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Designing Corporate Career Sites that Address Candidate Experience

Designing Corporate Career Sites that Address Candidate Experience

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It's the Customer's Context not the Employer's Content that Makes the Difference

After examining the website staffing pages for each company on Fortune magazine's 500 "list", we concluded that the promise of internet recruiting for the job seeker is still more smoke and mirrors than reality. The candidate experience of the recruiting process on the digital plane is far from satisfying.

Claims that companies are well on their way to applying customer relations management (CRM) techniques to the employment process are a myth. Simply stated, 460 (92%) of firms show some evidence of offering opportunity via their website. However, 105 (22.5%) cannot meet the simple expectation of an active job seeker wanting to find a job and apply for it. The majority 360 (72%) meet only rudimentary informational needs and even struggle to collect data efficiently. Only 3 (1%) of the companies we visited online could satisfy a prospect's (very reasonable) expectation to be informed of the status of their application. Our picks for the "Top 25 Corporate Staffing Sites"still have miles to go before they can claim to meet their "customer's" needs. However, as benchmarks, they do offer a good measure of how much has been achieved in moving employment to the internet. They are the "Best of the Best".

This whitepaper attempts to describe a set of basic principles and standards for the design of corporate website staffing pages based on customer expectations. The good news is that all the sites are works in progress and (hopefully) improving constantly.

Expectations for the next 10 years and beyond are clear. Hiring systems that shift to customizing the experience of candidates as customers will be successful.

What is Candidate Experience?

There is no single accepted "operational definition" for customer experience in the hiring process. No standard of measure, no metric rule we can debate, no yardstick we can apply to a visitor encountering a company's website for the first time. What we are attempting to formulate here is the means to develop a common set of principles that influence -positively and negatively that visitor's experience. What dimensions does the customer experience depend on?

One small element might be something as simple as the placement of the "careers" button on a home page. As one of four tabs on the navigation bar of the company's homepage, clearly printed in 18 point type, you don't even have to think about it, just link to it. As a 4 point afterthought buried next to the privacy link on the bottom of a page cluttered with other choices, it might never be found. Getting where you want to go is part of your experience.

It might be as complex as the unintended consequence of a Job Requisition approval process. Consider what it means when every opening requires an approved requisition- even "core" positions at the firm, before initiating any hiring action? Would a qualified candidate touring your firm today (yesterday, last week, last month, last year) see the position you will post tomorrow? No? Then, was there a generic description available and searchable in a "careers" section? Or, was there any indication offered about the frequency that this job is filled -internally, from the outside. Was the career content area linked to the search engine for open positions or agents? Was there a link to someone performing this job? Is there a means to for visitors to determine whether they have the qualifications necessary to compete for the position, succeed in the job? At what point are visitors invited to be informed when the position is approved? What experience have you designed?

We propose five general principles that influence a customer's experience.

Five Career Site Design Principles

Each year since 1999, we have examined the websites of Fortune magazine's 500 list. We approach each site intent not only on establishing trends from year to year but also to determine if these trends make any sense- can they satisfy the reason I may have come here in the first place.

Instead of itemizing the "cool" features or conducting superficial polling questions of non-random samples of job seekers like, "Would you spend 30 minutes completing this application?", we constructed 5 general factors we believe influence the quality of the candidate experience that a visitor to any site would encounter. Each of these five principles was operationally defined and measured at each site during the summer of 2002. We plan to build on these efforts and develop an assessment checklist, collect data to refine it.

1. Readiness

All visitors aren't active job seekers and chomping at the bit to apply. On the other hand, employers aren't so ready themselves when it comes to positions they will need to fill but haven't yet announced (maybe they want to ensure a priority for current employees, maintain secrecy about business plans or, simply don't engage in workforce planning activities). In any case, Readiness is the range of career-related expectations a visitor enters the site with. It is a paramount consideration in designing a satisfying customer experience. These expectations set the stage for whether their experience is positive or negative. For example, a recently laid off job seeker looking for a similar position, confident about their skills and competencies and willing to fully share their personal profile will react differently to the same site than a college graduate exploring entry-level positions and wondering if his training is sufficient to compete for an opening. We wanted to systematically construct different scenarios representing an employer's targeted audience. We believe there are four "Readiness" variables:

  • A Visitor's Motivation is likely to be: active- seeking a new job right now; comparing -intent or, just curious, about how their current position or skills, company, etc. stack-up to what they might find if they were to seek another opportunity, or; exploring new career options, future positions and what will be necessary to learn in order progress, get promoted, etc.. The only truly passive candidates aren't looking for a position, don't exhibit curiosity and have little interest in taking any action. They will find themselves at your site by accident. Other staffing strategies must be employed before your site will be effective.
  • Visitors enter a corporate site with a Self-Image, beliefs about themselves that they are already qualified can be qualified with training or are unqualified. Their experience can contradict, confirm or possibly change this self-perception.
  • Visitors have expectations about the Availability of a position. The employer is expected to have a related open position or not. If not, is it planned and, if not planned is it likely to come open? Otherwise, the position/career isn't likely at all. What would a highly motivated, qualified person experience if the position they seek is absent and no content is available to emphasize its importance to the corporation? We believe the experience will be negative. On the other hand, would large numbers of poorly qualified candidates whose search produced no result still apply if they could? Then what happens?
  • Visitors are Willing to Act (or not) by the experience they gain at your site. They may be willing to declare their interest in a job or career option without offering any personal information in return (search engine usage, interest agents). They may be willing to learn what it will take to successfully compete or succeed in a given job or career (interest inventories, job description, testimonials, career progression, etc.). They may comply with instructions to answer questions about themselves (screening, profiling, application) or simply to submit their resume. They might refer others, be willing to accept future emails about the company or respond or some other action. They also might simply abandon the staffing pages having taken absolutely no action. How high is your abandonment rate? Was it likely that the visitor's expectation was initially to leave without taking some action or, was it more likely the expectation changed due to one of the other five principles?

  TABLE 1: Readiness Matrix

Willingness to Act
Qualified Active-Current Open Declaring Interest
Comparing Planned Learning
Unaqualified Exploring Likely Complying
  Passive Not Likely Referring
      Remaining in

Take a minute to consider the combination of variables that make up the expectations of your audience. Which combination(s) represent the ones you want to target? The ones you need to dissuade from applying? You only have to go to a site like ExxonMobil ( to see an example where the site's orientation ("I Wonder..") has been carefully designed to manage some expectations- and not others. Are qualified active candidates seeking open positions and willing to immediately forward their position satisfied here? (The answer is no). On the other hand, consider what other expectations are met and why this is one of the best company websites.

Table 2 represents just how few sites actually offer something to visitors who are not active, qualified job seekers.

  TABLE 2. Readiness - Fortune 500

40 Companies (8%) - No web site (2) or no staffing pages at all
65 Companies (13%) - Static, qualified active job seekers expectations not met
282 Companies (56%) - Adequate, offers pos. exp. to qualified active job seekers only
113 Companies (23%) - Interactive, pos. exp. to customers with different expectations

2. Navigation

On the face of it, getting around a site should be a simple process. How hard is it really to search for and find a job? Answer a few questions? Ask a few questions? Evidence of just how easy can be found in something as simple as the number of "layers" it takes to get to the text of the job. Every "click" a visitor must make linking them from one page to the next might be experienced as heightening their anticipation or, more likely, increasing their frustration. We've long held that 3 "clicks" is a reasonable standard for a visitor whose active expectations are to find and review jobs and then apply. What we mean by this is that from the company's homepage, the visitor will need to travel no more than three more pages to find a description of a specific job. What we actually found among sites we studied is that their job descriptions lie from 1 to 7 links away from the home page. Half of all sites were four links away from the home page.

  TABLE 3: Distance" to jobs from the home page

.6% - Required 1 "click" to see the job description
5.9% - "2 "clicks"
25.8% - "3 "clicks"
50.9% - "4 "clicks"
13.6% - "5 "clicks"
3% - "6 "clicks"
.2% - "7 "clicks"

Just getting to the jobs represented only a fraction of the problems that we encountered. Contributing to our overall experience were broken links on 45 sites. A sample of other elements contributing to navigation included:

  • Where the "careers" button is placed on the company homepage.
    You might think this a trivial problem but contrast an Abbott ( or Tricon Global (now Yum Brands- with Delta (, Pathmark ( or Quantum (
  • A consistent navigation bar for all staffing pages
  • Logical placement of options for searching jobs
  • Practical display of the search results
  • Ability to combine (shopping cart) search results for viewing and application
  • "Null" sets. Searches that produce no jobs with little option but to return to the search page.
  • Number of options to apply. Reasons for limiting. Benefits to using digital methods.
  • Cross-linking to relevant content.

3. Image

Much has been said about branding and a company's staffing "image" is readily apparent the moment you link from the home page to the staffing pages. Building a consistent theme throughout the site is a difficult task few companies have mastered. A few will engage the visitor and then do not follow through. Nowhere is the image better represented and carried through than Kodak - "Picture Yourself At Kodak"
( - note: Their "career" button is hidden at the bottom of the home page)

Other sites that create and follow through with an engaging and consistent image include:

Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. ( )
"We Tap Talent"

Arrow Electronics ( )
"BEST Company You've Never Heard Of"

Cinergy Corp. ( )
Cinergy is the Power of Change

Duke Energy Corporation ( )
"We Generate Energy...Momentum...Futures."

Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. ( )
"Minds. Wide Open"

Johnson & Johnson ( )
"Small Company Big Company Impact"

Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company ( )
"Catch Our Spirit At 3M"

Navistar International Corporation ( )
"One Professional. One Tremendous Challenge"

NCR Corporation ( )
"We're passionate about making a difference. Are You?"

Schering-Plough Corporation ( )
"We're driven by innovation. What drives you?"

4. Relevance

Assuming a company knows their target audience you would think they would simultaneously inform visitors about their people, policies, benefits, the communities in which they live and work and do it in a way that engages them with interest and interactive capabilities. Fully 20% of the firms studied offer little or no content. Of the remainder, the majority offered content in three areas:

  • A list Benefits with descriptions
  • College-specific content seldom including the colleges targeted
  • General description of the company culture/diversity
  • Standard links to company Mission/Values

Significant "agent" capability and "refer a friend" opportunities were found on about 30% of the websites- typically hosted by third-party applications which tended not to be as seamless as they first appeared. Most "agents" are cumbersome, poorly placed and typically require full disclosure by the visitor. Few, are user-friendly "interest" agents that can quickly be engaged (see below for examples).

Less frequently encountered content but clearly of significant interest in building a positive experience are content areas like:

  • Career Support
  • Development programs/Career Progression/ Career Support programs
  • Success Competencies/Leadership competencies/ Career Navigator/Career Matrix/ Career Paths, Training required.
  • Work-Life Balance
  • Specialty areas:
    • Alumni/ High school to work/Union/Craft/Internships
    • Company Functional Area Descriptions
    • Employee Profiles/Testimonials/Day-in-the-life
    • Virtual Tours of Facilities/Maps/Employment Process Flow Charts
    • Frequently Asked Questions
    • Community links
    • Career Events
    • Interest Inventories
    • Awards

Examples of the candidate experience best practices below are not all there are. However, we were continuously amazed at how, for example, "A Day-in-the-life" can exist on a major corporations site and still be so poorly presented that it would totally turn off even the most intrepid candidate. The contrast between concept and application on top sites like Federated Department Stores' College site, which continues to break new ground, serves to highlight the vast difference in what it takes to create a quality experience.

  • "Work Perks"
    • Advanced Micro Devices (
    • Diversity Statistics - Aetna (
    • Specialty- Agilent Technologies (Alumni- )
    • EMC Corporation (College- )
    • Sears, Roebuck and Co. (College- )
    • Xerox Corporation (Sales- )
  • Testimonials
    • Conoco ( ),
    • Aid Association for Lutherans ( )
    • Ford Motor Company (meet our people ),
    • Intel Corporation ( )
  • Values
    • Anixter International Inc. (
    • Mars ( )
  • Day-in-the-Life
    • Bear Stearns ( )
    • Eli Lilly ( )
    • Progressive ( Test Drive a Insurance Agent - ( )
  • Product Focus
    • Boeing ( )
  • Community Links
    • Corning Inc. ( )
    • CDW Computer Centers, Inc. ( )
  • Job Descriptions
    • Coca-Cola ( )
    • Hewlett-Packard ( )
  • Agents based on "interest"
    • Dana Corporation (
    • Computer Sciences Corporation ( )
    • Intel Corporation ( )
    • Williams (
  • Salary
    • Lyondell Chemical Company ( )
  • Community involvement
    • McKesson HBOC Inc. ( )
  • Career path
    • Deere & Company ( )
  • Worklife Programs
    • Du Pont De Memours (E.I.) ( )
    • Degree Matrix - Occidental Petroleum Corporation ( )
  • Recruiter Profile
    • Parker Hannifin Corporation ( )

5. Feedback

This was the easiest principle to assess. It is (almost) always missing. Feedback is not thanking a candidate for submitting a resume and then saying "we will keep your resume on file, match it against openings and maybe, just maybe, if you are a really lucky and a great fit, and we get around to it, we'll let you know we are interested but, meanwhile, don't bother us." Feedback is doing what Apple ( ) does in explaining that if you register, you will always be able to enter the site and obtain the status of your application. Feedback is doing what State Farm ( ) does by displaying an "Ask the Recruiter" option prominently on their site- and then answering the questions every day. Feedback is providing self-assessment tools that let you better understand whether your values are shared, where you will best fit in, how you will best compete, and what you can do through training, etc. to improve your competitive chances. Companies like General Motors Corporation (, Texas Instruments ( ), Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America ( These exceptions stick out in a significant way. The reasons for a general lack of feedback are legion but all are unacceptable if the customer experience becomes a priority.

It wouldn't be fair to complete this paper without mentioning our personal favorites. Among the 25 best sites on the Fortune 500 list, Apple, Microsoft, Xerox, TI, Federated ( and, most unusual, Robinson (CH) ( are able to engage visitors with the broadest range of expectations and still create a powerful customer experience.

Final Comment

Nothing that we've written here is either rocket science or set in stone. We have, however, attempted to add to the debate on how we might systematically examine the creation of candidate experience in the employment process rather than simply repeating the mantra that "it" (whatever "it" is) is important. We focused on the critical area of the company website because it is the most visible recruiting aspect and available to all. These principles apply however to every aspect of employment.

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