What the Revamped USAJOBS Site Can Teach Employers

Government follows private sector’s best practices in improving candidate experience

By Roy Maurer Mar 16, 2016
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Private-sector organizations should take note of the ongoing overhaul of the federal government’s jobs portal, featuring a simplified application process, mobile optimization and other candidate-friendly enhancements. 

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced the upgrades as part of a comprehensive redesign rolling out this year that will improve job seekers’ experience with USAJOBS.gov. The site served 187 million people conducting 1 billion job searches in 2014, according to OPM.

Historically, applying for a federal job through the site could be aggravating. Common complaints included the length of time it took to apply, inaccessibility due to high traffic, failed or inconsistent searches, inexplicable timeouts and error messages, and no responses from anyone after applying.

Part of the overhaul effort involved identifying where in the application process job seekers abandoned their efforts or ran into trouble, said Michelle Earley, USAJOBS program manager. “The revised job application features are designed to more clearly communicate the steps applicants are expected to complete and guide them through a step-by-step process in completing an application package that can then seamlessly be transferred to an agency,” she said.

Other enhancements (some to be rolled out later this year) include:

  • Allowing job seekers to follow the progress of their applications from beginning to end through a status update tool.
  • Making it easier for applicants to attach, view or delete resumes and other documents without leaving the application process.
  • Allowing applicants to save progress on a pending application.

Earley added that OPM is also working to make the process clearer in general, by collaborating with agencies to use more plain language for job postings and to clearly label each posting’s closing date. In October 2015, OPM finished adding responsive design elements to make the site entirely mobile-friendly.

The agency said the goal is to create an application experience that “closely mirrors the experience job seekers have with many nongovernment job sites.”

But, based on recent surveys, there are many private-sector employers’ sites that also neglect these candidate experience best practices.

A 2014 study from recruitment technology company Jibe and research firm Kelton Global found that online job applications discourage the majority of candidates from applying. In the survey, which polled more than 1,000 job seekers, 3 out of 5 respondents said job applications are more difficult to fill out than other common forms. Many reported they would be deterred from completing an application if they encountered technology issues, couldn’t upload their resume, couldn’t follow up on their application status or couldn’t complete the application on a mobile device.

Application abandonment leads to a loss of candidates and a poor candidate experience, which can negatively impact an employer’s brand and future recruiting efforts. It also leads to higher costs in cost-per-click recruiting models, where employers pay for each job posting clicked on, whether or not anyone actually applies.

Takeaways for All Employers

So how can employers take a cue from the feds? First, by auditing their own application process.

“Employers should regularly apply to jobs on their own site to audit the experience,” said Craig Fisher, head of employer brand at software firm CA Technologies and CEO of TalentNet, a social business strategy firm based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Many employers don’t regularly go through the process to see for themselves, but tech glitches, redundant questions, multiple authentications and more can all negatively impact candidate experience.”

Some questions to ask while auditing your careers site include:

  • Can candidates quickly find your jobs?
  • How many clicks does it take to apply for a job?
  • How easy is the application process?
  • Do you communicate expectations about next steps or processes?
  • How long until an applicant hears back? Do applicants hear back at all?

“One of the top complaints of job applicants is that employers don’t communicate enough,” Fisher said. “Most applicant tracking systems send an application confirmation e-mail, but it feels very automated and impersonal to the candidate. Then, if the candidate is rejected somewhere in the process, they may never hear anything back. A status update at each stage, even on initial rejection, is highly valued by candidates.”

Fisher said that at CA Technologies, “an actual person reviews each application and will send a personal note to rejected candidates encouraging them to join our talent community to keep in touch for future openings.”

Optimize for Mobile

It has become critically important to offer candidates a mobile-optimized careers site where they can easily find and apply for jobs using mobile devices. “If you can’t engage with a mobile job seeker with your content or job postings,” then you’re losing out, said Kevin Walker, director of employer insights for job search engine Indeed, based in Austin, Texas.

About 60 percent of Indeed’s 180 million unique visitors are querying jobs via a mobile device, Walker said.

To be effective with mobile recruiting, employers will have to:

*Ensure that careers site content is readable and that the steps for job seekers are as simple, efficient and focused as possible. “You own the candidate experience,” Walker said. “There’s a direct correlation between how many questions you ask in the application process and how many people drop out after starting an application.”

Employers should not ask job seekers using mobile devices:

  • To apply later from a desktop. “This is like shopping on Amazon from your phone and then being told to check out later from your desktop,” Walker said.
  • To attach a resume when applying, which creates all kinds of formatting and accessibility problems between different operating systems and employers’ applicant tracking systems. A more candidate-friendly practice is allowing applicants to import data from existing online profiles.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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