I’ve worked in this industry for nearly a decade, but I’m not too old to have forgotten the living hell of Milkround university applications. If you were hungry enough to want to work in the City, you had no choice but to subject yourself to banks’ careers sites.
Anything could, and would, go wrong. Clicking “back” by accident meant losing everything you’d painstakingly typed. The system had a habit of hanging ten minutes before the deadline; browsers crashed randomly. I concluded that the banks spent too much time on glossy photos and videos and too little on making their online applications system actually work.
I always thought that as an “Experienced Hire” (in the banks’ terminology), I’d never have to go through this again. I’d click through to a separate area of the site and simply upload my CV and then wait for the Chairman to call me up imploring me to consider working for them.
So I was quite surprised to find the same annoying electronic recruitment process with a much smaller but very blue-chip company recently. Over a quiet pint with an ex-colleague of mine, he mentioned to me that his firm was just closing a large fund-raising. They were looking to hire people with my background, and he’d be happy to pass on my CV directly to HR.
Would I mind though, he asked sheepishly, just uploading it to the firm’s website, to “cover all the bases”? He hoped this would speed up the process, since their HR department were “not top-notch”. Sure, I said, why not.
The first warning sign was how the website boldly claimed that the firm “combined the best of both large and small companies”. Frankly its careers section made it feel like a very big, anonymous company. There were lots of stock photos of the River Thames at night, with skyscrapers in the background. It was full of clichéd recruitment phrases (“collegiate place to work”, “respects your requirement for work-life balance”, “flat management culture”). Not only did it leave a bad taste in my mouth, it had me gagging.
I assumed the application process would be straightforward. Wrong again – I found myself entering academic grades going back over ten years. The website was pretty basic; I didn’t take A-levels but took another international qualification instead, which wasn’t listed. The description and the reference number for the job I was applying for wasn’t listed either (despite being shown in the “open vacancies” section).
There was no option to save the application mid-process. When I thought I had done so, it turned out I had actually submitted the application. The only way to rectify this was to email the IT company who ran the site. It took over a day to get a response. Would it have been so hard to include a phone number for HR?
The bottom line is that these systems dehumanise candidates, and alienate them. Having had quite a positive impression of the firm beforehand, my view is now completely changed. Since I have a job, I’m indifferent to their response, but if a job offer comes out of this, their robotic application process has already made a very bad impression on me.
Convincing someone to leave a job where they’ve built up internal support and relationships and start from scratch in a new role is not easy. Ultimately business is about personal relationships, like the one I had with my friend who worked there, and not data servers or automated email replies.
The author is an associate in a London PE fund.