Fixing the worst online job application

Earlier, I wrote about what may be one of the worst online job applications I’ve ever experienced (I’d suggest reading that article first; otherwise, this one might not make sense). It got me thinking: what if I had an opportunity to fix this horror show of an experience?

Here’s what I would do.

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.

The worst online job application #JobHunt

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 [1] during this first run-through, I wasn’t thinking about other positions yet, although there were others that interested me, and [2] 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.

A busy week of #PASS events #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit #PASSSummit2020

This will be a busy week for me.

Tonight at 6:00 pm (EST), my local SQL user group is hosting our monthly meeting. Use the Meetup link to RSVP (note: you must RSVP for the Zoom meeting link to be viewable). If you need the Zoom password, please send us a message.

The rest of the week? PASS Summit is happening!

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!

Your job application was rejected by a human, not a computer.

Last Saturday, at Virtual SQL Saturday #1003 (Memphis), I sat in on Christine Assaf‘s presentation about Organizational Trauma: Mental Health in a Crisis (or something like that — I don’t remember the exact title). I found her presentation interesting and relevant to my own; so much so, in fact, that I invited her to sit in on my presentation and offer any of her insights.

After this weekend, Christine wrote this ‘blog article. I haven’t yet had a chance to fully process it (as I’m writing this, I haven’t had my coffee yet, and my brain is still in a fog), but what little I did process, I found interesting.

I intend to scrutinize this more when I’m a little more awake. And I suspect I’ll be making some adjustments to my presentation.

HRTact

INTRO:
Recently I attended a presentation where a commonly held belief was repeated and I feel the need de-bunk this. The speaker stated “75% of applications are rejected by an ATS (applicant tracking system) and a human never sees them…”

First, I want to point out that recruiters will tell you this is false. As the main users of ATSs, recruiters have extensive experience and years in talent acquisition, and will tell you they hear this all the time and they cringe upon it’s utterance. But if you want to know my opinion on why this “myth” has infiltrated the job seeking world, scroll past all the research and jump to the end.

MY RESEARCH:
Secondly, let’s track down the origin of this false statistic. The speaker I heard it from cited topresume.com. So I did some digging:

From topresume.com

That topresume.com article (which includes the same false stat…

View original post 1,019 more words

Bad web forms — how to drive people away from your site

I’ve come across my share of bad design, and I’m sure you have as well. I’ve especially come across some egregious examples as a job applicant.

I came across one that particularly set me off. While poking around Indeed, I found a technical writer position for GitLab that interested me. Of course, most people who work in IT are familiar with GitLab, so they have a reputation. I read through the description, and it sounded interesting, so I clicked the button to “apply on company site.”

The subsequent link took me to this page.

The page talks about the technical writer roles and responsibilities. It talks about the hiring process, it includes a salary calculator, and it even talks about benefits, including stock options.

Nowhere on the page was there any link to actually apply for the position!!!

If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see for yourself. No wonder why they need technical writers. I understand and appreciate GitHub’s reputation in the IT community, but this page is seriously making me question whether or not I really want to work for them.

GitHub is far from being the only offender. I came across another page that, even after they asked me to upload my resume, it still asked me to manually input my work experience. (Even worse, these were required fields; there was no way around this. What if you’re a student with no work experience?) After I hit Submit, it came back and told me there were errors. It had cleared out all the dates I’d entered (I had entered months and years), and it insisted that I entered days. Seriously, raise your hand if you actually remember what day you started or ended a job from years ago. I have enough trouble just remembering the month or year. It made me question how well their automated formatting really worked (if it worked at all). Once I filled those in (with the best guesses for days), it told me there was another error. I clicked the message, expecting it to show me where the error was. Nope. It just told me there was an error. I had to search the entire page to figure out what it was complaining about.

I’ve come across too many forms like this during my job hunt. I also remember coming across some very badly designed forms years ago from previous job hunts — some that were so badly designed that they discouraged me from applying for the jobs.

I’ve talked about making documentation easier for the end user, and this is far from the only article I’ve written about how bad design is a detriment to anyone who needs to follow instructions. UX/UI needs to be as painless as possible for the end user. If you’re a vendor, bad design can drive away customers. If you’re an employer, you run the risk of discouraging qualified applicants.

Like good documentation, good form design needs to be well-thought-out and well-designed. Don’t be the organization that lost customers because your forms were too arduous to use.

I’m speaking this upcoming Saturday, October 3 #SQLSaturday #SQLSat1003 #SQLSatMemphis

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This upcoming Saturday, October 3, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #1003, Memphis. Of course, because of pandemic restrictions, I will not actually be traveling to Memphis; SQL Saturday #1003 is virtual, and I will be presenting from my home office in Troy, NY.

(In a way, it’s too bad I won’t be in Memphis. I’ve heard good things about Memphis barbecue!)

A lot of people (myself included) have lost their jobs during the pandemic, so it’s especially apropos that I will be presenting my session titled, “I lost my job! Now what?!?

If you want to check out my (and other great) sessions this Saturday, use the SQL Saturday #1003 link to register.

Hope to see you virtually this Saturday!

“Your opinion matters…” Helping people by sharing your experiences

My wife and I have an anniversary coming up, so I started planning a getaway trip to celebrate. (Because of the pandemic, we decided to keep the trip short — only one night, and we’re not venturing very far — only about an hour’s drive from our home.) While I was making my travel plans, I started poking around my own TripAdvisor profile. I had posted a few reviews, and I thought I’d post a few more. I figured my experiences and opinions could help other people looking for travel information, and it’s entirely possible that, by the time you’re finished reading this article, I’ll have written a few more reviews.

One of the biggest reasons why I started my ‘blog was so that I could write about my own experiences for the purpose of helping people. Helping other people is one of my great passions, and while I can’t always help physically or financially, I can help by providing information. It’s what I do professionally, and it’s what drives me as a professional technical communicator.

However, you don’t have to be a professional technical communicator to help provide information. There are countless forums out there, covering nearly an endless number of topics, in which you are able to provide your feedback. You’re probably tired of hearing automated support lines that say “your feedback is important to us.” But feedback is important. Feedback is data. Whatever feedback you provide helps to make products and services better.

How often had you looked something up (e.g. an answer to a technical problem, a hotel review, suggested driving directions, etc.) and became frustrated because you weren’t able to find any information? If you’re an application (or any type of IT) developer, have you ever been frustrated because you asked for feedback about your product, and no one would give it to you? That feedback would’ve been valuable in debugging and improving your product. This is why QA testing is a big deal, and is usually a critical step in development life cycles.

This isn’t limited to just IT professionals. It applies to just about anything in which information is involved. If, for example, you were making travel plans and wanted information about a destination, have you ever been interested in, say, a bed and breakfast, but you couldn’t find much information about it, and no one had written any reviews about it? Those reviews would have gone a long way in providing information about that place.

A lot of us brush off the messages that say “your opinion matters.” The thing is, it really does. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or to provide feedback. What you say can help someone make a better decision, help improve a product, or possibly change the course of someone’s business for the better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and write a few more TripAdvisor reviews…

Social media: should I stay or should I go?

I don’t think I have to mention just how prevalent social media is these days. If you’re reading this ‘blog, most likely you’re engaged in some form of social media. Terms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are a regular part of daily life these days. It’s gotten to the point that these terms have become verbs (e.g. “Facebook it”). Even I’ll tell people that “the best way to get a hold of me is on Facebook,” and I’m the first to admit that I generally can’t go a day without checking my Facebook app on my phone.

In these times of divisiveness, security concerns, and ‘bots, I’ve also seen a number of friends say, “I’m closing my Facebook account” or “I’m shutting down my LinkedIn.” I’m often saddened by these, because one of my main reasons for maintaining Facebook (which I’ll expand upon in a moment) is to easily keep in touch with friends and family. Any time a friend says that (s)he is shutting down his or her account is a contact that I lose. It doesn’t mean that (s)he is no longer a friend; it just means that it’s a little more difficult to keep in touch with that person.

However, a lot of people are (understandably) turned off by the negativity and political discourse that are pervasive on social media. People have written articles about how much better their lives have become after shutting down social media. I completely understand how people are disillusioned by what they see on social media.

So I get it when people ask this question about social media: should I stay or should I go?

I’ll give the standard DBA answer*: “it depends.”

(*For those who don’t understand the reference, the widespread joke among data professionals and IT people is “it depends” is the standard response when they are asked just about any question.)

Not satisfied with that answer? Let me expand on it.

I don’t think I need to get into why people want to leave social media; there are too many obvious examples of that out in the wild (and maybe a few not-so-obvious examples, such as data security and privacy, and the “need” — a very stupid reason, in my opinion — to maintain social status). People are getting stressed out over these issues. I certainly understand why people want to leave social media, and I won’t decry them for it. So instead, I’ll talk about some reasons why you might want to stay.

Like just about anything else, social media is a tool, a piece of software developed for a purpose. Mostly, that purpose is communication. People have been talking about the shrinking world for years. Social media contributes to the world shrinking even further.

I mentioned earlier that I maintain my Facebook account so that I can easily stay in touch with friends and family. It is the primary reason why I first joined Facebook, and it is why, even despite all the issues that come with it, I maintain my account today. Humans are social animals, and more often than not, humans need to maintain social contact with one another, especially so these days with the COVID-19 pandemic. I enjoy talking to people and keeping in touch with friends, so for me, personally, these reasons outweigh all the problems and tribulations that come with Facebook, and maintaining my account is worthwhile.

Some people seem to think they have to maintain some level of status on social media, like trying to compete in some type of popularity contest. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest bullshit reasons to be on social media. I could not care less about how popular I am. I’ll post about personal news that’s happening in my life, something on my mind that I want to get off my chest, ask a question about an issue I can’t seem to solve on my own, or occasionally express an opinion (although I do try to avoid anything having to do with politics; personally, I despise politics passionately). If you’re on social media to maintain social standing, I think you’re on it for the wrong reason. (Trying to sell yourself is a different matter; I’ll get into that shortly.) If I don’t care about my social standing (and I don’t), then I don’t have to concern myself with maintaining it on social media.

That is why I want to be on social media. However, I also think there are reasons why you should be on social media.

Love it or hate it, social media is prevalent in our society today, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. Because so many people use social media, it’s probably the single largest and most effective communication device in the world.

I think you have to be on social media if you’re at all serious about any of the following: marketing, networking, sales, job hunting, problem solving, news and information (not the fake kind, but I digress), running a business, customer service, recruiting, and maybe a lot of other things I haven’t thought about — essentially, anything that involves communication on a large scale. Most business sites that sell products or services include links to “like us on (insert your favorite social medium here).” Many job applications include a form field for your LinkedIn profile, a sign that they take it seriously. Organizations such as PASS make extensive use of media such as Twitter to communicate with their members. I’ve also written before about online networking; I won’t rehash that here.

One of the big complaints I often hear is that people are sick of being bombarded with ads and politics. Facebook (and other media, I’m sure) does include tools to suppress things you don’t want to see; for example, there are tools to “hide” or “block all from (name of account).” There are a number of such tools available. I won’t get into them right now, but I will say that using them has made my online experience much more palatable.

So should you maintain a social media presence or not? These are the reasons why, despite their issues, I continue to do so. Social media are communication tools. How — and whether you decide — to use them is completely up to you.

The #SQLSaturday All-Star Game #PASSSummit

After my surprise selection for PASS Summit, I went poking around the speakers list. I’m pleased to see that a number of good #SQLFamily friends that I’ve made throughout my years as a SQL Saturday speaker were selected. I’m also awed that my name and photo are listed along with a number of SQL rock stars in the industry.

It prompted me to tweet this.

As people who know me are aware, I am a huge baseball fan. I’ve often heard people refer to PASS Summit as being “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.” Looking at the speakers list (and being the baseball fan that I am), I equate it more as being the “SQL Saturday All-Star Game.”

People such as Bob Ward, Steve Jones, and Grant Fritchey (yes, you, Steve and Grant!) represent the big hitters. They are Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle, people who are perennial SQL stars and are pretty much shoo-ins for being selected to Summit year after year. (And I’m sure that if my friends Steve and Grant are reading this, they might give me an “aw shucks!” for equating them with Junior and The Mick!) On the other hand, people like me are more like Willie Randolph or Kent Hrbek — players who had solid careers and made an occasional All-Star game now and then, but weren’t necessarily household names outside of their home teams’ markets.

When I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation, never did I think that it would end up getting me to PASS Summit!

I’ve seen interviews with ballplayers who talked about how humbled they were about being selected to play in the All-Star Game. Having been selected to speak at PASS Summit for the second time, I understand how they feel. I am awed and humbled with being associated alongside some of the great players in the business.

#PASSSummit 2020 — I’m speaking after all!!! #SQLFamily

This evening, I received a very pleasant surprise!

After not making the cut for the initial list of speakers, and with the state of my finances being directly related to my current employment situation (or lack of), I had resigned myself to the fact that attending PASS Summit 2020 was likely not in my cards for this year.

That changed this evening! I will be speaking at this year’s PASS Summit after all! I received an email from PASS asking if I would present my session on ‘blogging! I am thrilled and excited that I will be a PASS Summit speaker for the second year in a row!

With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Summit is being held virtually, so I don’t have to worry about making travel plans for Houston, TX (which is where PASS Summit 2020 was supposed to be held). Instead, I will be presenting — and attending — from the comfort of my own home office.

To be selected to speak at PASS Summit just once is a great honor. To be able to do it twice (or more) is downright amazing. I’ve had a number of #SQLFamily friends who’ve spoken at multiple PASS Summits, and I’m amazed (and humbled) that I am now in their company!

I’ll see you at virtual PASS Summit in November!