My first instinct would be to shut down this monstrosity of a system. However, it likely wouldn’t be a good idea to shut down what might be the only means for an applicant to contact the human resources department. That said, this system is so badly designed that it’s likely to deter anyone trying to apply for positions, anyway. That gives me two options: either leave it as is, or implement a simple temporary replacement. Personally, I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience the horror show that I experienced, so I would opt for a simple replacement. The simplest option would be “send your resume, cover letter, and the position to which you want to apply to <such and such email address>.” Or, if I wanted to kick it up slightly, I’d make it a simple form: name, email, and a place to upload your resume.
If I opted for the form option, that would preclude some back-end mechanism to handle it. The simplest option would be to take that form data and put it together into an email that would format it, attach the resume, and send it to an email address. Of course, this opens another can of worms. First, there’s the matter of security. Who knows what viruses or Trojan horses are lurking in an attachment? Most forms like these ask for specific file types — usually a Word doc or a PDF — so I’d only allow those formats. I would also make sure that all security and antivirus functions are up-to-date; if a message does include a virus, at least it can be caught at the email application level, and it would be a matter of the cybersecurity team to investigate it further.
Once the temporary option is in place, and the horrendous system is shut down, I’d look into whether it’d be better to implement a new system out of the box, or roll my own.
Let’s start with rolling my own. I’d likely look into something using a SQL Server or Azure back-end (probably the latter, since everyone seems to be moving to the cloud, although that would require some brushing up on my part, since I don’t have a lot of cloud development experience). I’d probably put together a .NET front-end. Security, of course, would be a major issue to address, since we’d be dealing with applicant data. I would make sure that applicant data can be saved and pulled whenever an applicant applies for positions, eliminating the need for the applicant to continually re-entering his or her information, other than his or her login information. Again, the point is to make it easier, not harder, to apply for positions.
That said, there are a number of turnkey options that might be able to do the job better than I can. ICIMS is a popular SaaS product used by a number of employers. I would also look into other CMS systems that might exist. Other than ICIMS, I’m not sure of other applicant systems that can do what is required, but I don’t doubt that other systems exist that can maintain applicant data quite well. In this case, I’d switch my role from that of a developer to one of an analyst or consultant; what steps would I take to implement such a system? It would depend on the system and the environment.
Regardless of what system is used and how it’s implemented, any of these solutions would be better than the disaster of an application that I experienced.
In my job hunt experience, I might have come across what may be the worst online job application I’ve ever experienced — so bad that I felt a need to write about it. I will not identify the institution, other than it is a well-known institution in the Albany Capital District. Maybe if a representative from this institution is reading this article and recognizes that it is theirs, they’ll realize what a horrible experience this is, and takes steps to fix this problem — and yes, it is a BIG problem. I consider this a case study in how NOT to set up an online job application.
In my job search, I started looking into specific companies to which I could apply, so I went to this institution’s web site. I went to their careers section, found a few positions that I thought were interesting, and started applying for them. This is where the horror show begins.
Most online applications that I’ve experienced generally have an option for you to create a profile that includes your identifying information, resume, background, and so on. Indeed, I had applied to this particular employer years ago, and they had such a system in place back then. I poked around to see if I could find my previous profile, but I couldn’t find any such link. I figured, no matter; they probably had my old email address back then, so I’d probably have to create a new one.
As it turned out, this was a red flag.
Throughout my past several months of filling job applications, I’ve gotten used to ATS systems that read your resume or LinkedIn profile and autofilled job applications based on your resume and profile. I’ve had mixed success with these systems with varying levels of frustration, but for the most part, they’ve saved me a great deal of time and effort with applying for positions.
Unfortunately, for this employer, there was no such system. I clicked the button marked “Click Here To Apply.” It took me to a page that had this interface.
(At this point, I want to point out the part that says “You may add additional positions to this application.” I’ll come back to this later, but let me say that  during this first run-through, I wasn’t thinking about other positions yet, although there were others that interested me, and  I did not see this on the first go-round. Those of you who follow my post regularly know how much I emphasize that “reading is work!!!” Again, hold this thought; I’ll come back to this.)
Okay. I clicked Continue. The next screen was the standard HR-ese about EEO and code of conduct. I clicked the requisite box and clicked Continue again.
The next screen asked me to fill out my name, address, email, and various other boxes (“have you ever worked for [name of employer] before,” etc.).
Wait a minute. It’s asking for my name. Shouldn’t it ask to upload my resume or connect to my LinkedIn account? I looked around, and there was no such button or link. Okay. I filled the requisite fields and clicked Save & Continue.
The next screen asked questions such as date available to work, salary requirements, relatives that work for (name of employer), and so on. Again, I answered what they asked, and once again, clicked Save & Continue.
The next screen displayed the following.
I took issue with this question, particularly with the “highest graduate education year completed.” I have a Masters degree, I went to school part-time, and it took me 4½ years to get it, taking a class per semester (and a summer session) as my schedule allowed. So does that mean I click 4 (as in it took me 4+ years), or do I click 1 or 2 (as it typically takes to get a Masters degree full-time)? It did not specify, and there were no instructions. I don’t remember what I answered (I think it was 2), so I went with my best guess as to what they wanted.
Directly under that question was this.
Wait a minute. You haven’t asked me to attach a resume. I suppose it’ll ask me later (I still don’t understand why it didn’t ask me to attach one at the very beginning). I clicked Save & Continue.
The next screen asked about job history.
I already have my employment history on my resume (which you still haven’t yet asked me to attach, upload, or link). You really want me to take the time to fill this in? This screen frustrated me; I’ve been working professionally for thirty years. You really want me to fill all of that in? And why aren’t you autofilling it from my resume (that you still haven’t asked for yet), like everyone else using ATS is doing? The application only asks for at least four years of employment history, but I’ve only worked for a few companies over four years, and it doesn’t tell the entire story of who I am or my professional history.
Nevertheless, the application system had me over a barrel, so I had no choice but to fill it all out. Let me emphasize that the form is not easy to fill out; all dates are drop-down selections (which, I should add, don’t work very well), they don’t auto-format fields such as phone numbers (e.g. they don’t limit area codes to three digits), and you have to fill out the fields for employer, title, job description, and so on.
I don’t know how long it took me to fill it all out. I’ll estimate that it took between fifteen and thirty minutes. It felt like several hours.
It next asked for personal references, if I had fewer than two employers. Since I definitely had more than two employers, and I didn’t feel like filling out more than I had to, I skipped this step. (And I should note: what if I worked ten years for only one employer? Yet another problem with how this application was put together. Whomever it was that put this together was obviously not thinking.) Again, I clicked Save & Continue.
At this point (step 8 of 12, according to the application), it asked to upload documents (resume, cover letter, etc.). It only allowed up to two documents (most other applications I’ve filed allowed for more than two). Okay. I added my resume and cover letter, and clicked Save & Continue.
Finally, it got to the point to review everything I’d filled out (very painfully, I should add). I clicked Save & Continue. Subsequent screens displayed the requisite EEO questions — race, veteran status, and so on. I clicked through the screens. My application was submitted.
At this point, I went back to apply for other positions that interested me. It was here where the employer’s application went from being frustrating to downright infuriating.
Almost all automated job applications send an email acknowledgement, so I looked for one after I finished the arduous procedure. I didn’t see one. After waiting for several minutes and poking around my email, I finally found this sitting in my spam folder.
It sent it as an attachment? No wonder why it was flagged by my spam filter. Since I trusted the sender (or, more accurately, I knew from where it had been sent), I went in and followed the instructions. Okay, fine. I downloaded it and followed the sign-in instructions. It had me sign into their system, where I found this message.
Granted, there was no identifying information (other than my email and the employer, which I blacked out in this screen capture). Now, I am all for data security and ensuring data is protected, but did this message warrant sending a secure attachment and requiring a login? I don’t think it was. I’ve gotten other emails from job applications that included more information that was sent less securely. One other thing I found infuriating was that there was absolutely no reference to the position that I had applied. I’ve been using my email to keep track of applications. How am I supposed to know to what position this refers? In my opinion, this message was not worth sending in a super-secure email. I felt that the mechanism they used to send this message was overkill.
I had seen other positions on the list that interested me, so I went back to apply for them. I figured that the system would take my information from the previous application and use it for the new application.
I figured wrong.
There was absolutely NO mechanism to refill all the information from the previous application. There was no applicant account function, no resume or LinkedIn ATS autofill function, nothing. If I wanted to apply for another position, I had to refill the ENTIRE application manually. Did I mention how painful and tedious it was to fill the application? It might as well have taken several hours to do so.
Now, remember earlier how I mentioned that there was a link to “add other positions to your application”? I did not see that the first time around. The next time, I tried it. The link brought me back to the ORIGINAL job search page. There was NO function to add any other jobs to an existing application. Nothing like that was anywhere to be seen. And if it did exist (and I’m not sure that it does), it is not obvious.
This application system design is so horrendous that it’s saying “f**k you” to applicants. It is doing more to drive applicants away than it is to make them want to apply for positions.
This is not the first time I’ve written about bad form design. However, this problem isn’t just about the form; it’s also about the entire application process. The design planning was poorly thought out, if it was done at all. There is no mechanism for autofilling fields. There is nothing to save applicant data. The forms are not intuitive. And I’m willing to bet large sums of money that either there was no end user or QA testing done, it was done shoddily, or test criteria were poorly defined.
I could keep going, but to make a long denunciation short: whomever it was that put this together has absolutely no business working on UX/UI projects.
The object of well-designed UX/UI and online forms is to make it easier, not harder, for end users. As an applicant, I found this process to be infuriating, not just frustrating. A process this bad will likely deter qualified applicants from applying to jobs. And if this system is that badly designed, these applicants are likely to question whether they want to work for this employer in the first place.
(Ed. Note: I had intended to get this out last week, but a family emergency prevented me from doing so, so this article is a week later than I’d wanted to post.)
Now that I’ve had the weekend to recover from a busy PASS Summit 2020 week, I can write about my thoughts and impressions.
Overall, I thought PASS did a good job with holding a virtual PASS Summit under trying pandemic circumstances. These are, after all, trying times, and we have to play the cards that we’re dealt. That said, there were some glitches.
I’ll start with my own presentation. I had prerecorded my session, per instructions from PASS. My initial impression was that I would do my presentation live, and the recorded session would serve as a backup in case I ran into any problems with my presentation. That turned out not to be the case. PASS used my prerecorded presentation. I was, however, required to stand by to field any questions from attendees.
So, before the appointed time, I logged in and opened a chat window. My friend Andy Levy was kind enough to join me in the video chat room, and we chatted about a variety of topics while we waited.
The appointed time arrived, so I started my video. I found that it was impossible to monitor the chat rooms to field questions and to watch the video at the same time, so I turned off the video; after all, I had no pressing need to watch my own prerecorded presentation — or so I thought. I found out, much to my chagrin, that a number of slides had no audio to go with it.
This was a big disappointment. My first instinct was to point the finger at PASS and tell them, “your technology didn’t work,” but that would’ve been disingenuous on my part. When I prerecorded my session a while back, I went back and did a quick listen of each section I recorded to make sure it was okay. When I was finished, I watched some of the presentation, but not all, and that was my mistake. I probably should’ve watched the entire presentation to make sure it was okay, but I didn’t. That was a mistake on my part to which I will own up. That said, it’s my understanding that there were a number of other presentations that also had audio problems (in fact, I tried to sit in on one that had issues, and they ended up rescheduling it — for a time that I couldn’t attend), so I’m guessing that it might not have entirely been on me.
I did post to the chat that I was available in the chat room for any questions, and a few attendees took me up on it. We ended up having a great discussion (and Andy, who also has his own ‘blog, was great with answering some questions and contributing to the conversation). In that sense, we ended up making lemonade out of the technical lemons.
That said, I haven’t yet looked at the feedback, and I don’t look forward to doing so.
A few of my friends also wrote their impressions of PASS Virtual Summit. I haven’t yet had a chance to read them, but I’m posting them here, both for you to peruse and for my own reference.
With that, here are a few of my quick thoughts regarding PASS Virtual Summit 2020.
As I mentioned earlier, these are trying times, and PASS did a decent job with Summit, given the cards they were dealt. The pandemic has affected them, as well as many of the rest of us (as of this article, I’m still looking for a job — it’s been over six months now), and PASS is dealing with those effects. As critical as I — and others — might be of PASS, I want them to survive, and I sincerely hope that they’re still around when we emerge from the other side of this pandemic.
I was not particularly fond of their decision to make use of mostly prerecorded sessions. I would have much preferred to have done my session live. PASS’s concern was with potential technical glitches with live sessions, so their thinking was that a prerecorded session would alleviate that situation. In fact, the opposite happened. The prerecorded session was the glitch, and I never had a problem with my live connection. While I understand why PASS decided to do it that way, I found the decision to be somewhat questionable.
Overall, I did enjoy PASS Virtual Summit, but as anyone who has attended PASS Summit or other virtual events can attest, the experience just isn’t the same. For me, a huge part of the appeal of events like these is the opportunity to network and to connect with my friends whom I don’t get to see that frequently. To their credit, PASS made accommodations with networking events and channels, but there’s only so much you can do, and only so many people you can see, with online channels. There’s something to be said about randomly bumping into one of your friends while walking down the hall.
Another big part is the travel. I love to travel, and I wish I could do more of it (pandemic aside, usually the lack of time or lack of money keeps me from traveling more). I enjoyed visiting Seattle last year, one of my favorite west coast cities to visit. This year’s Summit would’ve been in Houston, a city I’ve only visited once before.
Overall, I enjoyed PASS Virtual Summit, but it was not without its faults. Hopefully, PASS can take the feedback and lessons learned from this event, and use it to create a truly spectacular experience the next time around. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over for the next time, but these days, you can never tell.
I’ll start right off the bat with why this day is important for me, personally: today is my day to present. The funny thing is, I’m not really presenting. PASS is using my prerecorded session that I put together before PASS Summit 2020 even kicked off. So during my session, I get to kick back and watch myself present. However, I do still need to be online to answer any questions that come up during the session.
I’m actually not looking forward to the experience. One of the predominant comments I’ve seen on my Twitter feed has been that coming from other speakers about how uncomfortable they are seeing themselves speak. I am no exception; I hate listening to my own presentation; it is very awkward and surreal. Honestly, I would feel much more comfortable doing my presentation live. But, this is how PASS chose to do it (and I understand their reasons for doing so), so I’ll just have to deal.
Otherwise, looking at the schedule, it looks like it will be a quiet day. I don’t see a lot of networking sessions on the schedule; although I will try to drop in on any that catch my interest. My networking room moderation commitments are all finished, so I’m not obligated to sit in on any more rooms. I do see a session on the schedule by Peter Shore that interests me, so I might try to attend that. I did see a few others that interest me as well, but unfortunately, they either conflict with or run too close to my own, so I’ll likely skip those today and catch the recordings of them some other time.
I will likely try to catch today’s keynote, which is about diversity and inclusion. That is an important topic these days, so I’ll make it a point to tune in at noon.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about anything that happened since my last article from yesterday. I sat in on Christine Assaf’s presentation. Christine and I met earlier this year at a SQL Saturday, and we struck up a good rapport, so I made where that I attended he presentation. I was also assigned a Birds of a Feather networking room last night, so I made sure that I monitored it. Only one person showed up, but we struck up a good conversation. One thing that came out of it was that he hooked me up with his employer’s HR person, to whom I sent a message (I received a response from her, but haven’t yet read it). I’ll admit that I’m not expecting a lot from it, because they are located in Iowa, and looking at the website, it doesn’t look like there are a lot of remote opportunities, but I figure, you never know. It’s worth a shot.
So, we’ll see how the final day goes. It’s been a fun experience, but I still vastly prefer attending in-person. I miss being able to share a handshake or a hug with my #SQLFamily friends. I’ll likely wind this series up with a final debrief article, once PASS Summit 2020 is over. Stay tuned.
As I write this, I have the Day 2 Keynote about SQL Ecosystem and Innovation on in the background, but I’m not paying a lot of attention to it. There’s a lot of technical information that goes beyond my scope of knowledge and interest. And that’s okay. I might not be paying a lot of attention, but I have no doubt that there are others who are hanging on to every word.
I slept late this morning (which, unfortunately, with my current state of unemployment, is a bad habit I’ve fallen into, and is one I need to address). Unfortunately, I missed some sessions because of it (indicated by the activity on my Twitter feed). The good thing about PASS Virtual Summit is that many of these sessions are recorded, and I’ll be able to access any sessions that interest me but am unable to attend. (Even when I am present for sessions, a number of interesting sessions often run concurrently, so this phenomena is not uncommon.)
I sat in on a panel discussion this morning about building your brand. I figured it would be a good one for me, with trying to do things with my LLC while looking for new employment. It was more a Q&A session than a presentation, but there were many good questions asked, the panelists had some good answers, and I ended up getting a lot out of it.
As I mentioned yesterday, I moderated the Introverts Birds Of a Feather session. There were a few people on the session, and we had some really good discussion.
I think one thing that is worth emphasizing is that one of the biggest reasons why I attend events such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday is the networking. Professional networking is important for building relationships with colleagues (for those of you who are not regular readers, I even have an entire presentation I do about professional networking, and I’ve written literally hundreds of ‘blog articles about networking.) However, I’ve also made lots of friends through my involvement with PASS, and these events represent opportunities for #SQLFamily to get together. I miss these people dearly, and I relish any opportunity I can get to get together with these people.
PASS Virtual Summit offers plenty of opportunities to network virtually. Tonight at 6:00 pm (EST), I will be monitoring another Birds of a Feather networking room; this time, it will be the Storytelling & Visualization room. (Note: this is the same table I monitored at last year’s PASS Summit!) If you’re around and online, feel free to stop by and chat me up!
There are some other sessions this afternoon that interest me, including some lightning talks that I might try to attend (hi, Steve Jones!). And of course, tomorrow (the last day of PASS Summit), it will be my turn to present!
I’m writing this midday during my first full day of PASS Summit. I want to note that this is my first full day, since I didn’t participate in the pre-cons (which are an extra fee) on Monday and Tuesday.
As I write this article, I’m sitting in on Kevin Kline‘s presentation on data governance. In my previous job, I worked on documentation related to data governance (I had never written one before), and I figured that this would be a good session for me to attend. As I sit through this session, I’m learning things that I wish I’d known when I worked on that document. Of course, learning tidbits like that is a big part of what events such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday are about. I’m picking up some good information about data governance, and this might be fodder for a future ‘blog article.
I spent some time talking to Kevin after his session (which was, by the way, a great session!). I got a lot out of it, including an idea for a new presentation: “Development life cycles: it isn’t just for software anymore.” I’ll see what I can do with that… and you might see a ‘blog article with that title coming out at some point!
I’ve switched rooms since Kevin’s session; now, as I write this, I’m sitting in a networking room for Eastern US/Canada. Right now, I’m alone in the room, which gives me a good opportunity to work on this ‘blog article. I’ll be here until 4:00 pm EST. I’m hoping to join a session about storytelling and design after that.
Earlier this morning, I sat in on Angela Tidwell’s “Introduction to PASS Virtual Summit” and the keynote about the end-to-end Azure Data Platform.
And later tonight, I’ll be moderating a Birds of a Feather networking session. I’ll be in the Introverts chat room (please no jokes about whether anyone will be speaking in that room!).
If anyone comes around to any of these rooms, feel free to drop in and say hi!
When I went to PASS Summit in Seattle last year, I had every intention of ‘blogging about my activities throughout the week. As it turned out, that didn’t happen. For one thing, my laptop largely stayed at my AirBnB, where I spent very little time except to sleep. It turned out that I didn’t need it for PASS Summit (not even for my own presentation). Second, I was running all around the event, and I doubted that I would’ve been able to find the time to sit down and ‘blog (that said, now that I’ve attended one, I now know what to expect). Third, by the time I did return “home” to my AirBnB, I found that I was too tired to ‘blog.
PASS Summit 2020 is a different story. The fact that this is a virtual event and not on-location in a foreign (to me) city changes things, making it easier to ‘blog. For starters, I’m writing this from my home office, rather than in an AirBnB or a conference room in a strange town. And since I don’t have to worry about getting to a convention center or trying to get around an unfamiliar city, it makes for easier logistics on my part.
So the first order of business, other than registering that I’ve “arrived” (which I did last week), is to plan out my schedule. PASS was nice enough to supply attendees with a “home” event dashboard that you can customize.
I started last week by adding events to which I had committed to my schedule: my own presentation (I’d certainly better not miss that!!!), and a few networking events that I’d committed to moderating. Tonight, I signed up to moderate the Mozart music-themed networking bubble. With my background as a classically-trained musician, I figured it made sense for me to sign up. (Besides, there wasn’t a Kansas bubble available!) I also signed up to volunteer at a couple of Birds of a Feather “tables” — tomorrow, I’ll be manning the Introverts table, and I’ll be at the Storytelling & Visualization table on Thursday.
As I write this, I’m going through the rest of the schedule, trying to figure out what other sessions I want to attend. (As of right now, my schedule for Wednesday is largely full; I still need to figure out Thursday and Friday — my own presentation notwithstanding.) Granted, it’s a virtual conference, and I can come and go to sessions as I please (not that I can’t do that at an in-person conference, but I don’t have to worry about leaving my home office), but I am still a conference attendee (unlike SQL Saturday, PASS Summit is not free — granted, as a speaker, my PASS Summit admittance is comped, but still…), it’s always good to learn things, and I need to take advantage of everything that PASS Summit has to offer.
So, I’m taking the time to plan out my week at PASS Summit. I’m looking forward to a good week of learning and online networking. Hope to see you (virtually) this week!
It should be an exciting week, and it appears that I have a few things on my schedule. There are a few networking events in which I’ll be taking part. (Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get to the links without registering first.) First, there is what they call the “music-themed networking bubble.” I will be in the Mozart bubble on Tuesday evening! Also, like last year, I will be hosting a couple of “Birds Of A Feather.” Last year, these were themed lunch tables, but since we’re online, these will be themed networking events. Wednesday evening, I will be in the Introverts session, and Thursday evening, I will be in the Storytelling & Visualization session.
And, of course, on Friday, I will be doing my presentation! Now, I understand that they will be using my prerecorded presentation, so I might not necessarily be live; however, I will be online to answer any questions that come up.
And my schedule is still being developed, so we’ll see how this goes!
This should be a fun week. Hope to see you online!
Topic: Building a Strong Foundation for Data Analysis
We are living in a world full of data but what we need is information. What is required to transform data into information? What are the foundational activities your organization needs to do in order to produce analytics that you are confident in sharing? In this session we will discuss what is needed for your organization to convert data into information, the basics of: Data Governance, Data Modeling and how to have an immediate impact using tools like Power BI to deliver value; and, Data Visualizations and telling stories with the data.
Leslie Andrews is a Senior Consultant with 3 Cloud Solutions (formerly Pragmatic Works Consulting), an Azure Certified Data Engineer, and was a 2018-2019 Idera ACE. She obtained her BBA with an MIS concentration from the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico and worked in the public sector for 15 years developing applications, databases, and ETL processes. She enjoys spending time with her family, travelling, climbing, kettlebells, and reading epic fantasy; she is active in the SQL community, and on the Governing Board of a Charter School.