Bite-sized Recruitment Process Audit: Part 3
CV and cover letter or application form. Which is best?
Before you advertise a job, you need to decide how you want to hear from applicants.
Do you want to receive CV and cover letters or completed application forms?
One of my clients was complaining recently that most applicants had sent him CVs and cover letters, despite him making it clear at the top of the advert that he wanted them to complete the attached application form.
Rather than find this annoying, he agreed that this actually worked in his favour, differentiating the people he wanted to hear from, ie those who are attentive to detail. They were the ones who took time to complete the carefully crafted application form as requested. Those who didn’t read the instructions and sent CVs instead, wouldn’t meet his benchmark anyway.
CVs and cover letters are a piece of cake
It’s quick and easy for you to post your job advert and then sit back and wait for a stream of applications. It’s also handy for candidates to upload their prepared, generic CVs and cover letters with minimal tweaking. Job done. You’ll get a high volume of applicants, but not necessarily quality ones.
Although there are numerous CV templates available, they are all different. This means that the details you want from candidates come to you in various layouts, in a different order and most importantly in varying degrees of readability. You have to work harder to extract the information you’re looking for so screening can be slow and laborious.
It’s hard to be objective when each document is unique. Some layouts will naturally appeal to you more than others. However, a candidate’s ability to layout a CV in an attractive way, may not be a good reflection on how well they meet your job criteria. And this means that the dreaded bias is creeping into your process right from the start.
Of course, you will receive CVs and cover letters that have been carefully crafted to mirror the skills and qualities you’re looking for and these will be a breath of fresh air.
Receiving tailored applications rather than blanket approach, generic ones makes screening so much easier.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to write a great cover letter but again, this varies enormously on content, layout, style and length. Unless you’ve specified the information you want included in a cover letter, you’ll receive an array of brief prose, bullet points and long winded biographies, which makes comparing candidates fairly, a challenge.
I don’t want to write off this form of application though. If you invest time in designing engaging and attractive job adverts with clear instructions on how to apply, you’ll encourage candidates to also spend time adapting their documents and providing you with the information you require.
Application Forms are a pain….. or are they?
Application Forms on the other hand, give you exactly the information you request, in the same order, making comparing candidates a piece of cake. Candidates dislike them though, as they have to put in more effort and those attempting to send out 20 applications a day will be put off.
Attracting candidates can be challenging at the best of times so making your application form easy to fill out and not too lengthy will increase your return rate. It will put off candidates who are looking for a quick win, attracting better quality candidates. People who can’t be bothered to fill it out are probably not the individuals you’re looking for anyway.
A good application form:
If you’re recruiting for a creative role and don’t think that your standardised form will allow candidates to show their ‘out of the box’ thinking, why not give them this opportunity by asking questions that will reveal their creative flair and by asking them to attach examples of their work.
Another advantage of application forms is that when applicants answer negatively to ‘deal breaker’ questions, such as 'Do you have experience working with Python? for a coding role, they can immediately be eliminated and sent an automatic response.
Once you’ve spent the time putting an application form together, it can be reused with minor editing of questions across all roles.
Application forms become a piece of cake
Both methods will filter out those who don’t meet your criteria but in my opinion application forms do this quicker, more accurately and fairly. Although more effort initially, they will save you time and resources when comparing candidates going forwards.
For particularly popular roles that you expect will attract lots of interest, application forms are definitely the way to go. Similarly, when hiring entry level roles, such as graduates and school leavers, who have limited work experience, carefully crafted application forms will help you differentiate the very best from the mediocre.
Conduct an audit
Looking at your data will help you make your decision on which way to go. Analysing numbers of total applications, shortlist and successful placements over time will bring valuable insights to the efficiency of your application process.
You may need to try it both ways for your next few vacancies and monitor the quantity/quality balance.
Whichever way you choose to go, auditing your process and making changes to the way you do things will help you to find the quality people you’re looking for, faster.
Good luck with your bite-sized audit!