ATS Apply Flows: Where Candidate Experience Goes To Die

ATS Apply Flows: Where Candidate Experience Goes To Die

Mike Roberts

The largest proportion of today’s workforce—made up by Millennials—grew up using software. Navigating digital technology is essentially engrained in their DNA. But for Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, that wasn’t the case. Those generations had to learn how to use software over the years. mobile phone job applicationAnd in the past, user experiences had to account for the fact that people weren’t tech-savvy. Things couldn’t be more different today.

While most everyday software experiences have evolved alongside user expectations, there’s one place—still, in 2015—where this doesn’t seem to be the case: the legacy Applicant Tracking System (ATS) apply flow. While many recruiters are becoming more modern, starting to leverage innovative new strategies like recruitment marketing and social recruiting, it’s like this unavoidable anchor is holding them back.

As job seekers continue to become more tech-savvy, legacy ATS apply flows are delivering diminishing returns to candidate experience. And that’s reflecting poorly upon employer brands and even turning job seekers away. Below, we’ll inspect this topic, starting with some history of user experience (UX) design told through the story of none other than Apple’s Macintosh PC.

Changing User Experience Design Principles

We recently stumbled across a post on this topic by Tomasz Tunguz, a tech-focused venture capitalist at Redpoint. He discussed how user experiences are created based on assumptions about users: “who they are, how they think, what they expect.” And how over the years, these assumptions have changed dramatically.

He highlights the point about changing assumptions behind UX design by referencing the constraints under which the Macintosh was created in the ‘90s. As you read the next set of bullet points, think about it in the context of today’s candidates, and the UX provided by out-of-the-box legacy ATS that are still a major part of the world’s biggest companies’ apply experiences.

  • It needed to sell to “naive users,” that is, users without any previous computer experience.
  • It was targeted at a narrow range of applications (mostly office work, though entertainment and multimedia applications have been added later in ways that sometimes break slightly with the standard interface).
  • It controlled relatively weak computational resources (originally a non-networked computer with 128KB RAM, a 400KB storage device, and a dot-matrix printer).
  • It was supported by highly impoverished communication channels between the user and the computer (initially a small black-and-white screen with poor audio output, no audio input, and no other sensors than the keyboard and a one-button mouse).
  • It was a standalone machine that at most was connected to a printer.

Tunguz then went on to say:

“Because Millennials will constitute 75% of the US workforce within the next ten years, software built on outdated principles like the ones above won’t survive. Users simply won’t adopt them. In fact, users will reject them outright.

And yet, many companies are staying the course with legacy ATS apply flows despite the rising cost of inaction.

Is Your “Apply Now” Button a Time Machine?

In the past, we’ve written exhaustively on the limitations and poor candidate experience provided by legacy ATS apply flows. There’s this strange thing that happens when a job seeker is navigating through an often nicely designed career site and then hits the “Apply Now” button. She’s taken from the company site to the ATS apply experience, which has this back-office software look and feel of the past.

For today’s job seekers who are used to the user experiences and interfaces of Uber, Google, Amazon, Apple, and every other awesome consumer brand, passing them off to the not mobile-friendly, unresponsive, unbranded, un-[insert something negative here] ATS apply flow is becoming outdated enough to drive them away. But as mentioned above, we’ve written about this a lot, and you can find out more here.

The Last Place on the Internet Where Poor UX Is “Acceptable”

Our SVP of Marketing, Ivan Casanova, has said numerous times, “The apply flow is one of the last places on the internet where changing branding and UX is acceptable.”

This always seemed like a powerful concept, and it can be inspected from two different perspectives: job seekers and recruiters.

The often frustrating and unfriendly experience of applying to a job on the internet is something job seekers just assume is a cost of doing business. To them, going through the apply flow is nothing more than the entrance fee for consideration. People are exponentially more likely to sit and wait to hear back from a recruiter than complain about their experience to one—that is, unless you ask them about it.

Gerry Crispin, co-founder of Talent Board and driver behind the 2015 CandE Awards, advocates for simply asking candidates about their experience while going through different parts of the hiring funnel. He applies the concept of the Net Promoter Score to the candidate experience.

We love this idea from a continuous improvement perspective—enabling organizations to tweak, refine, and adapt to feedback over time from real candidates—but something so obvious as an outdated user experience born by software that looks and feels like it was created around the turn of the millennium shouldn’t be some big revelation discovered through a candidate experience survey. It’s more obvious than that.

So, why does the problem still persist? So many recruiters and professionals in talent acquisition leadership positions don’t even know what their own career site candidate experience is like. They either haven’t done the exercise of going through their own apply flow or perhaps got their current position through a referral and bypassed the process in the past.

There’s also the possibility that they do know, but they’re left with the legacy ATS status quo because of budget. They would like a better apply experience, but they haven’t been able to build a business case for a next-generation, consumer-quality candidate experience solution. On top of that, most ATS don’t even offer easily accessible and quality analytics to see how poorly their apply flows are performing in the first place, so building a business case becomes even harder. It’s like an endless cycle of misery that only works out for the big software company.

The ability to integrate with the legacy ATS is changing all of that. It’s no longer necessary to completely rip-and-replace the old ATS you’ve invested so much in—now you can just build an awesome candidate experience on top of it at a fraction of the cost and in a way that delivers growing returns. This eBook puts the whole thing into perspective.

Job seekers’ digital and mobile expectations are rising by the day, and your candidate experience has to keep pace. Check out our new eBook “Creating a Consumer-Quality Candidate Experience Without Replacing Your ATS” to learn more.

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