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What's Wrong with Mobile Apply (and how to fix it)

I can’t believe I have to write this in 2019 but the act of applying to a job on mobile is still broken on most employer career sites.

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While their career sites may be mobile ‘responsive’, today’s Apply Experience still leaves much to be desired. If you consider that nearly half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices (source: Statista), you can see it represents a huge problem for employers when it comes to converting job seekers into applicants. If people are clicking on your jobs from their phones they are extremely unlikely to complete the application.

Back in the mid 2010s there was a big push to move to a mobile friendly job seeker experience (remember the MREC conference?) but along the way the industry apparently forgot to finish the job. And a recent study by MRI Network proves my point. They write;

“Only 30 percent of companies currently offer a mobile-friendly application process, reflecting a disconnect between candidates and potential employers.”

But here’s the real truth from the report that should pain every employer out there;

“Candidates are prioritizing employers with a mobile application process, making companies that don’t provide this option less desirable.”

It came to the forefront again for me after recently being hired to do a career site audit for a big tech company. They asked me to apply to their jobs on my phone as part of the project. I went into that task expecting that it would be easy, but was quickly brought down to earth after failing in that mission. 

The first barrier to completing my application came 2 clicks after hitting the apply button. 

I was being asked to login to my account. Of course, I didn't have one.

Strike One.

From a candidate experience standpoint forcing me into creating a user account is a barrier to getting me to apply. I just need to submit my resume. I have no desire to store and remember another password. There are better ways to handle account creation which I’ll get to later.

So i clicked the new user registration button and filled in the following fields;

  • Username

  • Password

  • Re-enter password

  • Email address

  • Re-enter email address

Why I needed to re-enter anything on this form is totally dumbfounding to me. The ATS in this case was Taleo. The email address should suffice as the username for account creation but ok, I got my account created. At this point I’m already 3 minutes into my experience and I haven't even applied yet.

After another click I got to the page where I could apply. My choices at this point were;

  1. Apply with Linkedin

  2. Apply with Indeed

  3. Upload a resume

  4. Fill in the app manually

Since I didn’t have an Indeed resume I chose the Linkedin apply option to see if I could do that. I’m on a iPhone and I use the LinkedIn app all the time so I thought it would be easy. 

Wrong again.

After clicking the button I was redirected to Linkedin to login to my account and grant authorization. It worked! However when I clicked the link to go back and finish the apply process I received an error. Somehow the connection from LI to the ATS was screwed up and I got a blank white page with an obscure error.

Strike Two.

Deflated, I managed to navigate back to the apply page and decided to try uploading a resume. I clicked the button and was presented with the options in the screenshot below. 

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Typical Mobile Apply of Today

Users have to browse their phone for non-existing resumes

Now let me ask you a question. Who the hell stores their resume as a photo or video?

Exactly no one.

If that’s my first option no wonder these employers aren’t getting any applies. ‘Browse’ was not helpful either as it took me to my icloud drive which I don’t use to store documents. 

So I have spent nearly 10 minutes now and I am no closer to completing my application. I gave up.

Strike three.

After that, I wanted a little comparison so I tried to apply on some of the other companies my client competes for talent with. Facebook, Google, Apple, and Tesla to name a few.

My results were better but I still found faults with all of these companies except for Google. Their ‘upload resume’ option took me right to my Google Drive account where I stored some old resumes. I finally found a company that had a working mobile apply.

Results from the other companies were as follows;

  • Facebook: no cloud apply, could only upload from a ‘Browse file’ option. The rest of the form however appears as small drop-downs which makes the rest of the info easy to enter manually all on one page.

  • Tesla: no cloud apply, only options were Login, Upload a File (browse) or Cut and Paste.

  • Apple: requires an Apple ID to apply. After that Sign In with LinkedIn or Upload File, no other cloud options.

How to Fix Mobile Apply

First let me say that some industries like trucking have already figured out mobile apply. They simply collect candidate ‘leads’ in the form of Name/Phone/Email in order to close them later. Problem solved…. they don’t make candidates apply, just indicate an interest in the job.

I realize this is not an option for many employers but there is a lesson to be learned. A short, simple apply process is sometimes all you need.

Now let’s take a look at how to fix this mess.

The Login Issue

If I were King of All Talent Acquisition I would issue a decree to employers banning the use of logins required to start the application process. There is simply no good reason for it to exist in today’s world. It is a desktop era feature that has long outlived its usefulness. All it does now is provide a barrier to completing the application.

If you need a way for the candidate to get back in, issue them a randomly generated password automatically upon applying. Or maybe use a unique PIN number system to help them track their application. 

Newer platforms like the Greenhouse ATS don’t require people to login and they also place the apply form on the same page as the job description thus eliminating another click in the process. I love them for that.

In the example below, their own career site places the apply form right below the description on mobile. On desktop, it’s pretty cool too as they do a split window with the JD on the left and apply form on the right. Greenhouse also features a Dropbox option which makes it quite easy to upload from the cloud.

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Greenhouse Mobile Apply

Sits directly below the job description

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Desktop View

Side by Side

Quick Apply

This option may be the easiest to adopt for certain companies. Start the apply process by first collecting the candidates contact information. The team at Clinch Talent have been using this method with great success for clients like Upwork and Eventbrite. 

In the example below we see a job from Eventbrite. The Clinch apply form is on the right and also doubles as a job alert signup which is a really nice touch. Once the seeker submits the info they are then redirected to the full apply form on Lever. 

Eventbrite’s pages are powered by Clinch Talent

Eventbrite’s pages are powered by Clinch Talent

While not the most efficient way to apply, it accomplishes one key milestone by capturing that candidates contact information. Now Eventbrite at least has a way to remind that person to apply should they not complete the application.

Upload Your Resume from the Cloud

The ability to leverage a cloud solution to apply is perhaps the most needed improvement vendors can make to their platforms right now. In addition to sign-in from players like LinkedIn and Indeed we need Dropbox and Google Drive as the default option on all mobile applies. 

Those four sign-ins will take care of 80% of the problem as they are the most widely adopted places for resume storage. Avature and Talemetry have the most options when it comes to the cloud option that I have seen.

Below is the mobile apply for CDW powered by Talemetry. I love this example as it meets my core requirements for easy apply. Note how they set your expectations up front, then ask for a name and email before giving you the option to choose a cloud service. They also tell you what step you are on as you proceed. Well done.


CDW apply screen powered by Talemetry

Final Thoughts

So, now you know why it’s broken and how to fix it. If you are currently paying for traffic to see your jobs then a good portion of those clicks are being wasted on a bad experience. It’s money down the drain. Too few employers fail to look at the one metric that really matters in the apply process, conversion rate.

There is plenty of blame to go around here between vendors and employers as to why it is so cumbersome to apply on mobile. For the most part, I put the bulk of that blame on the vendors. 

They failed to keep up with the times and improve the user experience across their platforms. Their technology grew old and remained stuck in the ‘desktop era’. They failed to lead and optimize.

Employers are not off the hook though. I spoke to one CRM vendor who told me that the client turned OFF some of the cloud sign-in options that would have made it easier to apply. 

Sometimes employers sabotage themselves. It was probably some head of TA who wasn't very tech savvy and didn't realize they were hurting their own process by doing so. 

Talent acquisition execs need to demand more from their solution providers when it comes to many things but especially mobile apply.  Your candidates are dying for a better solution. 

I realize many companies are “stuck” with their current ATS but do me a favor and make mobile apply a priority for when you are ready to switch. If you need more candidates there is no excuse not to do so. 

Without it, you are forcing candidates to apply later when they are on a desktop. Problem is, by then it may be too late.


Chris Russell is the Managing Director of RecTech Media and has 20 years of experience in the digital recruiting space as both a job board owner and corporate recruiter. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrussell or connect with him on LinkedIn.