Online Job Applications

The problem of candidates dropping out of online applications continues to plague the recruiting industry. According to CareerBuilder, 60% of applicants forgo half of completing online job applications due to their length or complexity.

Other industry sources say the dropout rate may be conservative.


The consequences for organizations of this persistent problem are the loss of top talent, poor word of mouth from process-frustrated candidates, and the higher costs associated with abandoning cost-per-click recruiting models.

Traditional thinking holds that extensive apps will exclude lazy candidates and that good talent will devote enough to provide more information, said Sarah Gregory, director of research at Punchkick Interactive, a Chicago-based web and mobile app development company. CareerBuilder’s survey suggests that this mindset is still prevalent. About 50% of employers who responded said the duration of the application process is good because it “kills” candidates.

“But really, it’s the other way around,” Gregory said. “Good candidates know that their time is important and that they have many opportunities in the job market. Their tolerance for obstacles is much lower” than many employers think.

Application optimization

What can recruiters do to increase the likelihood of applications being completed via mobile devices or desktop computers? Experts say the first steps are to eliminate the “nice to have” questions that aren’t necessary on first contact with candidates and limit the number of screens people have to navigate. The idea is to balance what’s convenient for recruiters with what’s easy for candidates to use.

According to a study conducted by recruiting firm Appcast, recruiters can increase conversion rates (candidates who see a job posting and complete an application) by up to 365% by reducing the duration of the application process to five minutes or less. The study tracked 500,000 job seekers looking for online applications across various platforms and more than 30,000 completed applications.

Completion rates drop nearly 50 percent when an app asks 50 or more questions versus 25 or fewer, the Appcast study found.

“Ask yourself in advance what kind of information you really need to decide if you want to move candidates to the next step,” said Tiffani Murray, talent management systems manager at Pulte Group in Atlanta. “You need a name, contact information and a resume or LinkedIn profile. If you have a five or six screen deep application process and a candidate is filling it out on a smartphone, in many cases they will leave you.”

According to strategic consulting firm Kelton, 86% of active candidates use their smartphones to start a job search.

Asking applicants to re-enter their work history in the fields of an applicant tracking system (ATS) is another cause for dropout. Even when an ATS extracts information from a resume and automatically fills it into form fields, the number of formatting and editing changes candidates have to make often take a long time, Gregory said. “Candidates hate re-entering resume information after submitting a resume file,” he noted.

Another obstacle to completion is asking candidates to create one account to log into a career site and a second account to apply through an ATS, Murray said.

The request for these double accesses can postpone candidates.

Murray is also baffled by companies asking for referrals on first contact with candidates. “Why not wait to ask for references when you get to the bidding stage?” Murray said. “There’s no need to add that information burden to candidates when a high percentage doesn’t come up with an offer.

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