Understanding psychology when building careers websites

A careers site can be a company’s single most important recruiting asset, and certainly one that if well planned is a powerful means of captivating and retaining quality employees and reducing or eliminating recruitment costs. Inversely, career site experiences that fall short of acceptable standards can poison people’s perception of companies and sour relationships before they get a chance to start.

According to research conducted by the site CareerBuilder, 86% of jobseekers believe employers should treat candidates with the same respect as current employees, while 81% say continuously communicating status updates would improve the overall experience. Many companies fall short of these sort of goals, failing to see the value in the long-term investment in such an experience so early on. The good news is that there is a wealth of knowledge around best practice that can help orient us towards an optimal user experience.

Here we assess the five broad stages of application process from Orientation to Post-Acceptance, consider what we could do to improve the process, and what other businesses are doing well in these fields.

Stage 1: Orientation

State of mind

There is much to suggest that the mind of a jobseeker can be a troubled place. As always with periods of transition that impact our material circumstances, such as moving house or having a child, job changes can be stressful and emotionally turbulent episodes. This needs to be taken into consideration even for the most ambitious and capable potential candidates.

As such, a negative or frustrating experience in looking for or applying for jobs can compound feelings of stress and anxiety, especially as so many are poor at feeding back information to candidates, such as whether the application was received, or whether they are still in consideration for a position. When such negative feelings are invoked by poor user experiences, these can be associated directly with the organisation’s brand.

Exploring the job landscape

A recent study by Harris Poll showed that modern candidates actively search for jobs on a continual basis. About 71% are either actively looking for, or open to a new job and the searching can persist for months before they decide to act. With proper analysis of the search behaviour of candidates, a well-optimised careers site can be a net to capture their attention. A number of elements must work in concert for this initial page to be effective;

  • Technical best practice — such as descriptive URLs and well structured internal links.
  • Quality content that uses appropriate media — Such content should be clearly worded (no preposterous job titles like “rockstar” or “ninja”), jargon free and no longer than it has to be.
  • Continual website optimisation — constantly reviewing keywords and page elements and optimising page content and structure, using methods such as with A/B and multi-variant testing to identify the most effective layout and design.
  • Performance-based advertising — Constructing intelligent, cost-effective and targeted ads on the appropriate platforms for the candidates (Adwords, Twitter) to direct users to the site

The Harris Poll research also found that 64% of candidates felt more confident about jobs they had found themselves rather than through a recruiter, meaning they are more likely to stay with the benefit of reducing recruiter costs. Research by Madge has shown that while jobseekers will use mobiles to locate jobs, the application process itself is conducted on a desktop device 70% of the time, presumably due to the need to upload files and input large amounts of text. However, the same research shows that during the orientation and consideration phases of job-seeking, where 30% will look to research jobs on their mobiles, while commuting, and on the basis of this experience decide what to apply for.

The same research found that inbound tactics, including careers sites, were important drivers of engagement for 90% of those who were hired. As five-star talent will likely have more than one opportunity on offer, these portals and their associated functionality become crucial for retaining interest. If they are beset with annoyances and difficulties, independently minor issues such as obtuse error messages, poor information and absent communications, can accumulate, leading to emotional estrangement from your brand. In this sense, the job seeking behaviour is also akin to a considered purchase, and the careers site a simulacra of the organisation itself and is judged on that basis.

Stage 2: Consideration

Assessing the organisation

More than just telling a compelling storytelling about your brand, your careers site must also communicate an Employee Value Proposition that authentically reflects the organisation and has messaging oriented to the right sort of candidate to fit your culture. For example, does your benefits page highlight generous pay, or future-oriented goals? Do you want candidates who want to be part of something bigger, or are contributing to innovation?

Each decision will tune itself to different temperaments and set of motivations. Are we looking for large volumes, or for laser-focussed content targeted to a particular candidate type? If this is storytelling it must be one oriented to a particular audience.

The benefits page should outline both the nuts and bolts facts about what the candidate gets, but also radiate a sense of belonging at once authentic and tuned to the candidate’s sensibilities. This will rest in large part on quality content, such as real photos or videos of employees, photos of team events, highlights of content produced by the team such as blogs or interviews, and authentic testimonials.

Up-to-date employer profiles and content on LinkedIn or similar platforms are also crucial to effective communication of culture.

Identifying suitable jobs

A careers site that has significant numbers of roles require a suitable set of tools to aid the user in navigating them. Many of these should be entry-level, such as prominently places search bars or the ability to sort by skill or location. The precise nature of the toolset will differ from organisation to organisation. Global companies will require appropriate tools to view roles by region, for instance, while single-location companies with large numbers of roles may require more filters by field and proficiency.

Selling the role

Too often job description are hastily written and cluttered with internalised jargon. To get five-star candidates, effort must be made to ensure the job description adheres to the right tone of voice and the principles of the EVP whilst avoiding fluff and waffle. Furthermore, it must communicate the most relevant facts about the role such as advancement prospects or the people they’ll be working with (whatever the organisation decide are appropriate to the characteristics of the target candidates). An important aspect to emphasise can be the impact the role will have in the company as a whole, particularly if targeting ambitious candidates.

Stage 3: Action

The application experience

First and foremost it must be clear how a candidate can apply for a job. This may seem obvious, but too often calls to action are carelessly placed on a page and are visually indistinct from a hyperlink, obscured by cookie messages, and so forth. Care must be take to ensure the call-to-action stands out, without much in the way of cognitive effort for the user (it should stand out without them necessarily needing to read the text and should work on instinctual pattern recognition).

This application process itself must be simple enough for the user to use with limited amounts of “friction” (unneeded obstacles that get in the way of the user achieving a task) whilst not making it so easy to apply that it puts 
an unwelcome burden on staff who have to sort and rate the CVs. The precise amount of friction depends on the extent to which you want to use the application process as a candidate filtering system. Do we want to ask for a covering letter, for instance, to ensure they have to take time to consider their response?

Whatever questions the organisation decides to ask, they should conform to best practice in UX design, such as telling how long the process will take and what they will need, providing helpful error messages and giving them the ability to undo mistakes.

Stage 4: Engagement

Considering job offers

While we are assessing candidates, they are simultaneously assessing us. Top candidates, perhaps musing multiple offers, will judge in part based on how considerate, rude or indifferent they are, seeing this as a preview of the internal culture. Not responding to unsuccessful candidates may seem shrewd now, but in five years they be at the top of their game and remember this rude treatment.

To remedy this, after the job has been applied for, personalised, automated emails should be sent to applicants thanking them and outlining in as precise terms as possible and (and this depends on the volume and quality of candidates) send emails from real people offering real feedback. In an increasingly automated world, such personal touched could give the emotional edge.

An email or page detailing a clear outline of the application process will remove any anxiety and take it as a further opportunity to promote the EVP. Jobseekers spend between 3 to 10 hours a week applying, so getting something back out of all this effort, may help create a more positive emotional connection to your brand.

Stage 5: Post-acceptance

The preboarding experience

In many organisations the period between the offer of acceptance and the first day of work is a vacuum punctuated by the odd email exchange. However this lull can be an excellent opportunity to ensure the new employee’s first day is more rewarding and enjoyable. A “pre-boarding” login can be provided not long after the candidate is notified of their success, acting both as a checklist and a primer on the company they are about to work for.

Firstly, it can be a means of getting the more mundane aspects of the process, such as signing contracts, NDAs and such, out of the way beforehand. Secondly, rich content can help educate the new employee on the history of the company and where you sit within it, a downloadable company handbook and mandatory training material (i.e heath and safety). This can sit alongside profiles of the people they’ll be working with, perhaps with personalised video introductions from them. A dashboard of relevant information such as local amenities, including tips from future colleagues that could provide helpful icebreakers.

To conclude, the best rule of thumb to find and attract the best people for your organisation is — besides best practice UX — to treat them with the respect and consideration you would to a person in real life, and build this in to whatever systems and processes your create.