Last week, I attended our quarterly digital strategy conference in Chicago. (Which is an amazing city by the way, I highly recommend visiting.)

On my outbound flight, I’d watched a trailer for ‘The Big Short’ (a film about the US housing market collapse which sparked the financial crisis in 2008). On my return ‘red-eye’ flight, I was keen to get into the movie straight away so I could get my head down for a few hours before landing back in the UK. So, I fired up the in-flight entertainment as we taxied on the runway, and even though I knew exactly what I wanted, it was really quite difficult to find it. 

The Search

When searching for the film, here are the options I was presented with (along with my thought process):

  • All Movies by Genre: I thought this could possibly be my starting point, but I wasn’t sure what genre the film was as I haven’t seen it yet. Also, one film can fit into more than one genre and genres themselves can be subjective. I thought I'd come back to this if there wasn’t a more obvious choice
  • Movies by Languages: I didn’t feel this would help me get to my film since I wasn’t looking for a film in a different language
  • New Releases: I wasn’t sure how 'new' the The Big Short was, nor what 'new' meant to the airline (does 'new' mean released within the last month?)
  • Kids’ Zone: Nope
  • Disney: Shouldn’t this option be under Kids’ Zone?
  • (Airline) Recommends: Since I knew exactly what I wanted, rather than needing some inspiration, this could waste my time. Maybe if I had 'liked' the trailer I watched on my outbound flight, and it made a recommendation based on that (and knowing my seat number could tie the two together), but I’m not sure that the airline is there with personalisation yet. 
  • Best of British: I knew Christian Bale was in the film, but other than that I think it’s an American film
  • Audio Description: Not an added feature I was looking for
  • Closed Captions: I’m not even sure what this means and I’m probably not the only one, so I wasn’t going to select this

What I really wanted was an A-Z list so I could jump right to the title, but that didn’t exist. My need hadn’t been catered for in the user experience design of the system. Was my need really that unique? So I did what most users do in this situation and went through a process of elimination, ending up being forced into ‘All movies by genre’. I then spent the next seven minutes browsing in and out of the genres I thought it might belong to. I finally found it under ‘Comedy’, which is quite wrong in my opinion (I’m sure anyone who’s seen the film would agree).

Then it dawned on me. This is exactly how job seekers feel when searching for a job on a careers website or ATS that doesn’t cater for their needs. Just like me, they’re left frustrated, annoyed, ready to give up and move on to something else. It can be quite damaging to the brand (and maybe even cause someone to write a blog about their experience).

The Job Seeker Experience

There are many reasons that force organisations into creating what are quite frankly terrible experiences for the job seeker, with some of the most common being:

1  The job categories are based on the business structure, and therefore make no sense to anyone outside the company. This means users can’t identify themselves and which category they belong to, making a list of categories fairly useless. For large organisations this can be a really long list.

2  The hiring organisation is using more than one ATS (i.e. for geographical, brand or graduate vs experienced talent reasons). They have to force the user to choose which gateway they go into to start searching for jobs. How is the user supposed to know? And why do they care?

3  Just simply a poor user interface has been designed. This is something very common with out-of-the-box solutions, particularly present on ATS platforms. Is it a good design and layout? Is there enough spacing/padding? Are the calls to action clear? Is it mobile optimised? 

None of the above puts the user first. They put the organisation first, or it's an acceptance that it can’t be changed. And they don’t consider the different needs that a user may have depending on their own stage of the candidate lifecycle. Here are some common mindsets of job seekers:

"I know exactly what I’m looking for.” (So get me to what I want quickly and effectively)

For example, job seekers with industry-agnostic job titles, such as a project manager might want to just search 'project manager’ as they know there’s a good chance that if the employer has project manager jobs, they’d find it with that search term. They also might not care which department/team the job belongs to (not yet, anyway - they’re only searching at the moment). 

“I want to discover what jobs you have available.”

Someone who’s brand-engaged and wants to work for your company, and fits in a commonly identified job category (such as ‘retail’ or 'project management') may want to see what you have in that category. Offering them an option to browse jobs by category and/or location. But the category or job function has to make sense to the user. Make it clear and simple, which might mean combining categories or even splitting them up. 

“I have no idea where my skills/experience/qualifications sit in your company structure.” 

If a user comes to your site and they have transferrable skills, or currently have a job title that could be something completely different at your organisation, consider how they will find the right job. What search options does your site have that caters for their need?

“There’s nothing here for me right now, but I’d like to be alerted when the right job becomes available.” 

If the right job isn’t there for the user right now, don’t lose the opportunity to capture them and keep them abreast of latest jobs. Get them to register for job alerts.

“I’m interested, but I'm not ready to apply/join your organisation yet.” 

Give them the option to join your talent pool so you can keep them warm with content and updates on hiring campaigns.

Some Helpful Advice

When looking at your job search experience, here are 3 simple tips:

Understand your users first. Build user personas so you can understand their needs, A/B test different functionality and calls to action, and do some in-person testing.  Don’t let your business structure or any limitations on your ATS configuration dictate what the user needs. 

Consider the stage of the candidate lifecycle. What's their mindset? Make sure you give the right call to action. 

Test, measure, learn, refine, repeat. 

Unlike most of those searching for a job on a careers website, when I was looking for the film, I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew it was in the system and I still couldn’t find it. With job seekers, they might not know what’s in your system, or even how to find the most relevant jobs, so you have to make it easy for them to get to the most relevant information.

I’ll leave you with this Mark Twain quote from the opening sequence of The Big Short:

"It ain’t what you don’t know that get’s you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so."

Schedule a demo: If you would like to find out how TalentBrew can solve you job search experience problems, drop me a line at

Director of Digital Strategy

Nathan helps organisations optimise their recruitment marketing strategies by leveraging technology, creativity and data. In his role at employer marketing agency AIA Worldwide, Nathan has played pivotal roles in developing content marketing and social media strategies for large multinational corporations, as well as being a driving force behind a number of careers website projects and hiring strategies powered by the agency’s proprietary automated recruitment marketing software, TalentBrew. Catch him on Twitter, where he tweets all things digital marketing, branding and tech.