Living in interesting times

Ah, times change, and things happen, whether you’re prepared or not. So, last month, I unexpectedly ended up having to look for new employment. Having been pretty happy and settled in my old workplace for almost 8 years, I didn’t really have much in the way of recent experience of looking for work…now, I seem to have plenty! Luckily, I’m finding that there are actually quite a lot of interesting vacancies out there, and plenty of roles where I think “ohhh, that would be great to be able to do” and I’m keen to apply for. I have such a wide range of interests, that I’m finding posts in all sorts of sectors where I think “yeah, I’d really enjoy doing that”, so perhaps this is my chance to explore some other professional areas. Silver linings, an’ all that?

However, what I’ve also found is that some employers are not very good at creating a coherent and easily navigable recruitment process. So, here are some Do’s and Don’ts, as learned by me in the process of dozens of applications recently…


  • Do make it clear how you want applications sent

I’ve come across sites where there’s a wealth of information about how to get the application form and the job specification, and who to contact if you need an alternative format, or if you have problems with any of the documentation available….but neither the advert page, nor the job information materials tell you where or how to submit the application. In this case, I’ve had to assume that they want the application emailed, and sent the material to the email address listed for requesting alternative formats from. A single sentence saying “please email/post applications to…” would be very helpful for applicants.

  • Do make sure that closing dates for applications are logical and clear

Similar to the confusion caused by unclear information on where to send applications, is the confusion about exactly when the deadline for an application is. Only giving a calendar date can be misleading, when there is also lack of clarity about acceptable format for applications. One site allowed both postal and emailed applications, but gave a closing date time of 12 noon, which implied that the assumption was that applications would be emailed. Also, if the date is just given as X day of X month, and the only way to apply is online, when is the cut-off time on that day? 5pm? 6pm? Midnight? When applicants are balancing other demands on their time, knowing when they must complete a process by helps them plan a schedule better.

  • Do ensure that your application form is useable 

Supplying a pdf for download when you expect applications to be emailed is not helpful for applicants. It means you want applicants to print out, hand write, scan a form, and attach it to an email, which is a frustratingly time-wasting process. Or providing a Word version of your application form that is so badly designed that the second you begin inputting information to it, everything on the page begins to move and makes the form utterly incomprehensible, meaning that, in the end, you have to…print out, hand write, and scan the form, just like for the pdf version. Please: once you have an application form ready to share, first make sure you ask someone to do a test-run at using it!

  • Do allow for your online application process to retain information if possible

Some places I’ve been applying to have multiple relevant vacancies advertised simultaneously, which would mean inputting the same, non-differing data repeatedly, such as education and employment history. Luckily, some of them have designed their sites to allow the easy copying of previously added data, meaning I can concentrate on outlining my suitability for a position, rather than re-entering my secondary school grades. If you have an online application process, and your site allows users to register and reuse previously input data, you are lovely people!

  • Do allow some flexibility in your application forms

Not all information will be relevant to all posts. Using a standardised form can be confusing for applicants when there is little guidance about how certain sections are meant to be completed if it’s not clear if they apply in the current situation. Asking for a list of applicants academic publications when the role being applied for is administrative is just wasting space on the form, and could easily have been removed by the creator. Asking if you have a driving license, but saying this hasn’t to be filled in if the person specification doesn’t say it’s needed means double checking materials and wasting time. If you need information: request it. If you don’t, remove the section.

  • Do acknowledge applications

Applying for a job can be very stressful, and although email applications have removed some of the worry of a form getting lost in the mail, there’s still going to be a lurking doubt that an application has got where it’s meant to go, unless you receive some sort of acknowledgement of receipt. Online processes are great: an automated email confirming that your application was received means you can sit back, and wait for further information. Sending emails with applications attached that don’t even get acknowledged introduces concern that it was sent to the wrong email address, or didn’t make it through at all. It’s definitely good practice to confirm that an application has been received.


  • Don’t waste applicants time by asking for duplicate information

You really only need one section, where an applicant can explain why they meet the criteria for skills and knowledge that you have set for a post. Asking “why do you want this job”, then “what would you bring to this job”, and then “what other skills do you have that are relevant to this job” is effectively the same question, repeated three times. People do want to work for you, but they have other demands on their time as well, so increasing what is already the lengthy process of completing an application by asking them repeatedly for the same information makes your organisation look both confused, and confusing.

  • Don’t have a glitchy and unreliable website

A certain government portal website is the most awkward and unstable website I’ve had the misfortune to have to use in a long, long time. When you are inputting a lot of data, having to type it out elsewhere first and copy/paste it in, because you know that approximately every third time you click to perform an action the site will log you out is infuriating, to say the least. The fact that this is the only way to apply for local government jobs in Scotland is amazing. And not in a good way. Each attempt to use it is like a test of patience, and even the user feedback survey is badly designed and unuseable. Every non-government website that has had to perform the same recruitment functions (i.e. which allow users to register, input data, and retain it for future applications) has worked perfectly, so it is obviously possible to do this. A stable website with a smooth process for making applications implies that your organisation is efficient and knows what it’s doing. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the government website says about them.

So, can you imagine the worst possible recruitment process now? A pdf form that you have to print, fill in by hand, scan, attach to an email, and send to an address that may or may not be the correct one, by a time that may or may not be the closing date. A form that you filled out with information that’s irrelevant to the post, but was required. And then…not even getting confirmation that the email with your application was received.

And…when is somebody going to develop an Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form website, where you can input all that data just one time, that will then generate a personalised code which you can put into application forms for them to download that data? It would save so much time!

Now, this isn’t me moaning for the sake of it. Having not been involved in running a recruitment process myself, a lot of these points wouldn’t have occurred to me, but having been through this experience I’m now a lot more aware of how small things like those listed above can impact on applicants, and how those applicants impression of a potential employer and their business can be affected by their experience of the recruitment process.

Author: Jennie

Law, libraries, books, crafts, and general geekery.

One thought on “Living in interesting times”

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