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      Part 2. Application Experience (The State of Employer Branding in Australia, 2021).

      This instalment is specifically about the Application Experience. And the link to the image? You can probably guess – there are too many missed chances to mention….and a few horrid experiences, that whack people around the chops daily.

      In part 1 of this series, I provided an overview of the State of Employer Branding in Australia. All of the data was taken from TQ’s diagnostic, our ‘Employer Brand and Experience Maturity Model’. Mystery shopping as a candidate, we gather 41 data points per organisation across dimensions such as EVP articulation, careers web site optimisation, application experience, social media and reputation. The outputs show scores for each dimension we review, along with an overall maturity score – ranked as either Foundational, Transforming, Progressive or Ahead of the Curve.

      Taking a view across 40 of the organisations we have reviewed in 2021, I am sharing key data points and insights that will hopefully continue to help organisations raise the bar in key areas of Employer Branding.

      Key Application Experience Insights

      I’ve split this into 3 phases; pre-application, application and post-application. The areas we consider would be the typical candidate ‘lived experience’, including things like job adverts (copywriting, gender coding, video etc), the application process via the careers site/ATS (time taken, value to candidate, disability allowances etc) and communication (before – FAQ, during – support, post – email comms and follow up). We don’t sit the follow-on assessments (although I was close to getting a driver job once – I fell at the last hurdle!) as we want to respect the company/recruiter time.

      Since I developed and started using this diagnostic in 2019, I have noted a slow but welcome uplift in the quality of application experiences, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.  This graph below shows exactly 50% of the organisations beneath our 35% minimum threshold, with 26% in the Foundational level.

       

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      Phase 1: Pre-application experience.

      Job adverts; The Good. The Bad. And a good dose of Ugly.

      For all the iterations of Employer Branding over the years, I maintain that the jobs themselves are critical to the candidate experience. I wrote this piece about Individual Value Propositions, advising that we need to continue building job-centric marketing strategies, not just the more brand-heavy focus on purpose and culture.

      The results from our diagnostic point to quite a low bar for job advertisements still, 44% falling in the foundational level (with a broad industry cross-section, no obvious trends there necessarily).

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      Here are some of the most comments, observations and recommendations:

      • The major shift is from a job ‘description’ to an ‘advert’. This.is.a.marketing.opportunity – use it wisely and invest in its success!! An analogy would be the shift from a real estate functional listing (feature-led) to the drones and 360 virtual tours we now take for granted…which is no different to the team culture, workspace, leadership insights that we need to give talent. This is a recruiter capability and mindset shift away from speed and process and into data-led marketing, making time to design the value proposition and key messages that will most appeal to the target profiles.
      • There is plenty of information written on designing better jobs adverts such as this resource from SEEK. The most beneficial enhancement I have seen in terms of improving job ad performance include;
      • Copy length – mainly too long, especially for mobile viewers. Too much scrolling is a no-no.
      • Optimisation of features like job titles, where internal naming conventions simply will not translate into what talent searches for, or kill your SEO. An example we came across was for an ‘Engagement Co-ordinator’ which was actually within a social media team but unlikely to match similar search results.
      • Lack of key selling points prioritised at the top of the advert – you need to capture engagement in a couple of seconds, not assume viewers will get to the bottom for the ‘pay-off’.
      • Running adverts through a (gender) language processing tool like TextioDatapeople or this free tool showed me that 70%+ of the adverts we reviewed scored positively for feminine-coded language. In and of itself, this is good in terms of making the language more accessible. However – there is an overarching trend of missing the opportunity to humanize the language in areas such as DEI&B statements which are straight from legal, like this….
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      Compared to Canva’s example

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      I must acknowledge that many organisations have a technical handbrake here. But the job advert is often the entry point for many candidates into your careers website – as such, the ability to optimise that advert is critical, as is the chance to create a branded, valuable experience for the visitor. I don’t want to embarrass anyone by sharing a poor example, but we all know what a weak ATS jobs page can look like. Check out jobs that are powered by tech like Phenom People, Pageup (Clinch), or employers like Accenture and you’ll note the organisational branding, recommended jobs, links into the other content and networks is a much more sophisticated approach. This is a critical market-wide opportunity to enhance the candidate experience with jobs as the focus.

      Example from Accenture (this is one long page, I split it into 3 just for space)

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      Supporting Candidates; managing expectations, setting people up for success, communicating.

      The Talentboard have rightly banged the drum for years about the need to improve communication and demonstrated how this will improve the candidate experience. In our sample, 31% of organisations provide absolutely zero support to the candidate before or during the application, a further 28% provide a core overview of the hiring process.

       

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      So what can ‘support’ look like?

      • A simple version would be a FAQ that clearly explains to candidates what they can expect. No one likes surprises.
      • To amp up the engagement, you can add visuals or videos that help break down the barrier of candidates going through a process….to having a more respectful and valauble experience.
      • Depending on the context, more sophisticated and engaging options could include chatbots (perhaps for volume hiring) or access to speak directly with a recruiter or hiring manager at key stages (more senior roles) before or during the process. That is all about designing moments that matter, in the flow of work!

      If you want to check out some simple approaches, head over to well-known employers like Atlassian, Lion, Australia Post and others who have variations on this theme of making the process more transparent and engaging. Salesforce has one of the more detailed resource sections.

      Ultimately of course, there are important upsides to improving the inclusiveness of the experience, such as reducing drop off at key stages. Greater transparency of the process, a focus on transferrable / human skills, demonstrating the support for all applicants, are all ways shown to support female hiring and we shouldn’t just rely on the job advert to do that.

      Phase 2. Application experience.

      Of all the stages of the candidate journey, the ‘application’ part is naturally the most process-driven. As I mentioned earlier, there is also a tech hand-brake for many organisations where initiating process updates within their ATS can be challenging and time-consuming.

      Given the competitiveness for quality talenty, plus the known examples of how negative candidate experiences impact wider brand perception, it’s no surprise this stage of the hiring funnel is in the spotlight now – I expect to see a big uplift in this area over the next 12 months. So what are some of the areas we see opportunities in?

      Make it simple and time effective wherever you can. 

      • 35% of our sample organisations had no ability to apply with social profiles, often meaning candidates needed to re-enter core information such as career history. Reducing clicks for transactional information such as this is critical, especially if the resume parsing is weak (it often is!).
      • Toll Group (not part of this sample group, but a TQ client where we helped to design their careers pages) have their candidate registration process AFTER the application has been completed, thanks to their SmartRecruiters system. Separately, in new volume hiring solutions I have worked with, we demonstrated a far lower dropout rate with this process flow in place – the insight of course is that you build engagement first and remove any potential barriers rather than making candidates jump through hoops upfront. Anything you can do to simplify the registration process, take it.
      • Fun fact: of all the processes we have been through using this diagnostic, the only one which crosses over from consumer to job profiles is Amazon – you can use your Amazon login as the basis for your jobs profile. I have no idea of the impact but would love to find out more and do wonder which other brands would/could/should do this, given those profiles would typically be housed in separate technologies.
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      Customise your experience 

      Tech underpins much of the application process of course. And numerous organisations in Australia suffer from having a global ATS instance, which can really hamper the experience. Notwithstanding, we saw numerous opportunities of small process or experience enhancements that would likely yield significant performance improvements.

      For example, gathering diversity information for many organisations was a mandatory field. Even if that is essential, why limit yourself just to binary options? Adding more human explanations of reasons for data gathering/data use and presenting more gender options would be very achievable improvements.

      Both Canva and KPMG give candidates the chance to specify their preferred pronouns, which stood out positively among other organisations.

      Example Organisation 1 – less positive

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      Example Organisation 2 – more positive

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      ‘Reasonable Allowances’

      The diagnostic showed that 52% of the employers had no discernible approach built into their application process to cater for Disability allowances

       

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      A further 25% offer something Foundational, like a drop down Yes/No and perhaps a free text box where candidates can explain their needs.

       

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      There appears to be a real opportunity for companies to step up and provide greater transparency of data use/ privacy and to build processes and tailored experiences that move beyond ticking the box of inclusivity, into actively encouraging diversity of applications at key phases of the process. There are still significant barriers to be broken down.

      Phase 3. Post-apply.

      Unsurprisingly, the big ticket item here is communication. Whilst legacy technology will again be a handbrake for many, the support for initiatives such as Circle Back demonstrates a welcome industry intent to improve the experience candidates receive post-application. Thank goodness. And hopefully phrases such as “only successful applicants will be contacted” can be banished from our collective consciousness.

      Table stakes today is a warmly written notification that an application has been received (and then suitable updates). Surprisingly, not everyone takes the opportunity of this touchpoint to provide the candidate with valauble content like:

      • What to expect next
      • Important business updates or stories such as cultural insights
      • How to connect with the organisation on Social – or even with specific recruiters or hiring managers

      Talent Communities 

      A debate for years, but let’s be honest, a job alert is not a ‘Community’. With 54% of our sample offering either no form of community, or only a foundational level job alert, there is clearly lots of opportunity here.

      Having applied for multiple jobs this year as a mystery applicant, I also receive all of the alerts, typically a list of job titles with links to jobs. Whilst this list can be customised by the candidate, it offers very little in the way of value back to the candidate and as such, misses the ability to develop trust or relationship. Video updates from recruiters or functional leaders would be easy and awesome. And chatbots can add a positive experience layer, especially for standard Q&A.

      With the investment TQ sees going into CRM and marketing automation, as well as the hiring spree for in-house Employer Brand Managers, we expect to see considerable efforts going into using candidate data much more effectively to increase engagement. There will be a distinct competitive advantage for those who can nurture talent in this way – in our sample, not one organisation appeared to be in this space yet.

      Common themes and what’s next?

      This macro themes for me are around;

      • The need to focus on experience over process, whether that’s the framing of a question in your application form, or the marketing automation that could be employed to engage in-demand talent before, during and after their application has been submitted.
      • The low scores overall, but especially around critical areas such as DEI&B, demonstrate the urgent need to reimagine the application experience to support our nation’s talent challenges.
      • Organisations must focus on creating value for their candidates as they go through the experience – this will become central to Employer Brand success and competing for top talent.

      I hope you have enjoyed this instalment. It grew a bit larger than I originally planned and even then, I’ve barely touched the surface in some areas. I’d love to hear your comments and if you’d like to find out more about any of these topics or the diagnostic framework, please drop me a line.

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