Online Job Applications a Waste of Time

12:53 PM

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Human Resources (HR) departments within companies have implemented some practices which counter their purpose of drawing good people into their companies. I cannot help but wonder, are these companies serious about seeking employees? I mean, they have taken the trouble to write a job posting and paid for advertising, but then they have thrown hurdles in the way of applicants to the point that many qualified people don’t bother applying. This practice is counter-productive.

Strike One: Requiring Applicants to Create an Account

Many companies now require job applicants to first sign up for a user account on the company web site. The process is free, similar to creating a webmail account with username and password, but it is still annoying and, as far as I am concerned, a waste of time. The vast majority of jobs for which I have applied have been one-time deals. I apply for a job and . . . that is it. I have never fallen in love with a particular company and never made a point of returning to the company web site, signing in to my account, and aimlessly surfed around to check things out. After I submitted my job application, that was the end of my interest there. So why waste job applicants’ time by requiring them to create these nonsense accounts? I do not want to have to remember yet more usernames and passwords. I am applying for a position with the company, not marrying the company.

Strike Two: Accepting Job Applications Through Online Forms Only

I have put a lot of time and effort into my resume: choosing the right words, arranging it just how I want it, selecting the right font, etc. – trying to make it look perfect. Yet after all that time and work, I then come to a company web site, find a job I think is a wonderful fit for me, but the only way to apply for the posting is to copy and paste my resume into a standard form on a web page that messes up the resume. I don’t know how it looks on the receiving end, but every time I have copied and pasted my resume into one of these forms, the formatting disappears and the resume looks like a complete mess. I have often wondered if it looks better at the receiving end. Do these HR departments have a filter or something at their end that puts the resume back together again and makes it look like it was supposed to? If not, it is infuriating to think the time spent polishing my resume was time wasted because it is just going to get all messed up when it finally gets submitted to a company.

Strike Three: Online Questionnaires

In addition to requiring applicants to create accounts on their web sites, and submit applications through an online form, some companies go even further: they also require applicants to go through an online questionnaire, mini-interview, supplementary application, or whatever they call it. This additional requirement for job applications is especially infuriating. I normally don’t bother with jobs that include these extra steps, however, a couple years ago I thought I would give it a try. I only made it through four of the eight-page questionnaire before deciding I had had enough: too many stupid questions about whether I prefer to be in a cubicle or an open area, if I don’t mind others hearing my conversations, who I would like with me if I was stranded on a desert island, etc. Enough!! Anybody with self-respect is right to get insulted by having their intelligence questioned in such a way. I have never bothered to even look at job postings from that company since then. If a company wants to know about me, and what I have to offer, they can call me in for an interview.

This online process is too impersonal. To me, it is similar to situations in which I call a company and am told to call such-and-such a number or visit such-and-such a web site for assistance; it makes me feel like I am being brushed off. And if the telephone help line is a confusing menu to navigate, with a myriad of options to go through, and I still cannot reach a living human being and get my issue resolved satisfactorily, then I really get angry. In those cases, I eventually take my business elsewhere; in fact, I make a point of trying to avoid dealings with such companies altogether. It may sound ironic coming from a techie for whom the online world is such a large part of life, but I still want to deal with human beings for many things–including applying for a job.

The use of online application forms produces another aspect that reflects badly on the companies that use them: the perception that the company is overly bureaucratic. After all, the whole point of these forms is to ease dealing with paperwork, which indicates that bureaucracy in the HR department of the company has a high priority. So it is reasonable for people to conclude that perhaps bureaucracy has a high priority throughout the company–perhaps too high of a priority. In fact, there is much truth to this perception: I am aware of many companies in which the bureaucracy has become overwhelming; highly-trained, experienced, technical people are suffocated and smothered under a load of paperwork. They spend over 70% of their time dealing with paperwork instead of doing tasks relevant to their expertise. Needless to say, employee turnover in these companies is high. In other words, when companies exhibit their love of administrivia in the form of an online process, it is usually safe to conclude that the bureaucracy and administrivia will be even worse once a person actually works for such a company. It is best to avoid such companies.

Furthermore, online application forms are pointless in small markets, for example, in a medium-sized city like Vancouver. Within most industries in Vancouver, anybody who is anybody already knows the other players in the industry (or at least has heard of them). For instance, if you are a manager in a company with over ten years of experience in your industry, chances are you already know everybody else in the industry with similar expertise; you have attended the same trade shows, industry conferences, golf game mixers, etc. If you are an experienced expert in your field, you are not going to like to be treated like a lowly rookie who is expected to jump through several hoops to apply to a job posting. (Plus, most high-level people I have met have focused on their expertise rather than becoming experts in the field of web page forms. They might be experts in their field, but even using Microsoft Excel was a challenge to them.)

Overall, the online job application process is virtually a complete waste of time. In fact, several books confirm this perception. Two are mentioned below; more books and articles can be found in libraries or online.

The first book I recommend is “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Nelson Bolles. This book should be found in most book stores. (Alternately, the link above takes you to the book offered on

A couple points made in this book really jumped out at me:
i) Most people job-hunt the opposite way employers search for potential employees: employers usually turn to the Internet as one of their last options when seeking to fill a position.
ii) HR Departments actually have a poor record of selecting employees that are a good fit within a company. A UK study indicated that HR departments did a 10% worse job of selecting employees than simply making random selections. Think of that statistic this way: a monkey drawing names out of a hat would do a 10% better job of selecting good employees than an HR department with all its (supposedly) highly-trained employees and sophisticated screening tests.

The second book I recommend is "The New Job Search" by Molly Wendell. Ms. Wendell is a networking and job search expert whose advice echoes the sentiment of Mr. Bolles: online job-hunting is not very effective. She also has a blog at the following URL:

Based on my own experience, they are correct: applying for jobs online is all but useless. Statistically, I am sure if you apply online often enough something is bound to turn up--eventually. However, there are much more effective techniques for job-hunting. My advice: don’t waste your time with the online route. The Internet might be a convenient tool for investigating an industry or company, but for actually getting into a company, going through people (networking) is the best way.

The HR practice of moving much of the job application process online actually counters the goal of drawing good people into a company. Requiring people to interact with an impersonal web site is a brush-off; this policy is the same antagonistic behavior exhibited by companies whose telephone help lines do nothing but create angry customers. Having to face these hurdles, and knowing the entire process is almost a complete waste of time anyhow, is a significant deterrent to job applicants. HR departments should stop offloading their job onto a web form and do as their job title implies: manage human resources. Quality people with self-respect are unlikely to let their intelligence be insulted by online application processes. In conclusion, this process has created a situation in which the very people the HR department wants most, are also the people least likely to apply.

1 Response to "Online Job Applications a Waste of Time"

Axiom Wolf said :
March 8, 2010 at 7:14 AM
Wonderful post Duncan! I couldn't agree more with everything you said. I absolutely loved the statistics on HR choosing incompatible employees. I've seen too many examples of this. You're doing the world a great service by writing this blog, keep up the good work. I intend to quote you today in a conversation or two.

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