The U.S. unemployment rate recently dropped below six percent, the lowest since the great recession. But there are still a lot of people looking for work and they’re spending a lot of time applying for jobs online. It can take hours just to apply for a single position. In the current job market there’s not much incentive for employers to make it easier for applicants.
Savanna Nilsen graduated with a master’s in education in 2011. She’s been applying for jobs since then, making ends meet with temp jobs. She was filling out an application recently. It was late at night. She wrote a cover letter, submitted a resume, filled out a series of online questions and just when she thought she was finished, she was asked to write an essay on why she was a good fit for the job.
“There’s a certain level of fatigue when approaching these questions,” says Nilsen. “It’s 11:30 at night, I guess I should think even more about how I am good for this job.”
Nilsen was frustrated. She felt like there wasn’t anything new to say that she hadn’t already said in her cover letter. And she wondered if anyone would even to read it.
“Sometimes they might never see it,” says Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton’s Center for Human Resources. “Maybe they are only going to look at those essays for the few people who make it through all the other screens.”
So many people are applying for a job today that companies rely on automation to screen out the vast majority of applicants says Cappelli.
In 2012 he came across an engineering firm that took in 29,000 applications for a single job. The number of people the system identified as qualified was zero. “I think it reflects the fact that technology is not perfect and the alternative to perfect technology requires expensive people.”
When automation first appeared in HR departments in the nineties, the goal was to make it easier for applicants. Companies needed workers so they were willing to take bare bones applications and hire people to sift through them and find the right candidate. “Because there are so many people applying now,” says Cappelli, “it’s much easier for the employers to push the problem onto you.”