The Bad UX in the UX Designer Job Application Process

Roxanne G
14 min readJul 22, 2021

[Note: If this is TL;DR, just check out the GIFs and the final paragraph]

This has been quite a year. Never one to waste a crisis, I decided to use all the extra home time due to COVID restrictions to get formally certified in UX Design with Thinkful/Chegg. It was the perfect time to do so as there was so much time spent at home and no FOMO. I dipped my toe into the UX designer job search pool with some smaller freelance gigs during my UX course, but was committed to my full time work until June. Then the real splash into the job searching ocean began.

I am thankful because Thinkful provides a career coach who is available in 30 minute segments as needed and many other online resources for figuring out best how to manage the monumental task of job searching. And it really is a monumental task for a newly certified UX designer to land a decently paying full-time job with benefits, which is my ultimate goal. COVID caused many companies to pull way back on hiring and to let experienced people go. So the ocean is full of experienced UX folks and the many newly minted UX folks that the UX certification courses keep pouring out.

Since May 2021, the amount of job openings has increased; there are many new opportunities being posted on LinkedIn and Indeed daily. Job seekers are advised to thoughtfully and accurately fill out at least ten applications each week. Since job seeking has become my full time profession since June, I have been filling out sometimes 10 applications per day.

Having been on the other end of the job search, on hiring teams during my career, I have a lot of empathy for recruiters and internal hiring teams and understand how time consuming it is to go through all the resumes received when a job is posted. I completely get how a resume must be reviewed rapidly and that reviewers develop a quick set of criteria for separating out the resumes to pursue, and for every company these criteria are different. I have read all the articles and scoured all the resources on how to make your portfolio eye-catching and how to make your resume play nice with the ATS (Applicant Tracking System).

But the more applications I submit for UX Designer positions, the more I realize that the UX Designer job application process has very bad UX problems. I obviously find this ironic and wanted to share (read: commiserate) and perhaps humbly suggest to some companies how they can improve the experience for the “applicant-user.” I realize the “reviewer-user” might be having an entirely different and perhaps even exceptional experience with the various applicant management systems, but I will focus on the applicant-user experience in this article.

Agencies and Smaller Companies

Agencies of small to medium size and start-ups often simply request that the applicant-user email them a resume and portfolio. If not, they often have aesthetically pleasing, consistently branded, application sites. These pages are most likely something a developer and designer in the company created and added to the existing web site of the agency. They often have good color contrast-ratio and good text size. The custom pages are a joy to look at and feature wonderfully thought provoking questions like:

“What is it that makes you a unique candidate for this position? What are you looking for in a job? What are you looking for in your next role? What is your greatest professional achievement?”

You can almost see five people gathered around a monitor or screen-sharing on a slack call looking through your answers and considering them thoughtfully.

Image 1a: Beautifully created and consistently branded screen from a small agency, incorporated into their site.

Image 1a: Beautifully created and consistently branded screen from a small agency, incorporated into their site.

Image 1b: Thought provoking question on a small agency’s in-house application page.

Image 1b: Thought-provoking question on a small agency’s in-house application page.

However, I have found a fair bit of the agencies’ in-house sites to be buggy. For example this one throws an exception when the resume is added, and the applicant-user cannot submit.

Image 1c: When the resume is added, an error flag appears that will not allow the submission

Here is another one that an agency did in-house that has issues when adding additional documents. Once again, upon adding the cover letter, an error flag appears and the applicant cannot submit.

Image 2: Smaller agency has a bug in their in-house application page, not allowing submit

Here’s yet another one. In the GIF example shown, the submit button is shown at first, but the applicant wants to scroll back up and add another attachment to their application. Adding the third attachment causes the submit button to disappear. Also, the attachments (resume, cover letter, etc) when added are represented as a large, blurred image.

The attachment is represented by a large, blurry image with extremely small text labelling it

Image3: Submit button disappears after adding the third attachment, and the attachment is represented by a large, blurry image with extremely small text labelling it.

I’m conflicted at this point. Should I reach out to the agency and let them know? Is it really a bug or something that I’m doing? Hey wait a minute, I shouldn’t feel that way as a user. This is UX: the experience is broken, not the user… right?

Some smaller agencies use smaller applicant management services like Lever which have a kanban-like view for managing candidates. This is very nice for the reviewer-user. The applicant-user also is given a readable, easy to use interface to work with that a company can consistently brand.

Image 4: Lever form integrated into a medium sized agency’s site. Easy to read and use. No bugs.

Image 4: Lever form integrated into a medium sized agency’s site. Easy to read and use. No bugs.

A smaller company might also opt to embed a page from companies like Jazz-HR into their existing site page. This gives a very inconsistent experience from the rest of the page branding and the forms are very basic. The embedded page will re-stack for mobile, but the text fields are way too small and the submit button is way too small for finger widths. It would be a better experience to have the applicant-user navigate to a whole other page to access the form so that the inconsistency is not as noticeable.

Image 4b: Inconsistency in the page between page style and form

Image 4b: Inconsistency in the page between page style and form

Also, the company might want to choose a form that is more mobile-responsive.

Image 5: Embedded pages do not scale well for mobile experiences.

Image 5: Embedded pages do not scale well for mobile experiences.

Applying via LinkedIn or Indeed

Many smaller companies will often list an opening on Indeed or LinkedIn without also listing it in the careers section of their own site. Career coaches often advise applicants to apply directly via the company’s website when possible, but in this case Indeed or LinkedIn is the only avenue available for applying.

The LinkedIn application process offers a decent user experience, as does Indeed. The LinkedIn process is extremely quick and easy and allows the applicant-user to upload a new resume easily. There is no way to add a cover letter or a portfolio link, however. Also, I have yet to receive a request for a phone screening based on an application submitted this way. Career advisors agree it is best to include a cover letter. As an applicant-user, I feel I would like the option to submit more materials. The process almost feels too easy from a user perspective.

Image 6: LinkedIn’s application experience

Indeed’s user experience for the applicant-user is quite nice. A resume that is already uploaded to the applicant profile can be used or replaced as needed. The applicant-user can apply with or without a cover letter. The cover letter can be uploaded; alternatively, Indeed allows you to write one or paste one directly into a text box that is surprisingly easy to navigate. It even offers spell check. The last cover letter you used is shown in the text box and can be tweaked for the current job posting. That is very convenient. Questions about schooling and years of experience are easily answered via drop-down menus. A little copy and paste from the applicant user’s resume needs to happen when completing the short text fields for filling out a past job title and company name, or they can be typed in. I personally have all my resume details memorized at this point, having filled out so many applications, so typing it all in is not a problem. Most importantly, I have received quite a few phone screenings by applying via Indeed.

Image 7: Indeed’s applicant-user experience is quite nice from a user experience perspective

Applying via Larger Applicant Management Systems

Larger companies (more than 1000 employees) tend to use Workday, Taleo, Paylocity, iCIMS, Oraclecloud, DayforceHCM and other large capacity applicant management systems. Unfortunately many of these larger systems have some real UX issues. This article cannot detail them all, but here are some examples.

Workday does allow the applicant-user to maintain a profile in the system and retains a previous resume. It also gives the applicant-user the chance to upload a new resume. That’s a good thing since my resume has been reworked over 100 times since March. As you can see in the GIF below, the Next button should be in the lower right, especially for applicants from countries that use a language that reads from left to right.

Image 8: Workday resume upload screen: Next button should be on the right.

Also, in the section on languages of the applicant, when the applicant-user notes a language as their native language, they still have to select items from the Comprehension, Speaking, Reading and Writing boxes. Once the applicant-user notes a language as their native language, it would make sense to have those drop downs disappear. As a native English speaker, I surely would not choose beginner as my comprehension level from the drop down. Not if I want at least a chance at the position!

Image 9 : Workday’s language experience

The really tiny text on the Workday application pages lacks in the readability department and it is extremely difficult to fill out the form on a mobile device. Also, Workday will scrape your uploaded resume and pre-fill some of the text boxes, but beware, they are often incorrectly filled. The fields must be reviewed carefully as dates often get switched. The institution names for education are paired with the wrong dates of graduation. If the College or University cannot be found in the drop down, you cannot add one. And there is no place to list certification organizations such as Thinkful or General Assembly as part of the applicant-user’s education history. What’s more, the resume scraping function takes what it recognizes as roles and responsibilities for a past position and stuffs them into a multi-line text box that is quite small.

Carefully scroll through these Role Description text boxes and read the super tiny text. In the example GIF, you can see that the scraper has concatenated two job descriptions. I wonder how many applications I’ve filled out where that has happened?

Image 10: Workday’s text box experience

At the end of the Workday experience, the applicant-user is asked to validate this statement, “ I agree that all information submitted is accurate to the best of my knowledge.” Sure, except I didn’t notice that the scraper incorrectly filled out my college graduation date as 2021. Also, if the applicant-user finds something that needs to be changed in an uploaded resume, corrects it and uploads again, the scraper wipes out all the adjustments made to the text fields. That is simply maddening from a user standpoint. A better user experience would be to ask, after a resume upload, if the user wants the text fields to be overwritten.

Here’s another example, where the applicant-user has uploaded all of their additional documents, but decides they want to replace their resume. Not only do the fields get refilled and all the manual edits disappear, the other attachments disappear as well.

Image 10b: Where did all my other docs go???

Another example of a difficult applicant-user experience happens with tabbed forms. Having the applicant information across various tabs is one way to manage a super-long scroll of information. But having the error flag persistently visible above each tab is crazy-making. The applicant-user cannot find which tab is missing the required information. This one is from a job search site called Angellist.

Image 11a: Which tab has the problem?

The missing information was actually found in the third tab, under Preferences, but the exception was visible while on the Resume/CV tab as well as the Profile tab.

Wait there’s more!

Taleo, Paylocity and Greenhouse are other large applicant management systems that also have user experiences that are lacking.

Taleo’s experience was a little better than Workday’s in that the text was better sized for readability. The application review experience is strange in that the submit button is shown and active from the start, which draws the applicant-user’s eye immediately to click it. The bold blue text above however, stopped me as I read the instructions to click a right arrow, which then transforms into a down arrow to open an accordion view of the entire application. The applicant-user may then scroll through and click the submit button, now found at the bottom. This was confusing and could cause many applicant-users to mistakenly click the submit button before reviewing. Also, clicking right to go down is not intuitive.

Image 11: Taleo’s application review is confusing

I’m sure Taleo allows companies to customize what data they want to obtain from their applicants. This particular company wanted transcripts and GPA from all applicants, not just those newly graduated from college. I went so far as to order my college transcripts to upload them, but was rejected the following week anyway. Perhaps a better experience would be to request transcripts from those applicant-users less than 2 years out of school?

Image 12: Transcripts. Really?

Greenhouse has the nicest experience of the larger applicant management systems I’ve come across. Its application form has clearly labeled text fields and text fields that are large enough to navigate. In the desktop experience, there is a hover color change for the buttons which are also very readable, having a good color contrast ratio and text size. The overall aesthetic is pleasing and clear. And the experience stacks well for mobile and is responsive. There is also that nice option that Indeed has in which to paste a document such as a cover letter, instead of having to upload it at all.

Image 12: Greenhouse’s application experience on desktop

What have I learned?

Aside from the inherent indignity of having to shop yourself around all day while job searching, the applicant-user has to deal with tiny text, broken sites, small data boxes, and sore fingers from copying and pasting repetitively only to receive an anonymous rejection letter a week or two later, if at all.

Of course it would be a kinder and more empathetic experience if all application sites became intuitive, frictionless and aesthetically pleasing. I realize this is a daunting challenge, given the legion of companies that need to hire, and require an applicant management solution they can afford and maintain. But there is surely opportunity for improvement.

It has been my experience that the applicant-user has to become adept at modifying their digital application materials and behavior to accommodate the various poorly designed interfaces.

This is what I have done to streamline the process and make the poorly designed interfaces as workable as possible.

  • Well… nothing can be done if the site is broken. And I’m usually quite good at “letting the poor design win” and figuring out a work-around, but broken is broken! You can reach out to the company, perhaps. Let me know how that goes, I’m very curious about it.
  • Use Huntr.io to manage your job search. I cannot say enough about this product. The kanban board interface is really helpful as well as the chrome extension that can scrape a site and add job details to your job board. Hey, Huntr.io, are you hiring?
  • You have to take your beautiful PDF resume with its lovely multi-columns and turn it into a very awful, boring dare I say ugly word doc.

Image 13: Pretty resume with columns and colors

Image 14: Boring word doc with all information stacked and tallying a whopping 4 pages

Yes, you are supposed to have a one page resume. Alas, all those columns now stacked on top of each other create a long, 4 page, word doc. But it will scrape better when you upload it to Workday, Taleo or Greenhouse applicant sites. Another advantage is being able to copy and paste from it. It will also supposedly play nicer with the ATS (Applicant Tracking System).

  • Many technical application sites require the applicant-user to copy and paste skills into a text field. UX Designers have a lot of skills and tools they use. So I have trained myself to have two tabs open in Chrome, with my word doc resume in one and the applicant site right next to it, copying and pasting one item at a time. It’s a nightmare, but it works.
  • It is much easier to download your files from Google Drive or Dropbox to your device and upload to the application site from there. When you try to add your resume or cover letter through Dropbox or Drive, the interface is a disaster. The files are not sorted correctly and if you need to switch to a different gmail account for your google drive to locate your document, forget it.
  • Keep a doc of all your references handy so you can copy and paste all the details into text boxes on these application sites. Yes, it is another exercise in copying and pasting. And this one in particular requires a mobile phone number as well. I do not have all of my references’ mobile numbers, so I just re-paste their business phone numbers.

Image 15: Type or paste all your references into all these text fields, and the mobile number is required.

These streamlining techniques might help you, dear applicant-user, as you struggle through the legion of application sites that go from “decent” to “meh” to “poor” to “disastrous” in user experience.

I am starting to wonder if these sites are set up in some sort of Machiavellian way to see how much a candidate really wants the job. I like to think that the bad UX was baked in because the companies are actually determining the level of perseverance of each applicant! Are they tracking that? I sure hope so. Well, at least I like to think so. It makes me feel better.

I realize one site can’t be designed for all companies, due to different requirements and liabilities in different places. But it would be helpful if companies that are hiring UX designers would ask their existing UX designers to test, evaluate and redesign the application sites for their companies.

So to these UX designers I say: I understand helping with the hiring process can feel like a frustrating delay from ever-pressing deadlines. But please….help!

So please, review the suggestions I have made in the above paragraphs. And while we’re at it: I’m “open-to-work.” https://Roxanneg.design

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Roxanne G

UX | UI Designer, Maker, Gardener, Cyclist, Hiker, Parent, Partner. RoxanneG.design