Can you recall the last time you went through an entire day when everything went your way? Everybody you dealt with, whether human or machine, was helpful. Every process was smooth and seamless. Every task that involved a third party delightfully simple. No? Me neither.

There have been two instances in the last couple of days that perfectly illustrate why serene progress through a day is just so damn hard to achieve. First, I had requested a quote from some caterers for an event I was organising. Nobody got back to me for several weeks and, when they finally did, their email arrived with no words of apology. In fact, no words at all. Just an attachment. Obviously, I didn’t open it and instead emailed them advising that, in future, they might want to be a bit more prompt and, you know, say sorry for such poor service. They replied (quickly this time) saying that their apology and the quote I requested were in the attachment. The mind boggles.

My other consumer-world example (before I explore how this translates to recruitment) came as I was looking for the best new smartphone deals on the market. I knew the make, model and type of deal I was after (Samsung S6 if you’re interested) but the vast majority of service providers or comparison sites I tried made me want to stick pins in my eyes. On one, the landing page was mobile responsive, but after selecting my search terms the next page required me to scroll sideways for what felt like an age to see all the features on offer. It made me want to throw my existing phone off the twelfth floor of our building. Then I realised I needed it because I hadn’t managed to buy one from one of those awful sites.

My final anecdote - I promise - did come from the world of recruitment. I was doing some competitor analysis for a pitch the other day, trying to apply for a role at a handful of retailers, and I couldn’t believe how difficult it was. A part of me thought I must be undergoing some sort of assessment to test whether I was made of the right stuff to apply. Here’s a few issues I came across when perusing. (While reading these points bear in mind that I was impersonating an active candidate; someone who had decided they wanted to explore and apply for roles at these retailers.)

I started by Googling ‘(company name) jobs’ and clicking through to the relevant organisation’s careers page. The first contender vying for my valuable skills included a search bar on their careers home page. It wasn’t the most attention-grabbing item on the page, but it looked a good starting point, so I entered ‘project manager’ and hit ‘Go’. I quickly realised it wasn’t a job search tool at all, and instead it crawled the site and fed me any page that included those terms. Fail number one.

When I did find the ‘search & apply’ button (and it took a bit of rooting around) I was asked to select from three job types. A better start. A well-designed, simple page that enabled me to select whether I was an external or internal applicant followed and I was getting more optimistic. Then it all went to pot, as I was greeted with a sickly coloured, poorly formatted, ugly page that jarred with the rest of my journey to that point. Desperate to get off the page, I clicked through to ‘search openings’ and found that the theme continued. After trying to specify my search and having no luck, I eventually searched ‘all’ jobs and was still told there were no results. If you knew the scale of the company, you’d know that would not be true.

Some of the other issues I came across during my research included: an arduous clicking process to find the right section of the site; zero job search results - regardless of the search - as well as no indication that the search had been unsuccessful; dreadfully formatted job descriptions; poor navigation; cluttered pages with confusing information; and unsightly page design.

As far as these employers were concerned, I was a candidate who had decided that I’d like to join their company, but you’d think it was the last thing they wanted me to do given all the hoops I was required to jump through.

So it seems, rather paradoxically, that making candidates’ – and customers’ – lives easy is actually pretty hard. But it needn’t be. An extremely reliable way to determine whether your careers site is delivering a seamless candidate experience is to conduct guerrilla usability testing. Get some ordinary folk to explore your careers site as if they were a job seeker searching for various roles, ask them to dictate their thought process as they navigate their way through your site, and record your findings. You can even use software to help you track their activity. Companies like Hotjar and Crazy Egg provide insightful heatmapping tools to show you exactly where your audience has been clicking and scrolling. We’ve used such tools to great effect when conducting user experience (UX) testing on our clients’ careers sites.

It’s easy to focus on your passive candidates who need to be steered to your door and then convinced to apply, but don’t ignore those who have already sold your company to themselves. They want to join you, so don’t give them a reason to change their mind.

Declutter the path that you’re asking them to tread. Remove any unnecessary or obfuscating navigation that’s going to hinder their journey through your site. Ensure it’s well signposted, consistently branded and make it easy for them to find your roles - whether that’s through an intuitive job search or a faceted search that enables your candidates to explore jobs by location, business area or keyword.

For those that need an added nudge - and to really show off - pairing relevant content with your jobs (and vice versa) will tell your candidates that you understand them and know what they’re likely to be interested in. For example, while a user explores an engineering role, if you served them a video of a current engineer working in the same location as the advertised role, you’re giving them an authentic insight into your company culture. It will only help push them towards that ‘apply’ button.

Keep your active candidates turned on. Don’t turn them off by making their lives difficult.

European Marketing Manager

Ross manages TMP Worldwide’s marketing efforts across Europe. He is responsible for all online and offline activity in the UK, France and Germany, including devising the agency’s content and social strategies. He manages all other online properties and is responsible for analysing performance across all channels, enhancing the agency’s offering accordingly.