Forcing the Unemployed into Tiny Boxes



I dream of a game show where the contestants are CEOs: bright, shiny-suited and ready for global business.  There’s only one rule in this game.  In order to keep their current jobs they need to apply for a job, any job, on their own company websites — or worse on the websites created by the recruiting firms they’ve hired.  I can already  hear them screaming: “But I gave you all this information twice already!  How many times do I have to re-enter my job history?  It’s taking a week to load every page.  People, I’ve got a billion dollar merger I’m missing for this.”

For the thousands of people looking for employment, and I’m counting those who are new to the job market, those looking to leave a job and those who have left a job – the most humbling and insulting task is the online job application.  It’s worse than explaining to your brother-in-law that you still haven’t found a job, and no you are not too picky, or losing the beloved gym membership because it got too expensive or buying store brand ice cream because it’s cheaper.

Today’s job sites are designed to weed out the intelligent, the creative, the self-starters, the experienced, and above all anyone who values time.  They are designed for people who have lots of time and don’t care how they spend it.  It’s for people who love data entry and get real satisfaction in entering the same information over and over, albeit in different sized and colored boxes.  It’s for people who think being busy is the same thing as being productive.

Companies get away with poorly designed sites because job seekers are powerless to do anything about it.  You need a job.  Being treated poorly by a potential employer’s website design is just one more slice of shit sandwich.   But you can’t help thinking of it as a courtship.  If they’re this awful to you now, what happens when you sign up to work for them?

It’s difficult to justify some of the herculean efforts and the gross amount of time needed to fill out just one online job application. How do you explain having to upload a resume, re-enter every job from that uploaded resume into separate little boxes, re-enter every job description for a third time into additional boxes, and save and continue page after page of slow loading software.  At some point you lose all respect for the organization itself.  You start imagining the low intelligence level on the receiving end.  You begin to wonder why all this information needs to be physically dissected over and over again into so many tiny boxes.  You start to realize that it’s not about getting to know you at all.  It’s about making it easy to run outdated software that searches for magic words in boxes.  It’s all about the boxes.

I’ll give you an example.  I recently applied for a job at a bank that starts with a B and ends with an O.  First, I had to create a password protected account. Let’s stop right there for a moment.  The need to create an account should only be necessary if they are going to keep me posted on any progress.  But that never, ever happens.  Tens of thousands of resumes languish unattended daily.  Many of them mine. So, if there is no intention of following up with a progress status, don’t make me create an account.  If I’m a lucky contender for the job, my contact information is on the requested resume and cover letter.  And if it’s not, I’m too stupid to work for you – skip to the next resume.

But I create the account because I don’t have a choice, and follow the algorithm requirement for yet another long password in my short life.  I upload the requested resume.  I also upload a cover letter I’ve taken great care to create.  I glance at the tracker on the application page and see that I am somewhere in Step One of the process, and despite the fact that there isn’t more to my work history than what’s in my resume and cover letter, there are fifteen more sections to go.  I’ve officially entered APPLICATION HELL.

Application Hell is fairly standard and this one is no different.  Some off-brand 1960s software has dissected my uploaded resume and rearranged my work history haphazardly into lots of tiny boxes.  The information and timeline is all wrong and I laboriously delete, move and correct the entries.  I cannot continue to enter the additional jobs from my resume that the software ignored, because the green spinning wheel of death won’t allow it.  I wait and simmer.  Despite the fact that my resume is now safely in their system, I have to act as a data entry clerk and manually re-enter that same information.  And though the system requires me to re-enter that data it is so surprised that I am actually doing it, it can only load a few words a minute. The position I am applying for requires several years of experience so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve had more than two jobs. But again, the system is apparently in shock and the pages load at a rate unknown since the LAN.

The process repeats itself, I enter redundant data, wait for it to load, watch the spinning wheel and fill out many, so many, boxes on many, so many, additional pages.  An hour I will never get back, and mightily regret giving away, has gone by.



But success.  I’ve made it to section 8 of 16, where I am instructed to fill in boxes with all of my past experiences.  What? Did I not just do that by uploading my resume, uploading my cover letter, and re-entering the data from those two documents into dozens and dozens of tiny boxes that don’t recognize the tab, space or enter key?  What experiences do you think I am hiding from you?  I realize I will have to give this faceless, brainless program more of my precious time.  I hit QUIT on the application.  Anyone who gets through this cretinous gauntlet is a better low-level entry clerk than I’ll ever be.  It belongs to them.

In defending these tactics, companies will tell you that they get so many resumes from pesky qualified job seekers that they need online software to help them parse out candidates.  But if they can’t be bothered with manually screening the documents they require from candidates, I’ve got a free program on my Mac that will cull magic words and phrases from any scanned document.  Yep, in today’s brave world you can actually scan a document for specific words that hit the sweet spot!

How do employers justify this ridiculous and, unfortunately ubiquitous, model?  My guess is that they have no clue what their HR departments have designed or purchased.  Still, I want to believe that most employers care about who they are attracting to their companies.  If so, this is an open challenge to them:  try applying for a job on your website and see what happens.  Does it make you look like the sleek, modern, efficient company that’s looking for talent?  Or do you look like IBM in 1963?

Perhaps you are a company that has fallen victim to the many recruiting operations that prey on the fear of too much talent to choose from, and have outsourced all or some of the apparently laborious task of attracting willing talent. Try using your recruiters’ websites before you write that check.  You could be paying too much for too little.  My nephew can design a better site for you and he’ll work for Taco Bell chalupas.


A friend recently told me about an experience applying online for a job with a big hotel chain.  “Would you like a rejection letter?” was the very first question of this particular application beauty.  What a start – makes you want to jump right in and fill out all of their cute little boxes.  But hey, a rejection letter, that’s pretty rare.  Evidently it was a rhetorical question from those prankster recruiters.  It’s been almost a year, the job was filled and she never got that rejection letter.

Back to my game show reverie.  Only five CEOs remain.  They have been without food and water for two days and still struggling to finish their online application process.  One has nearly completed the application seven times only to be timed out, regardless of how quickly he fills in the boxes. A significant number of CEOs were disqualified when it was found they were typing in Xs and Os just to get to the next page. Most, however, simply gave up.  They surrendered their high paying jobs rather than finish an archaic application process.  Several of the newly unemployed CEOs have applied to be contestants on Naked and Afraid, sensing, appropriately, that they now have the requisite training.