Hiring process

The application form: A solution to hiring chaos

A stellar hiring experience starts with a stellar job application form. Here’s how to create a form that works for you.

The application form: A solution to hiring chaos
Listen to this article. Audio recording by
Lydia Kooistra

Companies are getting better and better at creating rich and compelling job posts that attract their ideal candidates. But there's one aspect of the job post that's commonly overlooked: the application process.

Unstructured application process

Does the above look familiar? If so, then you've probably struggled with what to do with a heap of applications ranging greatly in format, content and quality. You're either missing essential information or you're at a loss on how to systemically and unbiasedly evaluate applications. It's not easy when they all have different information in different formats, scattered among email convos, pdfs and docs. Ugh.

By not being specific about what information you need from candidates, you end up trying to compare apples and oranges. Not only that, but by not having a consistent format you're comparing apples baked into a pie with oranges that've been juiced and mixed into a mimosa...forgive this tortured metaphor. You get the point.

This application process isn't great for candidates either. They slip through the cracks and may be waiting weeks for a reply. And unless they're applying for a copywriting position, it's unrealistic to expect candidates to wow you with a cover letter and CV without knowing what information you're looking for.

You end up getting generic applications that are horrendous to read and that don't reflect someone's skills, motivation or personality. Rather, they reflect an outdated application process — a '90s remnant along with faxes, floppy disks, Rolodexes and a much more formal work culture.

Generic application

Application forms are the way to go. Really. We realize they get a bad rap from candidates who have had terrible experiences with lengthy and tedious forms that end up being a huge time investment. All that just to receive a generic rejection letter in the end! Not okay.

Application forms do not need to be at the expense of a great candidate experience. In fact, when done right, they can elevate the experience a candidate has with your company. Not to mention that application forms make it way easier to get the information you need in a digestible format.

How to create a positive experience for candidates with your application form:

  1. Keep it short.
    Some of the biggest pains for job seekers are applications that are too long, have too many steps and are a huge investment of time and effort. It doesn't make sense to ask candidates to make such a big investment in this early stage of the hiring process. At this point they are interested in the job, but probably want to learn a bit more about it before spending a bunch of their time applying.
  2. If you don't keep it short, be prepared to give thoughtful feedback.
    There's something to be said for a longer application if you are receiving too many applications. You can add a couple more questions to get candidates who are not serious about the job to self-select out. Just remember: when job seekers spend a long time completing an application, it's disheartening to receive a generic rejection with no feedback. If you ask for a big time investment from candidates, consider spending just as much time on evaluating each candidate and providing them with thoughtful feedback.
  3. Make it as easy as possible to fill in the apply form.
    This basically means your apply form should be clear and work well. It also means automating where possible. For example, allowing candidates to pre-fill an application form with the information from their LinkedIn profile is a great way to get the information you need with minimal effort from candidates.
  4. Don't ask for information you don't need.
    Go easy on asking for personal information. This is simply courteous but also good practice for privacy reasons. For example, GDPR does not allow you to ask for information you don't have a good reason for needing. For more on hiring and GDPR, have a look here.
  5. Manage expectations.
    If your application form has multiple pages, allow candidates to view the entire form without having to fill in any questions first. It can be quite frustrating finding out that you have to provide a link to a portfolio you don't have at the very last page of an application you've spent an hour on.
  6. Make sure it works well on mobile.
    60% of job seekers are doing so on their phone. Don't make it hard for them to apply on mobile because you'll miss out on the majority of talented candidates. A mobile-friendly application form is a must.
  7. Try and stay away from assignments for now.
    As mentioned before, don't ask for a huge time investment from candidates in the application stage of the hiring process. For most roles it's best to save assignments for a later stage when candidates have been able to get all the information they need to judge how well this role could be a match for them.

⚾️ Create a mobile-first application form that's modern, friendly and customizable with Homerun. Homerun's apply forms follow the guidelines above so that your candidates will find applying to be pleasant and simple. Try it out here.

Apply form video
Create an apply form candidates gladly fill in with Homerun

How to ask the right questions to get the information you need:

Follow these guidelines to get the information you need so that you can easily figure out which candidates to move forward with.

  1. Ask questions that candidates want to fill in.
    People like to share their views and opinions. Make use of this in order to get your candidates to show you who they are and if they are a value fit for your company.
  2. Give a word count limit.
    To help candidates be concise, let them know how many words to use in their answers. It also clears up any ambiguity about how much you're expecting in an answer. The less candidates are unsure about, the more likely they'll apply.
  3. Throw in something light.
    Just like a good movie or book, you want to hold your candidate's attention and keep them motivated to finish the application. It can help to throw in a breather: a light, fun question that will put a smile on their face.
  4. Ask questions that allow candidates to show their personality.
    This will help candidates to tell their entire story, not just the story of their career path. It's a useful way to see if your candidate is a good value-fit for your company.
  5. Ask questions that are open enough to allow candidates to tell you what they want you to know.
    People applying for a role have a good reason to think they might be a great match. Whether it's because they have the experience or they are a huge fan of your company. Give them ample opportunity to let you know what's relevant for you to know.
  6. Don't forget practical questions that might be deal breakers.
    Is a drivers license a must for this role? Ask if they have it. Do they need to live in your city? Be sure to be clear about this in your job post, but ask in your application form to be sure. This will keep you and your candidates from wasting anyone's time.
  7. Ask if candidates have any questions for you.
    You've had your chance to ask them what you need to know. Give candidates that opportunity too. Make this the last question in your apply form. It might give you interesting insights into what's missing in your job post. If you want to move forward with a candidate be sure to answer their questions when you contact them.

For more inspiration on what questions to ask, have a look at our list of 50 questions you can ask candidates in an application form here.

Still in the process of creating your job post? We have something for that will help you along with that too. Check out these stunning job post templates that you can customize and publish in minutes.

For more hiring tips, check out:

Creating your first hiring process: A complete guide

Writing a job description: A complete guide

About the author
Lydia is Homerun’s Content Lead and is based in Amsterdam. She’s passionate about cats, biking, dismantling grind culture and the Oxford comma.

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