Redesigning Your Careers Website

Make it easy for candidates to view and apply to job postings.

By Dave Zielinski Feb 1, 2011
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After Maureen Solero perused her company’s careers website through the eyes of a potential job applicant, she knew changes were in order. Solero, global head of staffing for health care solutions company Novartis, concluded that 17 clicks were far too many to require of candidates who wanted to find specific jobs and apply. Three million job seekers visit the Novartis careers site annually. Solero was concerned that the difficulty of navigation would create unacceptably high drop-off rates as candidates grew frustrated and left the site.

So Solero created a cross-divisional group of human resource, communications and hiring managers to brainstorm ways to redesign the site to make it easier to use, to accelerate candidate access to jobs information, and to provide more-engaging messages about the Novartis work experience. The redesign group worked with information technology colleagues for several months on enhancing system platforms and site navigation to revamp the careers portal—with impressive results. Pilot redesigns of the company’s careers sites in Russia, China and Brazil will follow. As a result, “We are now able to deliver our career messages globally with less than half of the navigation previously required by users. We have taken some of the ‘clicks’ out of recruiting,” Solero says.

More Visitors, More Visible

With more people visiting corporate careers websites for jobs information, and with recruiters emphasizing those sites as recruiting and employment branding tools, making your site easy to find, applicant-friendly and rich with information about current employees, work culture, benefits and development opportunities may be more important than ever.

According to Potentialpark Communications, an international web recruitment research company based in Sweden, nine of 10 candidates go online to find career-related information. Of those, about two-thirds trust the information on corporate careers sites.

In many cases, human resource leaders who initiate a redesign of their companies’ careers sites are responding to a desire from candidates for organizations to move beyond the “public relations speak” of the past and provide a more realistic, behind-the-scenes portrayal of work life—which is often given by actual employees.

Starbucks is one company that has answered the call. The Seattle-based coffee company recently revamped its careers site to improve ease of use and provide engaging content. An information architect hired in 2009 to study how candidates use the site discovered troubling patterns, according to Lacey All, director of strategic talent initiatives.

The number of “clicks needed to get to key jobs information was too high, and people were often navigating away from critical content and getting lost,” All says. “The content on your site can be great, but if the user experience isn’t equally good, you have a problem.”

Improving navigation paved the way for content changes. Redesign team members said the site did a good job of explaining Starbucks’ “green apron” experience and selling the benefits of working in retail positions. But messages about working in business units such as supply chain management, marketing and information technology were not as strong, they concluded.

“Those are big growth areas for us, and we wanted to do a better job of telling the story of what it’s like to work in those functions,” All says. So six function-specific web pages were created featuring “day in the life” videos of employees talking about their work, as well as short profiles of workers at different career levels explaining why they chose the company and why they enjoy the work culture.

These pop-out pages avoid the previous problem of pulling visitors away from content focused on culture and work environment. “We don’t want to draw people away from what life is like in Seattle, the unique qualities of our work culture and the value proposition of being an employee here,” All says.

London-based assurance, tax and advisory services company Ernst & Young also revamped portions of its careers site to improve the user experience, says Dan Black, director of campus recruiting for the Americas. Students applying for jobs through the company’s applicant tracking system said that the process took too long. So designers separated that process into two steps by reducing the number of fields candidates had to fill out on initial applications and asking for additional information once applicants made it to the next stage, Black says. People “didn’t want to spend 30 minutes filling out applications,” he notes.

To create a cohesive, global feel for its careers site, recruiters at software giant Microsoft Corp. completed a redesign in 2010 that integrated more than 100 country careers sites into a single, one-stop site for worldwide Microsoft job opportunities.

“Integration allowed us to create more-consistent branding, streamlined navigation, and made it easier for candidates to find and apply for worldwide jobs with a single search,” says Margie Medd, Microsoft’s director of employment branding.

A common denominator among careers website redesigns: Those leading the effort seek a variety of contributions from line partners and users before making changes. Solero’s team at Novartis, for example, began by soliciting feedback from job candidates, recent hires, hiring managers and Novartis recruiters.

“Our recruiters in particular use these tools each day and were very helpful to us in shaping design priorities and deliverables,” Solero says.

Enter Here

You can’t attract the best talent, of course, until job seekers know how to find your company online, so many organizations drive traffic to their careers portals through search engine optimization strategies, via links from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and by tweeting about job opportunities.

“We don’t want to leave our fortunes to whether job candidates just happen to stumble upon our careers site online,” Black says.

Ernst & Young also uses its Facebook page to proactively address rumors or inaccuracies about career opportunities circulating on social networks.

In 2010, for example, Black used Facebook to address rumblings online that the company may be cutting back on hiring plans and recruiting visits to campuses. He confirmed that hiring practices hadn’t changed and invited people to pose questions to him on Facebook during a two-week period.

“I logged on three or four times a day to answer specific questions college students had about hiring, the number and kinds of positions that were open, tips on how to get a job here, and much more,” Black says.

Starbucks extends its reach into social media through the use of a web “widget” that can be downloaded to Facebook. The application serves as a mini careers site of sorts. “A Facebook user can tell the widget he or she is interested in marketing or communications jobs at Starbucks, and will be linked directly to those positions on our site,” All says. “Facebook friends can literally pull the widget off of a friend’s page and place it on their page, and customize it for their own areas of jobs interest.”

Some recruiters have strategies for drawing passive job seekers to careers sites as well. Passive job seekers include those who aren’t online with the express purpose of exploring jobs at given companies, but who might be drawn to a careers site with the right appeal.

Ernst & Young, for example, has a presence on Pandora, the online radio station, “not because we love music, but because it’s another place that potential job applicants spend time,” Black says.

At Starbucks, the recruitment team uses the company’s in-store digital network to get employment messages in front of passive candidates. When customers sign up for free Wi-Fi connections in Starbucks stores, employment messages pop up during sign-on that link to the careers site. “If we can reach potential candidates where they play, if you will, and place a jobs message in front of them, we think they’ll begin to consider Starbucks in their employment vernacular,” All says.

Building Virtual Relationships

When redesigning careers websites, many HR professionals strive to give candidates greater insight into the people, culture, work environment and future development opportunities at their companies. They begin building virtual relationships and making candidates feel as if they’re already among potential friends or in a culture that aligns with their preferred work styles or values.

Such insights often take the form of videos where employees talk about their jobs or the corporate culture, short text-and-photo biographies of workers at different levels in departments, or virtual tours of office spaces. Some recruiters give the videos greater exposure by posting them on the company’s YouTube channel.

“Convey what your company is really like to work for through the voice of actual employees,” says Microsoft’s Medd. Microsoft’s JobsBlog contains employee blog posts and day-in-the-life videos.

Accenture, the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company in New York City, is set to roll out a redesigned careers site in early 2011 that incorporates extensive user feedback for an interactive experience, says John Campagnino, global director of recruitment.

The site will quickly match candidates by background, skill sets, interests and geographic preferences to the right jobs. “You’ll also see even more of the human face of Accenture and a focus on things that are important to us beyond work,” Campagnino says.

Ernst & Young employs multimedia functions to offer do’s and don’ts for job interviews, to highlight flexible work-schedule options and to help candidates determine where they best fit in the organization. One such tool, called Picture Yourself, asks candidates questions about their education and interests and then directs them to matching job opportunities that might emphasize travel, work with companies of a certain size or a mix of project types.

“In a big organization like ours, it can be hard for applicants to find their place or the right fit on the site, and we think these tools aid in the process,” Black says.

Optimizing for Mobile Use

With more people accessing careers portals via smart phones, and with industry analysts predicting that use to grow rapidly in coming years, HR professionals are modifying their companies’ sites for use on hand-held mobile devices. If not optimized to display on the smaller screens of smart phones, most careers sites end up looking jumbled. Adaptation for mobile devices usually focuses on displaying text or essential jobs information while leaving out graphics. Or, companies may use pre-made mobile templates to create completely separate versions.

Making relevant information easily accessible and readable via smart phone is a current focus at Ernst & Young, says Deborah Compagner, marketing communications leader for recruiting in the Americas.

As hiring needs inevitably pick up, keeping your careers website fresh, engaging and user-friendly will take on even greater importance.

The author is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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