Sapping Our Job Recovery: Online Application Systems

(I’m going to digress a little from the usual fare to talk about the job application process for a moment.)

          In this era of record unemployment, it seems everyone who isn’t unemployed knows at least a dozen people who are.  Our economic recovery—everyone seems to agree—depends on “jobs creation.”  Lack of jobs is a huge impediment to recovery.  But no one has pointed out yet another impediment to progress to economic recovery:  online application systems, those cantankerous time drains that job-seekers must use if they want to apply for jobs at all.  Everything from food service to marketing, high tech to hotel jobs requires applicants to use them.  Ready to spend hours and hours of your valuable job-search time typing and re-typing your basic information over and over into multiple, slightly but not very different online application systems?  Just click “Apply Now”! 

          Everyone I know who’s looking for a job has complained about online application systems, these fortresses designed to decompose people into skills and to protect recruiters from volumes of candidates who aren’t precisely qualified for the positions they hope to fill. And there are so many of these systems!  Each company has its own, or at least its own customized version of some standard software product.

          For starters, every online application system requires that you have a login and password.  If you don’t, you can create one.  Dedicated job applicants, who have really been at this awhile, can have 100 such “accounts”—most of which are use-once-and-forget. Some online application systems offer online tutorials to lead you through their application process, so in addition to the time you can spend creating your job app, you can add 10-15 minutes to learn their system—which you’ll use once and probably never again.

          In order to introduce yourself as a candidate worthy of a single glance, you must enter—over and over again, into different systems, one for each position you apply for—your work experience, education, professional associations, certifications, and any other qualifications you can muster. Painstakingly, one application at a time, you work your way through.  Each application and cover letter combo can take you anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to prepare and submit.

          Of course, every system requires that you furnish the same standard information—name, address, email, phone numbers, whether you have the legal right to work in the U.S., whether you’re over 18, where you worked, what you were “responsible for” or what your job duties were. If you’re lucky, you can upload your resume. If you’re really lucky, uploading your resume actually works—doesn’t hang half-way through the upload and, when it arrives, it actually looks like your resume. If you’re not as lucky, then you type in (yet again) the employment history, the names of your “supervisors,” dates of employment, and details about your education. 

          When it comes to education, often the system wants to know only what degree(s) you achieved.  If you went to graduate school, say, for four years but didn’t finish your Ph.D., you won’t find a place to say so.

            Let’s say you’ve re-keyed in again, for the 20th time, all that basic education and employment info.  Now let’s say you have some job-related, maybe leadership, experience that’s outside your litany of jobs.  Perhaps you’ve been on the board of directors of a non-profit for the last 10 years, or you spend time regularly in Haiti rebuilding medical clinics, or you serve as a volunteer teaching assistant in a middle school (which should earn you points for valor if nothing else).   Well, good luck finding a place to put any of that that.

            Now that you’ve entered in whatever is allowed, adhering to the particular edits required and navigating the various panels (Save and Continue, Save and Go Back, Save and Exit and so forth), remember to double-check you’ve completed those “required” fields, including on some of these your “current salary.”  No kidding.  You may be tossed out on your virtual ear because whatever salary you’ve been at isn’t within the specific range being offered for this position.  Never mind that you’re willing to work for less or that you’re an independent professional with a variable income.  What has always been a conversation topic for much later in the process is now required information up front.  

            If you’re new to the job search process, by now you’re thoroughly discouraged and hoping I’m wrong, that there’s another way.  If you’ve been at the job search awhile, you’re no doubt nodding vigorously, recalling painful moments of uploads gone wrong and applications that didn’t “submit” after you hit “submit.”

            The job application process should take a lesson from the college application process and use a Common Application, one place to enter in all the repeatable information, a single resource many schools turn to as they evaluate candidates.  Imagine one common database of applicants in the U.S. which employers turn to, a single vast repository of the American workforce.

          Oh well, I can dream, can’t I?

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