Wanted: Better Job Listings

Many E-recruitment pages are too jargony and unwieldy to hook employee candidates

Labor markets are tight, and finding candidates, especially for tough-to-fill technical jobs, is expensive. That makes the World Wide Web look like a dream recruiting tool. But it doesn't seem nearly as attractive if about three of every four online job seekers give up in frustration before submitting an application.

That, however, is the failure rate that Web consultants Mark Hurst of Creative Good and Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group found in E-Recruiting: Online Strategies in the War for Talent, a study of six corporate recruiting sites. In a series of lab tests with dozens of "average" Web users, the job seekers called up a company's recruitment site and tried to find and apply for a job that suited their interests and talents. They succeed in completing an application just 26% of the time.

EASY TO FIX. These results should set off a scramble among businesses that recruit online to reassess their sites. These days, that includes just about any company bigger than a mom-and-pop operation. Fortunately, the pervasive problems detailed in E-Recruiting don't seem all that difficult to correct.

One of the most common causes for the difficulty faced by job seekers was the failure of designers to see the sites the way outsiders would. "The biggest mistake is to believe that candidates know a lot about your company," says Nielsen. "The average candidate is not very well versed in human resources terminology and concepts, and the more the site contains unfamiliar terms, the greater the chance people will click on the wrong thing."

For example, a job I found posted on Citibank's site was called "Director MNCC Infromation Management," inscrutable even without the typo. People who work for Citi may know what MNCC is. But I had to click to another page and read six paragraphs down to learn that the job had something to do with credit-card management--and I still don't know just what.

Another common problem was one that recruitment pages share with corporate Web sites in general: excessive use of graphics that add no real information and make pages very slow to load. For example, Procter & Gamble, a company whose sheer size makes designing a recruitment site difficult, offers a link called "U.S. Locations." Clicking it takes you to a large, slow-loading map with the states where P&G has facilities highlighted. Clicking on a state finally takes you to the actual list of company locations.

Poor design sometimes stopped job seekers short of the critical task of completing a job application. Cisco Systems' site offers a novel tool called the Profiler. Would-be applicants fill in forms with personal and professional information, and the system comes up with a list of job openings tailored to the individual's interests and qualifications. Unfortunately, applicants tended to get lost in a confusing section where they were supposed to fill in their employment history. Elsewhere, clicking on links seeming to offer additional information produced "file not found" errors. The likely real-world result is that good prospects end up not applying for jobs.

Granite Rock, a midsize California construction firm, undermined an otherwise simple, solid recruiting site by not even offering an online application. Instead, applicants have to download and print an application. To do that, they first need Adobe Acrobat Reader, itself a 5.5 megabyte download.

Interestingly, most of these defects are not technology failures. Instead, they result from poorly thought-out designs, inadequate testing, and most important, an inability to see things through an outside applicant's eyes. As co-author Hurst puts it: "Make it easy for the candidates. Don't design for anyone other than job-seekers."

The good news is that relatively simple fixes can yield impressive improvements. "If your competitors are doing it all wrong, you can beat them just by having a better site--and save $8,000 per hire," estimates Hurst. That could be a very big payoff for getting the basics right. More information is available at www.nngroup.com and at www.creativegood.com, where you can order a full copy of the report for $1,850.

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