Paper Applications Keep Hiring Practices Stuck in the Past

By Roy Maurer Nov 13, 2015
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Applying for a job is an outdated and inefficient process for many hourly workers, according to a new study.

The survey results from WorkJam, a technology platform that manages employee schedules, communication and on-demand training for service-sector companies, found that 61 percent of service organizations still rely on paper applications during the hiring process.

The survey included responses from 500 service company managers and more than 700 hourly employees in the United States. About 50 percent of hourly workers applied for their current job through a paper application, according to survey results.

“These companies may be missing out on the most qualified prospects,” said Joshua Ostrega, chief operating officer and co-founder of Montreal-based WorkJam. The survey found that 73 percent of service company managers said it takes more than a week to fill an opening for a new hourly employee. “Highly skilled workers don’t stay unemployed for long. Enforcing a sluggish application process encourages strong candidates to look elsewhere,” he said.

Lack of talent acquisition technology may not be impacting employers in the service industry at the moment, but “they will lose ground very rapidly if they don’t embrace recruiting technology such as mobile applications” soon, said John Land, a principal at HR consulting firm Mercer. “They will be impacted as more and more Millennials enter the workforce, and many of their competitors outside the industry have moved away from paper and are allowing candidates to apply through social media or on mobile devices.”

The study found that only 10 percent of service companies use mobile-optimized applications. This is a real problem for Millennial candidates who “skipped computers and went straight to smartphones,” said Liz D’Aloia, founder of HR Virtuoso Co., a mobile-recruiting technology firm based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Companies need to make it possible for candidates to simply pull out their mobile device and apply for a job in five minutes or less. We’ve seen increases of up to 70 percent more candidates by providing a simple, mobile-friendly, short application process.”

Land explained that service organizations generally spend less on HR technology than other sectors, but a definite distinction can be drawn between large and small service employers. The larger big-box stores are embracing technology, he said, while “Smaller, decentralized companies may be waiting to see how the technology works out at the larger organizations and [may] follow suit if they see the feasibility for their own operation or they see that they are not getting the quality candidates they want through the means they’re currently using.”

Joey Price, CEO of HR services provider Jumpstart:HR, based in Baltimore, said the reasons for failing to adopt recruiting technology are varied but ultimately come down to investment: “Franchisees may not be given resources to implement an online application process, and small mom and pop shops may not see the value in moving their application process online, especially when they also have an outdated website.”

There may be a perception that there is a significant cost to implementing recruiting technology, but that’s not necessarily so, Land noted. “There is such rapid innovation happening in that space that there are quite a few products that are not expensive and would enable smaller companies to be able to move on to a more mobile-first platform when it comes to talent acquisition.”

Price added that, at the very least, “it’s easy to use a service like SurveyMonkey, Formstack or Google Forms to create a low-cost or free job application.”

The Problems with Paper

Relying on paper applications will limit a company’s hiring flow, experts agreed. “Especially if the application process is extensive, how many people will walk into stores to apply for jobs in person?” Land asked. “It’s much easier to apply on your own time on the Internet.”

D’Aloia pointed out that use of paper applications may dissuade some workers from applying because of the time needed to travel to complete a paper application onsite. “Many hourly workers hold multiple jobs and also have family and school commitments. They simply don’t have the time to physically fill out a paper application,” she said. Company productivity is also affected: “Managers have to stop what they’re doing to give an application to the candidate. Some industries, especially the restaurant industry, can only take applications during off-peak hours which really limits their applicant flow.”

Paper applications also lack the additional functionality found in recruiting technology that allows employers to be much more efficient and targeted with selection. Electronic applications are more easily reviewed, said Rasheen Carbin, co-founder and chief marketing officer at job search startup nspHire, headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill.

“The companies getting paper applications are having to read through them all, vs. companies using technology to act as a force multiplier to their talent acquisition function,” Land added. “Options include prescreening candidates through a few questions or using psychometric testing to understand what an applicant’s customer experience is really like before you invest the time in bringing them in and conducting an interview.”

Employers also have an opportunity to improve their quality of hire if they use technology to support consistency in screening, Land said. “Hiring managers interviewing at stores or hotels at multiple decentralized locations will have huge inconsistencies in how they hire.” Recruiting technology could mitigate that, he said.

In addition to failing to integrate with the service industry’s high-volume hiring environment, traditional paper applications fail to communicate vital information about shift preferences, pay and qualifications to applicants and hiring managers, Ostrega said.

According to the study, the most pressing issues cited by service-sector employers are a lack of qualified candidates and a shortage of applicants with the right shift availability. Sixty percent of employees identified finding a position that is “close to home” and that “fits their schedule” as the top challenges in a job search. Workers also ranked hourly wages and preferred work hours as the most important factors when selecting a new job.

“Inefficient recruitment processes require both employers and staff to invest large amounts of time navigating around basic candidate deal breakers such as availability,” Ostrega said. “Businesses that clearly communicate shift and compensation information upfront can target the best-fitting candidates faster and hold on to them longer.”

Paper applications are also difficult for candidates with disabilities to use, said Sharon Rosenblatt, an IT accessibility services professional and disability advocate working for Accessibility Partners LLC, based in Washington, D.C. “For applicants with a visual disability, including blindness, this shuts them out of a potential job. This hurts the individual and can prevent a company from potentially hiring an otherwise perfectly qualified person.”

Rosenblatt said options include online forms enabled with screen-reading technology where the text is read aloud.

The Process Behind the Tech Is What Counts

Making it easy for job seekers to apply is certainly important, but it’s not everything, said Carol Quinn, CEO of Hire Authority, a training company based in Delray Beach, Fla. “You can still have old-style paper and pencil applications along with an effective interviewing process and have time-to-fill be short and quality-of-hire be high. [Or] you can use technology for online applications and still be slow to make hiring decisions. The presence or absence of the technology won’t sway a hiring decision one way or another,” she said.

Quinn pointed out that the time it takes to fill a position and the cost of filling that position do not trump the quality of the hire. “A fast, cheap hire that performs poorly, ticks off customers, has a bad attitude, fails to meet deadlines and isn’t a team player is never an acceptable hire. The focus really needs to be on ‘getting the right people on the bus,’ whether via online application or paper application or both.”

The answer might come from technology, Quinn added, or it might come from “how you get the word out that you have job openings” or the creation of an effective in-house referral program. “Many organizations say they already have this, but it doesn’t work very well for them because the program is not being done right. Done right, I’ve personally seen it to be highly effective at a low cost.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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