a positive difference in the world.

To appeal to these applicants, start your job posting with a brief statement of the reasons why someone would want to work for you (beyond your list of traditional employee benefits). For example:

  • Were you voted a top workplace by a news outlet, industry group or employer review site?
  • What is special about your company culture?
  • Do you have a unique or exciting mission?
  • Does your company offer opportunities for learning and career growth?

Highlight the things that make your employer brand strong to increase your appeal to top talent.

4. Your job application process is unfriendly.

Because online job applications are automated, they can feel impersonal, making candidates wonder if a real human ever sees them.

By including the contact information for the position’s hiring manager, you can make the process more warm, personal. You’ll give candidates someone to contact if they have questions that aren’t answered in the job description, too.

Also, don’t let candidates think their application fell into a black hole. Be responsive and provide feedback throughout the hiring process. These days, job seekers expect you to inform them about their application status. Make sure it’s in a timely manner, too – within 24 to 48 hours of receiving an application.

Once candidates know you received their application, keep them up to date on where they are in the process. For example:

  • Will a recruiter contact them?
  • If so, when can they expect to hear from the recruiter?
  • If not, will you keep their application on file for future job openings?

When your system walks applicants through every step, they’re more likely to stay engaged. Even if they don’t get the job, they’re probably going to think more highly of your organization than if they hear nothing at all.

This isn’t just important for your reputation as an employer. It can affect your organization’s image with customers, too. After all, there’s sometimes overlap between job candidates and clients.

A job applicant who feels ignored or mistreated may choose not to do business with that company any longer. And candidates share their experiences, good and bad, with others on review sites or via social media.

So, it’s wise to treat your candidates as if they’re your current or future customers.

5. Applicants experience tech troubles.

Have you ever abandoned a full cart while shopping online because you ran into technical difficulties during the checkout process? Did the store seem less reliable to you after the tech problems?

The same thing can happen with an employment application form. As a business, you lose credibility and qualified applicants when your online job application presents candidates with technical glitches.

It’s a good idea to test your job application process thoroughly to see how long it takes and how well it works. To that end, you and your current employees can take a closer look at it, with an eye to answering these questions:

  • Is the job description compelling and brief?
  • Are the application instructions easy to understand?
  • Does the application process freeze up or crash?
  • Is it easy to upload a resume or link to a LinkedIn profile?
  • Is the application easy to  fill out on mobile devices?
  • Does the application take 15 minutes or less to complete?
  • Can candidates follow up online to check their application status?
  • Will candidates get automatic updates via email or text as their application is processed?

The takeaway

Investing the time to create a job application process that appeals to candidates can pay off by delivering more and better – quality candidates to your organization. It can also help protect your brand’s reputation.

From posting a job opening to onboarding new hires, talent acquisition can be tricky. Not sure if your company is following best practices? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to attracting, recruiting and hiring top talent.