Dear HR: your recruiting and applicant tracking systems are chasing away talent


A prospective job applicant’s first encounter with your brand may be a hateful, poorly designed, time-wasting ordeal. How many times a day do they just say no thanks?

I received an email this morning from a company I tried to apply to this week. I abandoned the application because of the process. If you’ve applied for work online in recent years you know what I mean.

Here’s the letter.

Dear Samuel,

Your application is incomplete for our job titled: Copywriter

Please follow this link to finish your job application: https://careers-xxxxx

For additional information regarding our hiring process, please visit: http://xxx

Thank you,

xxxx Companies, Inc.

When I clicked on the site it had a link to ‘Withdraw.” I clicked it. Unlike any process I’ve ever seen before, it offered me this:

Please enter any notes about your withdrawal.

So I did.

Your system makes applying a burdensome chore. First it tells you to enter job experience if you didn’t upload a resume, and then all of a sudden it asks you to manually enter everything. On top of that, the UI is appalling in the way it informs you of mistakes only after you’ve moved on.

I believe I’d be a great candidate and would love to talk to you about a job. But processes like this are so frustrating and time consuming that many of the best applicants simply move on rather than deal with it, opting instead for companies whose app systems are more welcoming.

Understand: This process, like every other customer, vendor, employee or prospect touchpoint is a statement of your brand. You’re telling us who you are as a company and a culture. In this case, you’re telling us you’re willing to antagonize the people around whom you wish to build. You’re telling them you don’t care enough to make their first contact with you a memorable one.

Actually, I take that back. It’s very memorable, albeit not in the way you’d want. Truly, the saving grace here is that maybe I won’t remember it in a month because other companies are just as bad, and some are worse.

You had a chance to stand out, though, and you didn’t take it.

If you can consider me based on what you have I’d be grateful. If not, I wish you well and thank you for your time.

Samuel Smith

There are many companies out there who provide recruiting and applicant tracking software, with Oracle’s goddamned Taleo being among the most egregious. (A Google search for [taleo sucks] returns more than 67k results. Many thanks to LinkedIn and Indeed for crafting quick apply processes that streamline out the unnecessary HR OCD.)

The gods only know how many times a day really good candidates – perhaps the best candidates – get frustrated, as I did, and say fuck it. How many of the millions of companies in America have second-best (or worse) employees in important positions because the ideal hire said “enough”?

Applying for a job takes time. If you’re smart you’ve invested some energy into developing multiple, nuanced versions of your résumé and multiple cover letter templates so you can more efficiently address different sorts of requirements stated in job ads. (I have at least seven resumes and probably five base letters that I tailor for each application.)

Just the customizing takes a few minutes. Then you hit the “Apply Now” button. Did you know it can sometimes take an hour (or more – I think my record is 90 minutes) to apply through some company systems? When you apply to one of these, you have to make a conscious decision to bypass probably three other companies because there’s only so much time.

The message for HR in all this is simple: you’re driving away talent. Most likely, you’re driving away the best talent, the talent that can say I’m good, I have plenty of options, and I don’t have to put up with this.

To company leadership, it’s like I say above. This, too, is a presentation of your brand. You can do better. You should do better.


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