How better UX for job portals can bring better job applications?

Yogesh Singh
Jul 9, 2019 · 15 min read

I graduated from DePaul University few weeks ago with a Masters Degree in Human Computer Interaction and you know, since I’ve learned a lot about UX and still learning, I can now spot UX problems in a snap! And, since I graduated, I was looking for jobs, going through various job portals and applying. After applying to 10–15 jobs each day, I started to lose interest, not because I was applying to so many jobs each day, but because I was frustrated of job portals being so inefficient.

To all the candidates looking for UX jobs, we’ve all been to those job portal websites which make us cringe. I mean, it’s literally the basic UX principles they are violating and passing the harder ones. Such big, amazing companies that you wish that you would work for, have so bad job portals that you would think like you’re dealing with some frustrated front-desk personnel. But, it’s not actually, the company’s fault, most of the times because of one reason: 3rd-party services.


Such big, amazing companies that you wish that you would work for, have so bad job portals that you would think like you’re dealing with some frustrated front-desk personnel.


See, the thing is, most of the companies (except top ones like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and few others) don’t have their own job portals, they use 3rd-party APIs and services to integrate into their company websites to get job applications. The real problem lies within these 3rd-party companies who design and develop such services. As I mentioned above, lots of such portals have bad user experience, and by UX I mean not just the buttons, labels, text and colors, it is also how the website behaves, how it handles user data and how it makes the user feel. We all agree that websites with great User Experiences motivate users in doing something and make them feel like they belong there. For example, Apple awes their visitors by showing them huge visuals to entice them into buying their products and their easy to find and clearly visible buttons help in generating more clicks and possibly turning the clicks into purchases. BUT… we’re talking about job portals here, not products.

Job market is highly professional domain and the UX principles that apply to websites like Apple or Google, are not all applicable to job portal websites. So, let’s look into what’s wrong and how can we fix the issues. I’m going to review 3 of the most used 3rd-party service websites that most companies use. We will first see what the issues are and then we will find the solutions.


Just to mention, we’re not here to shame any company or their tactics, we’re here to learn what is going wrong and how can we improve it.


1. Workday Inc.

Problem 1

Login page of Workday job for one of their clients in error state

I’m an avid Password Manager user. I don’t take stress of creating a password and remembering it, my Password Manager: Bitwarden does the job for me. And, whenever I visit a website again, I don’t have think whether I created an account on that website or not. I created my account on Workday jobs months ago when I was looking for an internship. Now as I graduated, I’m applying for full-time jobs. In that pursuit, PWC forwarded me to the website again. My password manager reminded me that it has my account details for this website. But the problem was, when I tried to log-in, it said that my account does not exist on this website. So, I had to create a new one. Few days later, for another company, I had to go through this again. Clearly, this is a big ‘Onboarding’ issue. If uses have terrible experience in the beginning, it’s going to negatively affect the reputation of your website and nobody is going to return to your website unless either the problem is fixed or it is absolutely necessary to visit the website. In this case, its the latter.

Problem 2

How many times have you stumbled upon a situation like this when you’re filling the application form for the job that you’re looking for and that annoying form does not let you fill/choose your desired option? I faced the same situation when applying for a job on Workday website. Have a look in the video to see the problem (Video has no sound):

So, as you saw in the video, it did not allow me to fill my desired Field of Study. Since Human Computer Interaction was not present in the list, neither was Design, not was User Experience or any related term, I had to had to leave the field blank. This is a violation of ‘User Control and Freedom’ and ‘Consistency and standards’ principles of the Heuristics of User Centered Design.

Problem 3

Workday Resume Information Extraction Issue

Another problem that comes from behind the scenes to the forefront is how your resume is read by the system. And, sometimes, the information is not read at all! I don’t know why, their system always removes “User Experience” from the my job title and fills-in to the ‘Job title’ text field. It also mixes my dates and job descriptions. Such problems are common among most of the application portals. A best fix for this is to get rid of these fields altogether since all this information is already present in the candidate’s resume. The only required information are Name, Email, Phone Number, Address, Portfolio URL and optional LinkedIn URL, apart from the Resume and Cover Letter. The use of such Cumbersome methods is of no use and is Repetitive since the job description is already present in a better from inside the candidate’s resume.

Problem 4

‘Jakob’s Law’ states that “Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.” Then the next problematic area was Skills section. The text field for skills work in a similar fashion except that we can have multiple things selected which is good but… The problem started when I typed “Adobe XD” and pressed Enter, the results area went into an infinite loop. This happened with few of my other skills too! ‘Doherty Threshold’ states that “Provide system feedback within 400ms in order to keep users’ attention and increase productivity.”. This problem though has since been fixed which is good. I hope they could also fix the issue with Field of Study.


2. Greenhouse Software Inc.

Sometimes, people think that they can cover everything under their roof but again, as we saw in Workday’s job portal, WE DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, but still, we make things close looped. In Greenhouse’s case, everything till “Discipline” was perfect and easy to accomplish, but as I tried to write my field of study or say, discipline which is Human Computer Interaction, similarly to Workday’s portal, I was not able to write it. The reason: it is a search box input and it only allows users to select from a predefined list of options. However, one difference here was that there was an option called “Discipline Unknown” which I had to select. See in the video below (Video has no sound):

You can say that the devs thought of the same thing that somebody would be studying in a weird problem like Human Computer Interaction or something like it so why not have an option called “Discipline Unknown” for the fields of study that we don’t know exist. Well, the problem with this is that it is not the right term to use. I know what my Discipline of study is, the system doesn’t. This mistake is again repeated in the “School” input which actually constitutes as first, but since I my first school was available to select on the first go, not the second one, I found it second. These are again violation of ‘User Control and Freedom’ and ‘Consistency and standards’ principles of the Heuristics of User Centered Design.


3. Successfactors

Sometimes you get to witness something or someone who’s at next level with the work that they do. The same case is with Successfactors job portal. I don’t exactly remember which company referred me there but IT IS NOT THE COMPANY’S FAULT WHO REFERRED ME THERE. The only place they are went wrong is to not verify the 3rd-party’s job portal UX as per their standards. Let’s look at a video example of a portion of Successfactors job portal (Video has no sound):

This job portal went entirely in the opposite direction of ‘Hick’s Law’ which states that “ The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices”. Everything was okay, not the best, but it was working, until the time came to input my skills. I was mind-boggled with the amount of complexity that was present on the page. The most affected portion of the entire application process was Skills section. It took me 15 minutes just to add half of my skills and I couldn’t enter the other half because of the drop-down selection method. As you saw in the video above, there is a 3-stop process to add your skills. At step 1, you select the category of skill, then at step 2, you select what that skill is and in step 3, you select the proficiency you have over that particular skill.

Let’s go reverse here. Step 3 is totally understandable that you want to ask the proficiency level but say, if I have 30 skills, it is a tiring process to add all your skills. Then at step 2 where you have to select what that skill is, it is a very long list of skills to go though with numerous unknown skills. This is a violation of ‘Miller’s Law’ which states that “ The average person can only keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory.”. With too many options, you tend to forget which ones are applicable to you and where will you find them in the list when you add your next skill. And, finally, at step 1, it asks you to choose the category. Here are another bunch of options which confuse you in the very beginning. My initial thought was that if I choose a category, it will give me a sorted list of skills as per that category, but it doesn’t. Choosing a category does not affect the list of skills making the step 1 pointless. Moreover, even after much struggle, you many not be able to input all your skills because you can only choose from the available ones and cannot at new ones. This is a violation of ‘Jakob’s Law’ which states that “ Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”. The reason being that nobody else is using such categorization of skills.

Adding all three steps together violates ‘Hick’s Law’ which states that “ The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.”. There are three drop-downs with nearly hundred or more options to choose from for each skill you want to add, this increases the complexity of system. This coincides with ‘Peak-End Rule’ which states that “People judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak and at its end, rather than the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.”. This is the step where users are spending most of their time and if this experience is not good, it is going to have a bad impression on users’ minds.


Solution

As you saw in all the cases above, the problems are pretty similar and most of the solutions are pretty basic. So, it invested my time first in Principle app to start designing the interaction, soon I found out that it is not meant for complex interactions like I wanted. Then I moved over to Sketch app to design the wireframe and then I imported the sketch file contents into Axure. In Axure I added a much of textboxes and buttons. Then I designed all the interactions to make everything follow Workday’s design language. I also added a few tweaks to the overall aesthetic appeal to step-up the UX game.

Did you see what I did there? I did just one aesthetical change which is that I added the shadow to the white background for each category which makes the categories easily differentiable. The raised boxes now demand user’s attention to get to work and input information which is what we want.

Having placeholders inside the textboxes allow user to learn what kind of value would go into a textbox. And, not just whatever placeholder, we should have context-based placeholders because they are better than just a blank textbox or something like ‘select one’. I also want to point out: Just a textbox for ‘Field of Study’ gives the user freedom to write anything they want according to the context because there are so many fields of study no one person can remember. That’s why it’s better to use just a textbox. And, its following the standard because every great job portal is doing this. Still, if you want to do something different and go on the route of using Search Input, have an option which says “Other” if the user can’t find what they are looking for and when they select Other, give them a textbox below it where they can fill their desired value. This is slower than the first method but works if you want to go this way.

Same thing goes with the Skills field. Having the tags inside and claustrophobically fitted in a small area makes it inconvenient for the user to quickly glance through all the skills they have added and make changes quickly. So, I would suggest putting them outside and spread-out, just like I did in the video or get rid of them altogether to save the candidate’s time. This is also in alignment with the standards of usability, plus giving control in user’s hands to easily accomplish the task of adding their skills. This method eliminates the need of implementing a search functionality which greatly increases the user’s speed because he/she knows what skills they possess, so rather than trying to search for skills, he/she can quickly add them via this feature.

These solutions can be either partly or fully used in fixing the usability issues with not just the above-mentioned job portal websites but any other website because these UX solutions are universally used in websites with great user experiences around the world.


If you’re interested in checking out how I created the Interactions in Axure, download this file and open in Axure RP 9: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JDhiLedKfqVurgGEAX-UphrDcw5-ra4F/view?usp=sharing


A step back to the Job Profile Page

Since we are discussing about jobs we should also look at how companies have jobs listed out. This will help us evaluate the job application process as a whole. This part is totally dependent on hiring companies’ HRs and HMs to put in their valuable time into writing a rich and engaging job profile that can attract candidates. In the current environment of mixing things up and overlapping requirements, it not very hard to go wrong with the job description. Lot of the times people writing job description exaggerate and mix two or 3 position which is usually termed as ‘Finding a Unicorn’. For example, asking a User Experience Designer to know programming in Java with 5 years of experience. This is a example of both because one: the person should be a great developer as well as a designer, two: should have a solid 5 years of experience working in both fields, and three: you want to get your design and development work done under half the cost by hiring only one person. The problem here is that as you go up the ladder in your career, you tend to focus on a specific role. This means that if you do so in your job profile posting, you’ll probably end-up hiring someone who is not the best person because these are two separate roles.

So, what makes a job description spark the light of engagement among potential candidates? I’ll just keep to the bullet points to keep it short and let Glassdoor and LinkedIn talk.

According to Glassdoor: https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/6-traits-great-job-descriptions/

These are 6 traits of creating a great job profile as an employer:

  1. Captivating language and creativity.
  2. Transparent benefits and culture.
  3. Well defined roles and responsibilities.
  4. Hit them with the headlines.
  5. Don’t forget to sell them on the opportunity.
  6. Design for inclusivity.

And, according to LinkedIn: https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/2014/04/job-descriptions-that-win-3-outstanding-examples

These are few more traits for you to consider while writing the job description:

  1. Keep it short.
  2. Keep it Conversational.
  3. Add some personality.

If you’re fond of Indeed, you can also look at what they suggest here: https://www.indeed.com/hire/how-to-write-a-job-description.


Return to the application process

Oh, you though that was all? Wait! Let’s give a visit to 4 tech giants to see what kind of application process they have for candidates.

Amazon application process

I would say, Amazon simply nailed the application process. Why so, you ask? Well, if you see in the image, to the left, they have created a checklist which guides you through the application process and lets you know what is completed and what is left. This also helps in dividing a lengthy one page application process into chunks. Then to the right you have the questions or inputs pertaining to the current step written in a very simple language. Plus, they only ask you for the relevant things that are usually not listed in your resume. And, you know, what’s the best part? If you apply for one job, all of your info is saved and when you go on to apply for another one right then or anytime in the future, you information is right there, pre-filled and available to be changed.

Microsoft application process

This long image is not my fault, blame Microsoft for putting everything on one page. However, they have still made their mark. The whole application process is divided into parts on one single page. To the left, there is the name and description of each category and to the right there are questions and inputs for each category. The reason it works great is that the contents are separated by the colors. The main background of the page the creamy white but to separate the category contents, they have used white color as background. Also, this whole page is very accessibility-friendly with appropriate sized fonts and buttons.

Apple application process

Apple being Apple! Since they are a privacy-focused company, they want you to be very informed about your data so whatever actions are happening such as your information being reused from your old application or your data being pulled-off from LinkedIn to fill your application, you are informed and have the ability to change those settings. Then, they have also taken then Amazon-like lean approach to the application process and have divided they whole application in to three steps. Applying to job a Apple feels so comforting and easy that you would want to apply again and again!

Google application process

As you can notice in the image above, Google has a similar approach as Microsoft when it comes to differentiating the categories with creamy white color as main background and white for the content. However, Google’s Design Language is just a little bit tricky to understand because they have shied away from traditional looks of components such as text boxes and drop-downs, but if you have used Google platforms such as gmail, photos, etc, you should be familiar with the way they make components. Their approach is certainly not the best but its not bad either. Everything is clearly distinguishable and easy to understand and they are asking only for relevant things.


Final Thoughts

After following this article all along, you must have been aware of all the pros and cons of different systems, what to do and what not to do, and what are the standards that are set by tech giants. I’m hoping you have leaned some new things today that you would implement in your job portal tomorrow and I’ll use that updated job portal to apply for a job day after tomorrow.


If you have any questions or comments, I would prefer to get them on my email at: cyogesh56@gmail.com


Endnote

In writing this article I have used the reference of Laws of UX website: https://lawsofux.com/. And, in pursuit of writing this article, I got to apply to a bunch of jobs too! So, if you’re a recruiter and are reading this and have a User Experience Design position available, get in touch with me via my email: cyogesh56@gmail.com.

Thank you for reading!

Yogesh Singh

Written by

Interaction design, Photography and lots of experiments.

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