Attention Spans | Incomplete Applications | ExactHire

It’s no secret to job seekers that recruiters have shorter attention spans than ever. For example, how many recruiters do you know who claim they spend an average of six seconds to review a resume? But, hey, that’s just part of the hustle if you’re a Herbert Simon fan…

“[What information consumes is] the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – Herbert Simon, Nobel winner, Economics (1978)

However, the tables have turned for employers, too. Potential applicants are increasingly less likely to spend time completing lengthy job applications. One Appcast study found that applicants are 365% less likely to complete an application that takes fifteen minutes or more to fill out. Additionally, a Microsoft research report indicated that the human attention span is now only eight seconds long–shorter than the average goldfish’s attention span.

But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already feel deep in your gut.

You know, that churning feeling that emerges three days after you post eight jobs…and you still don’t even have a third of the applications you need to find enough qualified candidates to move your business forward.

So, have you timed your organization’s job application lately…or ever? This is the first step. And when you do, don’t forget to do it both on a desktop and a mobile device.

Once you’re armed with the knowledge of how easy-breezy (or painfully long) your application process is, you can ponder whether the current candidate effort required suits your needs. For example, the Netflix job application process only takes one minute. Does that sound good?

Maybe not, though it depends on a lot of factors. While there is truth to the old adage “quality over quantity,” the extent of that truth can be conditional. Your job is to strike a balance between optimizing employment applications to encourage completion while still promoting an applicant discovery process that supports long term high quality of hire.

What about incomplete employment applications?

While searching for the right balance for your organization, noting the number of applications started but never completed is a great step toward identifying how potentially costly your current application process may be to your hiring funnel.

However, it’s also important to identify the primary reasons your applications are incomplete.

Distractions happen

Some applicants have every intention of completing an application in one session, but an unexpected distraction surfaces and they are pulled away before hitting “submit.” Use your applicant tracking system to invite people who have submitted incomplete applications to log back in and finish the application. Many may have forgotten to finish it after being distracted, and your reminder will be a welcomed prompt to do so.

Candidate opt-out

Some applications are better left incomplete. Use a small number of “deal-breaker” job screening questions in the first phase of your application process as a way to, not only vet candidates, but also to present information about the role or organization that helps candidates self-select out of the process, if necessary.

For example, when asking about income expectations for the role, present a multiple choice question with pay ranges that are realistic for that specific role. Candidates who don’t see themselves making less than the highest range listed may refrain from continuing the application process and you won’t be wasting any more time considering those who aren’t a fit.

Lengthy process

One of the more worrisome causes of incomplete applications is an application that is too long. How worrisome this is for your organization will depend on how difficult it is for you to fill positions with top talent. Additionally, consider the cost of incomplete applications relative to any sponsored job posting advertisements your organization runs to promote career opportunities.

While it’s easy to blame the bulk of our incomplete applications on application length, trimming your application down may not fix all of your problems. The fear-inducing application attention span statistics referenced earlier fail to report any data on the length of the application’s impact on the quality of hire. Of course this big picture data–that you can collect for your own employer–should be a part of your application analysis.

Job referral source

With so many external job boards available, many employers rely on them to help promote awareness for their open job opportunities. To encourage application conversion, some applicant tracking providers integrate with certain job boards to enable job seekers to apply from the job board (frequently via a mobile device) without ever visiting the employer’s job application.

While this improves conversion numbers, it requires the employer to

  1. do without certain fields of information normally captured on the application; or,
  2. set a candidate’s application back to incomplete and then invite the job seeker to complete additional sections of the application within the applicant tracking system.

The approach that is right for your organization will depend on the quality of candidate you receive from the job referral source in question. ExactHire’s HireCentric applicant tracking system integrates with Indeed Apply and allows each employer to choose whether applicants coming from this source are considered automatically complete “as-is,” or require additional information to be officially complete. Plus, it’s easy to distinguish completed applications from incomplete applications within our applicant dashboard.

Should your employment application analysis motivate a change?

Let’s say that you sift through your application conversion metrics, as well as consider the most likely reasons your incomplete applications are abandoned. How do you know if the data is compelling enough to actually make a change? Do you care about the incomplete applications within your applicant tracking software?

Consider these factors as you answer the above questions for your organization.

  • Applicant volumeWhy is your stomach churning? Is it because you don’t have enough applicants, or because you are overwhelmed with too many applicants?
  • Job category and complexity– Are you sourcing for a job with few barriers to entry? Or, are you seeking the elusive “purple squirrel”?
  • Referral sources – If you do receive a high volume of short or incomplete applications, and then take action to gather additional information from these candidates–do these candidates result in successful, long-term hires?
  • Recent process changes – How recently have you made notable adjustments to your application process? Do you have to blow the cobwebs off your screening questions?
  • Opportunity cost of process stakeholders’ time – Can you shorten the application on the front-end without disproportionately increasing the amount of time spent gathering additional information and screening candidates later?
  • Devices used to submit applications – How has your breakdown of applicants using desktops versus mobile devices shifted over time? Is your application process mobile-friendly? Do you even have access to analytics within your applicant tracking system?

It’s no surprise that job seekers search for jobs on their mobile devices, but do many of them complete applications on the mobile device? Or, do they still go home and log on to their desktop to submit an application? I pulled the Google Analytics data for our HireCentric applicant tracking software users for all of 2017 and the data paints a clear picture:

Device Category% of All ExactHire ATS Sessions (Jan – Dec 2017)% of All Completed ExactHire ATS Applications (Jan – Dec 2017)

Over 30% of all job applications submitted on our applicant tracking software in 2017 were done using a mobile device or tablet. This statistic aggregates hundreds of different employers’ job applications…all with different questions, application lengths and requirements.

Next steps for your employment application

Will a few nips and tucks to your employment application propel you to new applicant volume heights, or will you be overcome by candidates who don’t make the cut? Only you can know by being diligent about monitoring your own applicant conversion and quality of hire metrics. Little adjustments can have a worthwhile impact on your sourcing efforts, and through experimentation you will find the winning combination of application length and effort required.