With unemployment holding at a four-year low of 7.5 percent and the national economic outlook improving modestly according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market recovery is nonetheless slower than at any time since World War II, a UCLA Anderson Forecast study shows.
The question remains even as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attempts to keep closer tabs on hiring practices: How can job seekers make the most effective use of their limited time, money and resources? Ask a long-term job seeker if they feel the economy has improved and skepticism abounds. The unemployed and underemployed point to the record number of Americans who receive public assistance. They speak of the disconcerting impression that some job openings go nowhere: hiring decisions are delayed, the offer from HR that one is assured of after a promising interview fails to materialize or the right candidate remains elusive — as one can only infer when the same job opening is advertised week after week, month after month.
It doesn’t help that the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported the greatest plunge in hourly wages on record.
News reports indicate that veterans are still having a tough time — unemployment rates tend to run higher among veterans than for civilians of a similar age. National Guard servicemen and women complain that too many are let go in spite of job protections that imply otherwise. Similarly, job-seekers who have worked, by necessity, outside their field for too long often find it tough to reestablish a professional and economic toehold.
Lost in the midst of the overall concern for the employment outlook are some very specific ways in which the digital job search contributes to recruitment and hiring challenges.
At a broad level, little has been done to tap the potential of the Internet to improve hiring practices in “real time”. Who better to help enforce EEOC anti-discrimination policies than job seekers themselves? The problem, at present, is that unless a interviewee learns who receives the job offer and why, proving that one has been the victim of discrimination is virtually impossible. Indeed, the only notable complaints to make headlines in recent years consists of indignation in response to poorly-executed corporate recruitment efforts.
Digital technology can and should open the door to greater transparency in the form of “sunshine laws”. Publicly-traded corporations of more than 500 employees could be required to make available to job seekers data on their hiring decisions, perhaps by assigning applicants a pin number to access a corporate web portal for self-help, post-interview followup or by making hiring data available to an independently-monitored clearinghouse. Without disclosing actual names of applicants, aggregate data could be presented on an EEOC-sponsored website created for such a purpose, for example. Corporate HR departments could access a portal into such a website to update job openings vs. actual fulfillment rates at regular intervals. Employers could be prompted to answer a set of generic questions about a placed candidate’s demographics — and this, in turn, could help prospective job seekers better target their job search.
Gone would be the days in which an interviewee is left to guess as to whether or not there is an bona fide opening, if the position has been filled and by what type of candidate.
Whether hiring data are made broadly available or primarily to pending applicants, such information would empower job-seekers to make an informed use of their time based upon what type of candidate is deemed appropriate for a given department or division within a company. More than just a tool to catch corporate wrongdoers, data might be mapped graphically or sorted according to user criteria: internal vs. external placements, college educated vs. high school new hires for a given type of work, multilingual vs. English-only, veteran vs. civilian hiring rates, local hire vs. non-local, number of openings advertised vs. filled in a 90-day time period, etc. The EEOC, of course, could utilize patterns in employer-submitted data to audit those whose hiring patterns on age, gender, race, religion or orientation violate diversity statutes. Overall, however, the objective would be a win-win for job seekers, among them veterans and the disabled, in one fell swoop.
Although divulging the nature and timing of hiring decisions is likely to encounter opposition, increased awareness can only help applicants better manage their limited time and resources, assisting the EEOC in its mandate in the process. While such reforms are undoubtedly years away, technology clears the way for the job-hunting process to become far less one-sided than traditionally conceived — and that ought to be the aim.
There are less controversial means, meanwhile, to improve accessibility to online job seekers — steps that can be implemented in short order with just a few key improvements in how digital applications are delivered to job-seekers’ desktops. At present, the predominance of Internet-based applications discriminates against job seekers in the following manner: First, digital applications discriminate against those with dyslexia and low vision. Second, rural and low-income job seekers who do not have access to high-speed Internet are often at a disadvantage. True: Libraries do, in fact, offer a limited number of computers for public access. The problem? Privacy concerns associated with the use of such terminals — and the policy of many libraries to mandate time-limits thanks to overwhelming demand — often preclude applicants from completing the online assessments commonly associated with Internet job applications, some of which may take in excess of an hour to complete.
Many online job seekers are familiar with page timeouts. Candidates are prompted to create a login only to find after completing a segment of a multi-page application that the content cannot be submitted because of an unannounced logout. While the better designed “job carts” allow individual pages to be saved, others do not. Online applicants are rushed by the knowledge that if too much time is spent perfecting or proofing any one particular page of a digital application, one’s input may be lost entirely.
What is merely annoying for the typical job seeker is an impediment to those who suffer vision and reading deficits.
One solution is to increase the elapsed time before applicant logout, an adjustment a web sever administrator can easily make. Another solution is to configure the web server to generate a pop-up message prompting the applicant to indicate whether they are still actively working on a page.
If nothing more, applicants ought to have access to a text-based preview of things to come — an “application-at-a-glance” by which to learn up front how many questions one must complete, what type of information to have close at hand and how long the process is likely to take. While it is true that some of these steps are incorporated some of the time, consistency on this front varies widely.
Solution: Best practices need to be established on how to design accessible online applications — and such standards must be widely adopted for consistencies’ sake.
The graphical user interface (GUI) of the typical web application is similarly in need of improvement. Typically, digital applications are compartmentalized into several pages — visually and literally disjointed from a page layout perspective. On the last page prior to submitting a completed application, employers ought to offer the option to open in a new tab a properly formatted document for the purpose of review. The typeface must be legible, scalable and “print ready” for hard-copy proofreading and applicant record keeping — not the fill-in-the-box form supplied prior to that point.
For even more accessibility to job seekers online and off, digital applications should come with the option to download a text or PDF version of the document. Phone numbers, email addresses and corporate contact information that are necessary to accommodate candidates with disabilities should be plainly and easily identified up front, not buried in a series embedded page links — or omitted entirely as is too often the case.
Implementing a long-range plan to bring about greater transparency and consistency to the Digital Era job market must be the goal. Employers can and should, of course, make strides to improve accessibility in far less costly and controversial ways — today.
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