How to set up a great job application process for everyone involved

Last updated:
July 21, 2021
February 1, 2022
min read
Bev Campling
Table of contents

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a poor job application process. You know the type: too long, overly complicated, and asks the same questions over and over again. They’re annoying, and they leave a sour taste in your mouth about the company. Some job-seekers even close down the application.

Think about that job application process, and then ask yourself how that compares to the one candidates face when they apply for positions at your organization. If you’re seeing parallels, then it’s time to start making some changes to your hiring process.

A negative job application process reflects poorly on your company, and will inevitably lead to lost applications. In fact, 3 in 5 job seekers are lost at various stages in a typical application process, especially if that experience is inefficient, and offers a poor user experience.

No company - no matter how big or small - can afford to lose 3 in 5 job seekers because of a rusty, company-focused application process. The worst thing about this statistic is, often, there are easy fixes. It often represents a process that hasn’t been planned sufficiently with the applicant in mind. Remember, while you are giving the applicant the opportunity to become an employee, they are also giving you the opportunity to be considered for the growth of their career. It’s a two-way street. 

In this article, we’re going to share some tips on how to improve your job application process. But first, let’s step back and take a high-level look at what this typically entails.

The typical hiring process

Before you can start improving your job application process, it’s important to take a step back and visualize what steps a candidate will face when they apply for a job. To help you with this, here’s a summarized breakdown of a typical hiring process.

  1. The recruitment team identifies a hiring need, creates a plan, and writes the job description.
  2. An application page is created for the position, and recruitment ads are sent across various platforms.
  3. Applicants find the job ads and click through to the application page.
  4. They answer a series of questions, upload their resumes and cover letters, and complete any assigned tasks.
  5. Applications are reviewed, and qualified candidates are shortlisted.
  6. Recruiters pre-screen selected candidates with phone interviews, skills questions, and so on.
  7. Selected candidates are invited for in-person or phone interviews.
  8. Top candidates are assessed, and a decision is made on whether to move forward with them.
  9. Background and reference checks are completed, and an offer is extended if everything checks out.
  10. If the offer is accepted, the candidate becomes a new hire.

Each of these steps contains numerous technical, communication, user experience, and process decisions that all work together to create a positive job application process.

Improving your job application process requires you to take an honest look at your current experience. Use data to identify where applicants are dropping off to help give you an idea of where to start. To get you thinking, brush up on how to improve the candidate experience throughout your job application process.

The hiring process steps and timeline

One of the most searched queries surrounding job applications online is ‘how long does a job application process take?’. 

Candidates are clearly searching for answers because they haven’t been told. Transparency is fundamental, as it sets the tone for your company at the very beginning. That’s why we would always recommend preparing your applicants for what each stage entails and how long it takes between each stage for a decision to be made. 

Giving your candidates no choice but to guess what’s going on behind the scenes could result in a perfectly solid candidate taking another role for fear of being rejected. If they’re waiting for 3 weeks for a response, it’s only natural that they’ll assume your company isn’t interested in them becoming an employee. However, if 3 weeks is standard practice for your business, letting them know this allows them to stop presuming they’re out of the race. 

So, how long does a typical job application process take? What happens at each stage? Use our job application process steps and timeline section to compare your own job application process. Of course, every company will be different, as their approach to recruitment differs. That said, the typical process involves the following steps from the moment a resume is submitted:

1. Sort through submissions 

Depending on the impact of your job description, you could have hundreds of applicants for one role. At this point, as a recruiter, it’s your responsibility to sift and sort through these applicants until you find a handful that appears, on paper, to be the right match. 

Time frame: 

Roughly 2 weeks. 

2. Reach out and organize interviews 

The next step of the job application process is to reach out to the applicants you shortlisted in step 1. This requires strong attention to detail and organization skills, as you’ll need to fit in with the candidate’s schedule as much as they’ll need to fit in with yours. You’ll then need to set up for interviews. Preparing questions, forming your collaborative hiring team, and general preparation can eat into your time.

Time frame: 

Between 1 week and 1 month.  

3. Assess interviews and write up feedback 

It’s always best to offer feedback to all of the candidates you have interviewed. That way, should another role crop up that the candidates wish to apply for, you’re able to see whether they have taken your suggestions on board. 

At this point, you may wish to ask for further interviews, which will increase your time-to-hire rate. That said, it’s better to have a higher time-to-hire rate than a lower quality-of-hire metric. 

Time frame: 

Between 2 and 3 weeks.  

4. Deliver feedback to unsuccessful candidates 

Whether you choose to do this over the phone, via online conferencing, or in person will have an impact on the time frame. Clearly, organizing for candidates to come and listen to their feedback in person will need to align with everyone’s schedules, so many recruiters prefer to provide feedback over the telephone. 

Time frame: 

Between 1 and 2 weeks.  

5. Background checks

Background checks can take a while to complete. That said, the average amount of time it takes to do a background check in the United States is between 2 and 4 days. Of course, the checks needed will alter from role to role, so it could take considerably longer.

Time frame: 

Between 2 days and 2 weeks.  

6. Offer the role to the successful candidate 

Congratulations! You’ve found the perfect person to fill a vacancy. You’ll need to deliver the good news to your candidate. If they accept the offer, they’ve now become your employee. Many hirers and recruiters believe it’s perfectly reasonable for a candidate to request 24-48 hours to make a decision. It’s important to allow them the time they need (within reason) to make this choice. Asking for time is a good thing, as it shows they take the offer seriously. 

Time frame: 

Between 1 and 2 days.  

7 ways to improve your job application process

Improving your job application process means making tangible changes to the way you communicate with candidates, and the user experience you’re providing.

Here are some foolproof ways to improve your job application process.

1. Make it user-friendly.

If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that your job application process should be as user-friendly as possible. It shouldn’t be difficult, annoying, or overly time-consuming to apply for a job at your company.

A user-friendly application process is easy to navigate and simple. You should also make it clear how long the process will take, and how far along the candidate is in the process. Again, being transparent about the details early on simply emphasizes your company’s honesty. Plus, applicants will be able to pick a time of day that suits the length of the application. 

 Adding a progress bar to the job portal will allow candidates to track their application, and prompts and instructions on each page will ensure they know exactly what needs to be completed.

2. Make it easy to access.

Job seekers have more options than ever when searching for positions, which can be both a blessing and a curse for recruiters. On the one hand, it means you can send your job ads to more places than ever. On the other hand, it means applicants generally have less time and shorter attention spans.

To cut through the noise, it’s important that your application page is as easy to find as possible. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of clicks to start the application process once a job seeker finds your recruitment ad or job posting. Remove as many barriers as possible to help make your application portal easy to access.

3. Make it quick.

You should also strive to make your job application process as quick and efficient as possible so that job seekers are less likely to drop off halfway through. 

A great way to accomplish this is to only ask questions that are absolutely necessary to pre-screen the candidate. Your goal at this stage is to determine if a candidate meets the base requirements needed for a phone interview. 

Place a lot of emphasis on preparing your questions. Edit them down, and understand the reason for asking each one of them. Ask yourself ‘what will this question show me about the candidate?’ and follow this with ‘why is that important to this role?’.

70% of job seekers say that they want an application to be less than 5 pages, and 83% say that they want less than 15 questions. Meet their demands and prove that your company cares about their employees from the moment they apply. 

It’s also a good idea to shorten the text and answer requirements for each question to make them as easy as possible to answer. This can be accomplished with multiple choice or drop down questions.

To help give you a benchmark of how long an application should take, here are some of the companies with the fastest processes:

4. Make sure it’s mobile-friendly.

With Millenials fully integrated into the workforce, and Gen Y following closely behind, mobile optimization is expected among job seekers. These candidates are most likely to be researching jobs on their mobile devices, and want to be able to complete an application using that same device.

Ensuring that your website and application portal are mobile-optimized is a mandatory user experience requirement in 2022. Additionally, you can also consider allowing applications to upload content directly from popular apps and platforms like DropBox, Google Drive, and LinkedIn.

5. Keep your instructions clear.

A common complaint among job seekers - 93% of them, to be exact - is that the instructions included in the job application process aren’t clear enough. More often than not, that’s because the application page isn’t giving clear indicators of what a user should be doing next, or not explaining what will be required. This, again, links to our note about transparency. Don’t be afraid of repeating what your candidates can expect during the application process once or twice. It’s better that they know what to expect at each stage than feeling confused and unprepared.

To ensure your candidates are getting the information they need, you can add:

  • Clear calls to action on your job ad and landing pages.
  • Links to resources and company information upfront.
  • Include a page that spells out requirements at the start of the process. You could even offer this page to be sent to them as an attachment via email so they can read through it before starting the application, and also have it on hand during the process. 
  • Give an overview of the entire process upfront.

Providing clarity in a transparent and consistent manner about what is expected of the job seeker will ensure that applicants don’t drop off because of surprises or lack of information.

6. Give options for how to apply.

In the past, applying for a job was a rather cookie-cutter process. It usually involved sending a resume and a cover letter to the attention of a recruiter, and targeted to a specific job. Thanks to platforms like LinkedIn, this process is evolving and developing for the better.

Today, one click applications through your LinkedIn profile, video resumes, any various other forms of non-traditional options are becoming more standard. 

By allowing your job seekers options for how they apply to your jobs, you both make it easier for them, and allow them to showcase their creativity. It also conveys your adaptability and employee-focused company by opening up their opportunities. 

7. Follow up with every applicant.

Last, but certainly not least, you should ensure that you have processes in place to follow up with every applicant who applies for a job at your company. This is critical to ensuring a positive candidate experience, and a positive reputation for your brand.

Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than the ‘copy and paste’ email that says:

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in working with us. Due to high levels of applications, if you do not hear from us within 3 working weeks, you have been unsuccessful. 

We wish you the best of luck.

This email is cold, impersonal, and shows a lack of care. It’s a one-way ticket to proving your company isn’t overly invested in its applicants. 

You should provide clear communication from the start of the application, through to its conclusion. That means sending a prompt confirmation email when a candidate applies and providing regular updates on the status of their application. It’s also important to ensure that you send notification of rejection (or acceptance) as soon as a decision is made so that the candidate is able to move on with other plans.

Lastly, as we’ve mentioned, it’s good practice to provide feedback to applicants if they aren’t selected for the job. This will keep the lines of communication open, and reflect positively on your company. You never know if that rejected candidate will be the perfect fit for a different position down the road. 

The key to perfecting your job application process

Improving your own job application process means understanding what your applicants are looking for. That’s why it’s fundamental to conduct research. Only then can you discover your job application process’s current strengths and identify where your gaps are. 

It’s important to regularly take an honest look at your process and flag areas that could be improved.

Ask job applicants for feedback on your process. At the end of the application process, if applicants have felt valued and appreciated (even when unsuccessful), many will agree to complete a short survey about their application process. Urge them to be honest, and this data can be used to perfect your process. 

You can then recruit co-workers to try out your edited user flow and give even more suggestions. Don’t think, though, that once those adjustments are made that your job application process has been perfected. This isn’t a concrete area. Your applicants will be looking for different methods, angles, and elements as time goes by. That’s why requesting feedback on your process is a constantly evolving process. The more input you have from real users, the more informed you’ll be about where you need to improve.

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