Even 'best' companies fall short of making job seekers welcome

Aug. 28, 2012 at 7:39 AM ET

Seth Wenig / AP file /
Jobseekers fill out applications at a construction job fair in New York this month. Such paper forms are a rarity these days.

If you think big companies could treat employees better, wait until you hear how they handle jobseekers.

Even some employers that rank among the nation's best routinely fail at making would-be employees feel welcome, according to survey results released Tuesday. Jobseekers routinely are confronted with online applications that are needlessly complicated, irrelevant questions and resumes that are seemingly ignored.

Staffing industry consulting firm CareerXRoads analyzed online hiring practices by creating a resume for a fictional job seeker and using it to apply for open positions at every company on Fortune’s list of 2012 Best Companies to Work For. Companies on the list include Google, Whole Foods, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young and Zappos.

Despite the big names, what they found wasn’t pretty. In addition to other shortcomings, companies typically make the career sections of their websites hard to find and fail to notify candidates when a job they had applied for is filled, according to the survey.

One of the few companies to pass muster was outdoor goods retailer REI, which among other things, calls job seekers to acknowledge receiving an application. REI also lists an email address and phone number at the bottom of all career-related pages on its website in case job seekers need extra help.

“We want the candidate experience to be representative of how we treat our customers, and we put a huge emphasis on customers,” says REI recruiting supervisor Lisa Arbacauskas. 

REI, based in Kent, Wash., long has been recognized for its people practices, landing on Fortune’s list of best workplaces for the past 15 years. 

Big brands spend big money on their digital recruiting efforts. But if they’re not rolling out the welcome mat for job applicants, those efforts could be for naught, especially since today people think nothing of going on Facebook or Twitter to vent about a bad experience. Likewise, if a company does a good job, jobseekers “tell their friends,” says CareerXRoads’ Gerry Crispin.

The survey found:

  • 13 percent of companies don’t let job seekers apply directly from a job description, something CareerXRoads says should occur “quickly and easily every time.”
  • Close to half of online applications take up to 20 minutes to complete; 8 percent take up to an hour.
  • 6 percent of companies  ask for a Social Security number, even though it has “no bearing on someone’s qualifications for a position.”
  • Fewer than three in 10 companies ask screening questions specific to the job being applied for.

Employers are getting some things right. In this year’s survey, 86 percent sent job seekers some type of acknowledgement after receiving an application. More are making the hiring process interactive; this year, 15 posted video job descriptions and nine offered live chats, email or other connections between job seekers and employees or recruiters.

Complete results of the annual Mystery Job Seeking survey are posted on the CareerXRoads website, including the fictional resume for one Charles Brown, marketing manager for the "Great Pumpkin Division" of a major consumer-products company.

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