Earlier in the year, to earn some money whilst I wrote my thesis, I was looking for a part-time job. Having recently graduated, I’m lucky to be in the same business once again, though obviously slightly more invested this time around. Consequently, I’m having less success.

This isn’t a post about the process of job applications per se; finding jobs, writing them out, and so forth. No, this is a post about the applications themselves. More specifically: the kind of crappy application forms and processes certain employers think are appropriate and somehow haven’t had the decency to change.

Give that we’re still in a dire economic situation, with mass unemployment, especially mass youth unemployment, employers can be forgiven for trying to make it easier to sift through hundreds of applications. No problem there.

But what is the problem then? Well, my guess is the average job seeker is looking for a job. It’s a hunch I have. But most job seekers aren’t idiots, so they’ll be applying for more than one job. Two jobs. Perhaps three. Maybe even many jobs. Job applications take time (unless of course you just want a CV and cover letter – in which case we love you). Making the process convoluted, confusing, frustrating, unnecessarily time-consuming and so forth – there’s no justification. I’ve seen some pretty crummy things in the last 8 months in the 75+ applications I’ve made. Most you won’t think are that bad, and they aren’t. But it all adds up, and it needn’t be this way.

I’m not going to name names, mind you. I’m a job seeker, not an idiot.

There are a number of types of annoying job application, so I’ll start with the one most people will have had experience with.

CV Breakers

You have a CV. You think it’s a good CV. It has all the relevant information; jobs, skills, education, maybe some other exciting things such as hobbies to get employers to go “wow”. But no, CVs aren’t good enough here – application forms only.

Well, that’s fine. Application forms can be a good thing. They make you think a bit more and you may gain some insight into what the organisation is like by the kind of things they ask.

But why do so many of them essentially just ask you for a CV and cover letter in their own pro-forma? Yes, I know it helps them with their bureaucracy, but it makes applications a massive pain.

Some forms, despite this, are still easy. One just required details from my most recent job, then just the job title, organisation and dates from my others. And only information from my degrees.

But others ask you to list every job. And every duty. And achievement. And the address. And dates. And salaries. And more. Some may ask for bits and pieces of this. And more. The same goes for education.

For many applications, people will just copy and paste from their CV. But this is still a needlessly time-consuming task. But other applications require far more effort to say, essentially, the same thing.

Crap online applications

The worst experience I’ve had of this was an HTML only form on a single page. No ability to save any entry, yet asking for as many details as the average application form. Of course, as I pressed submit, it crashed. I gave up on that job.

A recent application gave no details about how to apply after clicking the “Apply” button. It gave space to upload a CV and a “further information” box, then “Save” or “Cancel” buttons. I assumed this was, as with many applications, the first page to register some details, assuming I’d have room for a supporting statement later on. After clicking “Save” and finding I’d applied for the job, I realised that was what the “Further information” box was probably for.

Another application had a “Back” button on every page. So, after spending over 40 minutes on the application, I skipped forward a bit to see how long the rest of the application was likely to take me. Incidentally, this is another bugbear – applications that don’t tell you how long they are until you, well, get to the end. But anyway. I got to the last page (it would have taken at least another hour). The “Back” button disappeared. I could cancel the whole thing or submit it. Half-complete or not at all? I tried half-complete and emailed them to see if I was able to fix it. I didn’t hear from them again.

Patronising, novel and pointless

Mostly in the part-time job field, I found a number of applications that insulted my intelligence, and I would hope most people’s. The first took me on a tour of a cartoon town, responding to certain questions from the townsfolk about, if I remember, dealing with customers and so forth. This was to get to the application form, as I discovered when they decided I wasn’t right for the post. Stupid cartoon people.

Others ask stupid questions such as “what kind of pizza topping would you be?” as if you can accurately gauge someone’s personality by their preference for being things on pizza.

There are also those that employ personality quizzes, usually run by third parties, which repeat similar questions over and over again to assess you. Eventually you aren’t sure if you’re answering honestly or how you think they want you to answer. It’s pointless.

There are more, but there are also some good examples…

Speaking as a job-seeker, a good job application should not be over-burdensome (it can certainly, and should certainly, be challenging), will be engaging, thoughtful and tell you something about who you are applying to.

One recent example did just that – it asked for a CV, as CVs tell you a lot about somebody anyway, regardless of content – and then asked a few, word-limited, qualitative questions that specifically applied to certain aspects of the job and job specification. Rather than just asking for the same information as your CV and then asking you to respond to everything from a job spec, it picked apart the role and asked for specific instances, experience and knowledge in key areas.

I’ve seen this done to the extreme in other applications, but these applications ask in the scheme of 10 questions or so, with no indication of intended brevity. They take a long time.

Another thing I’ve found useful is setting (short) tasks, as these are a good test of a prospective employee and give a lot of insight about the job – though usually this comes after an offer of an interview

Ultimately, it’s always nice to be able to just send the appropriate CV and a well-written and relevant cover letter, but we can’t always have it that way. This has been a bit of a rant, and it’s certainly not the end of the world. But given it’s an everyday experience for most people, the least employers could do is make it as hassle-free as they can.

I’d be interested to hear what experiences anyone else has had with crap job application processes? And what can we do about them? Have you ever complained about a particular application?