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Job Board Journal: What Candidates Want

A weekly column covering the art and science of job boards & other online recruitment advertising solutions by TAtech CGO Stephen O’Donnell.

For the past 22 years, I have nurtured a fascination with job boards. This fascination has manifest itself in the form of the National Online Recruitment Awards, where we identify and celebrate the very best in the job board sector in the UK.

Setting aside awards for employers and recruitment firms, we take a very thorough look at the full range of job boards, aggregators, hiring platforms and online publications – essentially any platform through which multiple employers can advertise their current live vacancies and promote their employer brand.

In my capacity as founder of the awards, and chair of the judging panel, I reckon I am the busiest jobseeker in the country – I’ll register with over 500 recruitment websites each year, search for jobs, and go through the application process.

In the nomination process for the NORAs, we also ask jobseekers for their feedback on what their preferences are, and often they volunteer their dislikes too. Whilst not a scientific survey, it is always illuminating to absorb this information. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Job boards are a business, and in the business of serving paying customers – advertisers. Candidates are mostly well aware of this, even if their expectations are set by ecommerce sites they do pay for. They may not fully appreciate that they are the product being sold to advertisers, but that is gradually changing.

Central dichotomy – candidates have always done what they’re asked, and jumped through whatever hoops are put in front of them. However, in a tight labour market, with unemployment at a record low, candidates are expecting better. They have raised their own expectations from a myriad of other online services, and want to assert themselves. Initially this means disengaging, not following the rules, and applying randomly, but as they start to assert themselves even more, they are refusing to jump through certain hoops – assessments, screenings, psychometrics, recorded video interviews.

On the topic of recorded video interviews – candidates know why these are being done – to screen out unsuitable applicants and not waste the time of human recruiters. They also know that the full video interview may not be watched, and that visual bias can see them rejected immediately. In this regard, they feel misled. Recorded interviews feel inherently unfair, as the candidate cannot see the interviewer in real time, cannot assess the response to their answers, and cannot judge the true tone of the interview. Above all, they feel incapable of persuading an employer of their merits.

So, here’s a question job boards should answer: If a candidate has to be judged on a pre-recorded video, then why doesn’t the employer begin that conversation with more information for each vacancy on video?

Candidates are wise to being manipulated; they see it, they feel it, they may go along with the process, but they are increasingly reluctant, and even resentful. Duplication of required data input, and illogical vetting will see candidates bail out of the process, and go elsewhere.

CV / Resumé databases: Candidates know their CV can be entered into a searchable database, and hopefully lead to being approached by suitable employers. However, candidates are rarely told the full implications of this practice, and precisely who can, or specifically who already has accessed their CV. Job boards should flag CVs which include security numbers from Passports, Driving Licenses, National Insurance, and other data used for identity theft. And, there should be a visible log of everyone who viewed a person’s CV. Access to most CV databases is a service which is usually only limited by the ability to pay.

We are long past the “mobile moment” for recruitment, and now the majority of job searches begin on a small screen device. During 2021, 67% of job applications were completed on mobile devices, according to a report by Appcast. In 2019, only 51% of job applications were completed that way. When the least common interface with job boards is via a full-size desktop computer screen, why are so many sites building for this format as a priority?

We already know that most job alerts are opened in mobile devices, meaning candidates come to the job on a small screen. However, they are expected to read immense amounts of tiny text. Inevitably they end up skimming that text, and primarily pay attention to the job title, location, salary, and company name. Then they either apply regardless of the vacancy being a good fit, or don’t apply at all, because the ad was not persuasive. Quality control of job ad content is essential for hiring platforms to earn quality conversions, and to not bore candidates rigid.

Copy-pasted HR job specs are clearly terrible as job adverts, and unpersuasive. Job boards should set limits on the amount of text.

Great success is being found where job boards allow candidates to make a “Note of interest” in a job without making a formal application. The more passive jobseeker is simply asking for the employer to provide more detailed information, before committing to apply.

This post is part 1 of a 2-part series. Open next week’s TAprose newsletter to read part 2.

Stephen O’Donnell is the Chief Growth Officer of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions and the founder of the National Online Recruitment Awards (NORAs), which celebrate the best of the job board sector in the UK.