ridiculously detailed online job applications and why they suck

A reader writes:

I just filled out an online job app that asked for a complete education history back to high school, including: how I paid for all schooling (?! – I have no idea how to even say I paid for high school; I went to public school), GPA, rank in class, how many people were in our class (I do not know those last two for any of my schools), any part-time jobs, seminars attended, and favorite classes and least favorite classes (and why, for both). For career history they wanted starting and ending salary, why you left, how your boss would rate your performance, what you liked most and least about each job.

They also had a general section about how your previous employers would rank you on a variety of things, your strengths and weaknesses, career goals and objectives, and what you see your perfect job as being. And of course they wanted references right away.

All this is on the very first initial online application!

I just had to share because I’ve been doing a lot of job-hunting recently, and I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in applications lately, but this is out there even for recent trends. I had to share because I thought you and your readers could appreciate it.

They suck. And they do not know how to hire.

This reeks of a company that has no idea how to screen candidates. There’s no way that the information they’re asking for is going to be used in doing their initial cull of applications, so there’s no reason they should be asking for it now. Some of it is information they can ask people in interviews if they really want to know it, and lots more of it is information they have no need for ever (high school info, school costs, etc.).

Asking for ridiculous amounts of information before ever even talking with a candidate is disrespectful. You don’t ask someone to invest an enormous amount of time before you’ve even determined if they’ll make it past your first cut. And given that typically only a small percentage of candidates do make it past that first cut, they’re asking tons of people (probably hundreds) to spend massive amounts of time on something that won’t even lead to a phone conversation. It’s rude and it’s incredibly cavalier about people’s time and energy.

Moreover, it’s not even going to help them in hiring. The most competitive candidates won’t bother with all this and will simply move on, leaving them with a weaker pool and a ton of information they don’t need and probably won’t use.


{ 278 comments… read them below }

  1. W.W.A.*

    I’m still peeved about a job I applied for that asked for all the normal stuff plus three extensive essays that I actually had to do research for, AND three letters of recommendation (!) in the initial application round.

    Later it turned out they had already selected an internal hire but had to conduct a search anyway.

    1. KellyK*

      Um…whiskey, tango, foxtrot? Three *essays* is bizarre for any job application, let alone one where you’re just going through the motions so you can hire your internal candidate.

      1. Marmite*

        Are essays a common thing in the US, not three but one maybe? I’ve only seen it once on a job application in the UK (questions that require long answers, yes, but actual essays just the once) and that was for a grad scheme. I’ve come across it several times in US applications though. Seems time intensive for an initial application.

        1. Liz in a Library*

          Is it a field thing? I have never come across an essay, and recently job searched extensively across three distinct but related fields. I’d find an essay bizarre, unless it was used as a writing sample for a position as a writer…

          1. Ruffingit*

            Even then an essay is weird since they will usually just ask for actual writing samples from previous jobs so they can see your writing in a professional environment.

          2. Marmite*

            The one I did for the UK grad scheme application was short, maybe only 500 words? It was for a position with a health/pharmaceutical company and asked you to write about where you saw the future of healthcare.

            Plenty of jobs I’ve gotten to the interview stage for have included a short written test as part of the assessments. The kind of thing that just tests that you can write in coherent sentences and within a reasonable period of time.

          3. W.W.A.*

            It was a job in an administrative role at a university. Unlike most administrative jobs, this one would have been supervised by a faculty member as opposed to another administrator. It doesn’t really surprise me that she would have treated the job search like a grad school application. Nonetheless, it was totally disrespectful of the time of the dozens and dozens of people who probably applied – especially since the job was already pegged for someone else.

            I have often had to submit writing samples but this was the first time I was asked to write extensive essays from prompts.

          4. -X-*

            I was asked to respond to three general questions for an internship – sort of a mini essay. No research required – just some thinking. Though I did a little research (really refreshing my memory about something I’d heard) anyway.

          5. Jen @ ModernHypatia*

            In my most recent library job search, I had at least two jobs that asked for written responses. Both of them were after the initial resume screening, though. One was a for-profit school: it was “Explain how you’d handle these four situations” (I did progress to an in-person interview there.)

            The other was a public library, where there were two questions, one of which was “Describe your approach to creating strong positive partnerships with stakeholder groups in your community.” and one was “What would your “elevator speech” be to a nonuser on the value of youth services in libraries?” – both of which were highly relevant to the position, but also a really good way to filter applications.

            (I know from other sources that they had a very strong applicant pool for that job, and well over 100. I didn’t make it to an interview and still regret that even though I adore my current job and it’s almost certainly a better overall fit for me. They were one of the few places – my current job being one of the others – that handled the whole process brilliantly.)

        2. Naomi*

          I don’t think essays are normal for regular jobs. However, for fellowships and other very competitive special programs (like Teach for America) they are fairly common.

          1. Marmite*

            Ah, perhaps that’s it. I tend to have seen them in the same kind of applications that ask for written references (which I have never been asked for in the UK).

        3. Elizabeth*

          I’m a teacher in the US – when signing up with a placement agency that placed teachers with independent schools, their application asked for some short-essay type questions. They were all pretty reasonable, though – “Describe your classroom management style” and similar things. Kind of like a written interview. Also, the character limit in the boxes meant they could only be a short paragraph.

          I’ve also been asked for a written philosophy of teaching, but that was a) highly applicable to the job, b) something I could use with multiple schools I was applying to and c) actually a very rewarding experience to think through my philosophy that way, so I didn’t mind that.

          I’ve never had an essay of the sort that goes with our college applications in the US since I was, in fact, applying to college.

      2. Christine*

        OT: KellyK – I saw this yesterday, but I’m just now figuring out what “whiskey, tango, foxtrot” means. LOL!

    2. Nonnymous*

      One job application required me to write them a poem at my last job.

      I wish I were kidding.

        1. IronMaiden*

          Now that’s just corny. Unless of course you were applying to Hallmark or the like.

        2. Ruffingit*

          I can’t even…I just don’t know what to say about that. Weird doesn’t begin to cover it.

        1. Felicia*

          One job application asked me to answer the question “If your dog could talk, what would you want him to say?” and that’s the weirdest I’ve gotten, but a poem is really weird.

            1. the gold digger*

              I would ask my cat, “Why do you grab the leash in your mouth, drag it up the stairs so that the metal pieces clank on the wood, and yowl disconsolately? If it makes you so sad, why do you do it?”

              1. Chinook*

                Isn’t it obvious – your cat is yowling because he is having a species identity crisis and he is upset that you don’t understand that the reason he drags the leash around is that he really is a dog who wants to go for a walk and can’t stand using the litter box.

          1. Marmite*

            What if you don’t have a pet?

            I was stumped in an in person interview recently by the question “What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?” Perhaps not that wild a question, but came out of nowhere in the middle of a series of questions on technical ability with specific software.

            1. Collarbone High*

              “I have to pee.”

              (I typed this as a reply to “what motivates you to get out of bed,” but come to think of it, that would also work for the talking dog question.)

              1. Kelly O*

                That answer is fairly accurate.

                Mine would have to be “because there is an almost three year old holding my glasses out to me and SHE needs to pee.”

            2. Felicia*

              No idea if you don’t have a pet…it was for a pet supply company, but for a marketing position so that was really weird. Didn’t complete the application, but the question after that asked you to describe Lassie or Tintin in 3 sentences , which was also weird. I’ve had a lot of weird interview questions, but that was the weirdest application I had ever seen.

                1. -X-*

                  Given the jobs they were for, those pet and coffee questions don’t sound weird to me at all. Maybe the Tintin one was a little off in that the name might not be known to older applicants, so it’s a little dated.

                2. Lindsay J*

                  I always hated that one. Why not ask “Why do you want to work for Starbucks?” I don’t like coffee, but I like tea and chai, I’m a damn good worker, and I want to work for someplace that actually empowers their employees to be able to perform their jobs well.

                3. -X-*

                  If you don’t like coffee but like tea or whatever, then answer the question honestly: “I’m not a big coffee drinker. I’d like to work here because I want to work someplace that empowers their employees to be able to perform their jobs well – Starbucks is known for that and I think that’s great.”

                  If Starbucks sells something you like, add that in after the coffee comment.

            3. Liz T*

              This would just make me quote a favorite web comic: “I need a job so I can afford the important things in life, like chocolate and sexy boots.”

          2. Lindsay J*

            A job application for a local convenience store asks you:
            “Why do you want to work at Buc-ees?”
            “Why do you think you will like this job?”
            and “What is the worst thing you have heard about our company?”

            It also asks if you have used tobacco products in the past 12 months, and if you have how recently you quit in number of weeks, and if you would be using tobacco products before or during work.

            They pay well but I gave up on the application half-way through.

    3. cliff*

      These people are not employers, I can’t quite put my finger on who they might be but real employers don’t ask for the kind or information that these strangers are asking for. so the question is whether they are American employers or not.

  2. TL*

    I’m not a particularly strong candidate – only been working a couple of years – but while I filled those out whilst unemployed, now I won’t bother even though I’m searching – cause job pays bills. They’re horrible and terrible and really invasive.

  3. Malissa*

    I have applied for many jobs online in the last year. I have abandoned several applications for the reasons the OP mentions. The questions are invasive and unnecessary.
    And yes these employers are missing out on good candidates because of this. I figure those applications were a warning sign about the culture of the employer and moved on.

  4. Marmite*

    My absolute favourite job application recently was one that asked for a CV plus a cover letter of no more than 250 words. Perfect.

    Unfortunately, that seems to be increasingly rare, so many jobs now require these stupid long application forms. I’m currently 3/4 of the way through one that asked for detailed education and work history (in boxes that didn’t allow pasting – grrr!). Then asked four questions about different aspects of the job and why would I be a good fit, what skills I would bring, etc. THEN asked for a CV and cover letter to be attached. And of course for the details of three references. So, ridiculous. It almost put me off applying but I’d made it past the four questions and taken time to answer them well before I realised how much more info it was going to require.

      1. Anonymous*

        Wonder if text expander software would be a workaround? Set up a bunch of abbreviations for frequently asked questions, and just type the four letter code.

      2. Elise*

        You can usually get around those by pasting the text into Notepad, then recopying, then going to the box and using Ctrl-V. They just don’t like the imbedded formatting that comes from a copy off a word processing document.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’ve been there and I felt your pain. I quit after almost an hour of typing and entering repetitive data on one site. And then the site would not save the information already entered to allow an applicant to return and complete it at another time. AARGH! So I decided not to return.

      1. Marmite*

        I have just sat down (with kiddo finally asleep) to finish this thing. I just have the cover letter left to do and I plan to keep it short! Of course, I am procrastinating over here instead, because, ugh.

      2. Rana*

        And then there are the ones that time out if you don’t move on to the next page quickly enough. It’s like some horrible psychological test.

        1. Marmite*

          Mention of psychological tests always makes me think of the first time I went to work in the US and the tests I had to take to get my visa. One of the questions was, no kidding, “Do you hear voices?” Another was, “Do you enjoy lighting fires?”

          1. Liza*

            That “do you hear voices” one–I wonder how many people answer “yes” just because they don’t know enough idiomatic English. Yes, I hear voices–when people talk to me!

            1. Anonymous*

              Yes, my head is full of imaginary people. And sometimes I even get paid to write down their conversations.

          2. jesicka309*

            Yes I do enjoy lighting fires….in my fireplace, on a cold night…would that get me rejected? :P

            1. The gold digger*

              My favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon: Calvin is being a pain in the neck, so his mom tells him, “Go into the living room. Your dad is building a fire.”

              Calvin dashes to the living room, then returns. “In the fireplace,” he announces with disappointment.

          3. Chinook*

            “Do you hear voices?” Only when someone is talking to me.

            “Do you enjoy lighting fires?” Ooohh…bright, shiney and warm!

      3. 2013 Jobseeker*

        The “best” was one I did for a large telecommunications company that was clearly very poorly programmed — it let you go back and forth among tabs but when you switched tabs in reverse order, all your information depopulated!

        I filled that form out twice in two hours before eventually deciding I didn’t care how many jobs the state unemployment commission required me to apply to in a month, that application could get stuffed.

      4. Librarian*

        Applications like those are the bane of the public librarian’s existence. “Hey, my computer time runs out in 30 seconds, and I can’t save this job application.” Grrrr.

    2. anonymous*

      Have you tried using commands (e.g., ctrl+v) to paste the content? That might work.

  5. RLS*

    Heck yes! There was a job I recently applied for that I really was truly interested in–but after wrestling with their stupid application software for a few days, and finally getting it completed, that was the biggest note I left in my job-hunt spreadsheet: APPLICATION PROCESS SUCKED. Fortunately they were speedy and got back to me within a couple of weeks; I’m glad I wasn’t selected.

    Last week I applied for a position with, get this…just a single resume and cover letter! I’ve been going to town on city applications which I find tedious (but I’m getting better/faster at them!) but I was so relieved when that’s all I had to do: show them how awesome I’d be at the job, why I was super excited about it, and backed it up with my accomplishments.

  6. Felicia*

    I came across an equally detailed application once (though it also used words like ninja and kickass) . Then it wouldn’t recognized the university I went to as real, and I realized there were at leas 2 more pages of pointless questions, so I just gave up.

    1. IronMaiden*

      I’m sure AAM has cautioned us about places that use the words “ninja” and “kickass”.

      1. Felicia*

        Those words were definitely one of the many reasons I gave up on that one. Unfortunately they didn’t appear until the second page of questions so I wasted a bit of time starting. :)

    2. The gold digger*

      There are some applications that don’t recognize my major.

      Because a BA in English is almost unheard.

      (Taleo, I’m talking to you. It is NOT “English Studies.”)

      1. Virginia*

        As a person with a B.A. in English, I feel your pain. I usually end up putting ‘English Literature’. I have no idea why that is considered more common than English.

      2. the gold digger*

        Unheard of. You would think I would know how to complete a sentence.

        Virginia, I think the Taleo people are idiots, which is why “English Lit” is on their list but “English” is not.

  7. Marmite*

    I also just remembered a conversation a friend and I had about this type of application a while back. She told me she got so frustrated and harried by one of these that she accidentally ended up submitting it with the answer to one question about her interests reading one sentence, “I am keen.”

    Needless to say she never heard back on that one!

  8. Jane*

    I had a friend applying for investment bank analysts positions in New York. He was really impressed and excited that they were asking him for his SAT score as a part of the hiring process. I asked why he thought it that piece of information would be a deciding factor. He thought it showed a history of working hard. In my mind, I was like “shouldn’t an actual work history show this?”

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Investment banking (and some consulting) firms like to ask for SAT or other standardized test scores for their entry level candidates. They use it as a proxy for intellectual ability (leaving aside the issues of test prep, cultural/gender bias, etc. for the moment), and it’s easy to compare across schools, whereas GPA (b/c of grade inflation, differences in academic rigor, etc.) is trickier. From what I’ve been able to tell, these firms think it gives them another data point for candidates. However, in my observation a really good SAT score won’t help you if your GPA and internship experience are weak (because it’s not nearly as recent or relevant as your education and practical training). If SAT is weak, and GPA/experience are good, then it’s something to ignore. If GPA/Experience are good and the SAT is good, it’s just additional confirmation.

    2. Anon*

      Heh, SAT doesn’t measure work at all. LOL. I have the “knack” for standardized testing and rocked the SATs while half-assing my way through my actual high school coursework.

      1. FormerManager*

        I was friends with some of the students who attended the county’s math and science magnet school and quite a few of them aced the SAT and then slacked in school.

        I actually would be pretty screwed if an application asked for my SAT scores as it’s been over 10 years and I can’t remember what mine were.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Plus the SAT changed in 2005 or so – they added another section so now it is out of 2400 (I think) rather than 1600.

          I scored a 1440 on my SATs which is really good out of 1600, but if you thought it was out of 2400 instead it doesn’t look so great.

      2. AJ*

        I agree with what College Career Counselor stated. And although SAT doesn’t measure work at all, it does serve as a proxy IQ test. IQ has been shown to be highly correlated with the ability to quickly obtain job knowledge which can then be looked at for development purposes. But, in the end, it’s just another data point.

        1. VintageLydia*

          But there are issues with IQ tests and having a pretty severe cultural bias, not to mention the lack of standardization across tests (there are more than one and they seem to vary pretty wildly.) Besides, I have family members that would qualify for MENSA and they are no more or less capable to functioning in a normal workplace than anyone else I know.

          In the end, it’s just employers looking for shortcuts that in the end aren’t very effective.

      3. Lora*

        +1. I didn’t see the point of homework, but I’m always 95-99th percentile.

        That said, I just filled out two of those type of applications for consulting jobs, and the last time I took the SATs, WHAM! was still a thing. Just…really? The applications wouldn’t even let me progress to the next step unless I filled in something. All those papers are long gone in the mists of time, too, I had to guess what they were.

        The same applications that didn’t allow me to enter double majors, degrees in progress or sub-disciplines, weirdly had interview tips about how to approach the example problems you’re given to work through, and emphasized that you shouldn’t try to fit the problems into a format or framework, but look at them fresh, as they are presented by the interviewer rather than try to pigeonhole.

        1. Collarbone High*

          Wow, I would be screwed on those applications, because I went to high school in Colorado and only took the ACT. I guess I could use a score conversion chart to try to come up with a comparable SAT score, but that would be untruthful.

          1. Chinook*

            I always wondered how someone educated outside the US would be able to able to answer the SAT score question. I have a university degree but no SAT score.

      4. Melissa*

        Ditto this – I have decent HS and college GPAs but my SAT & GRE scores are really high. I just test well.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      My elitist jerk former boss couldn’t decide between two candidates and asked them for their high school GPA (this was not even close to an entry-level position – these guys were both in their 40s). I tried to talk him out of it and he yelled at me. Both guys were so offended that they withdrew from the hiring process.

      1. Liza*

        Good for the candidates! I’m so glad they *both* did. (And I hope your boss learned something from it, though I kind of doubt it.)

  9. COT*

    My recent favorite was a job that required me to upload a resume and cover letter, then answer several questions about my experience/qualifications. After customizing and uploading my documents, I went through the questions on the next screen, only to be immediately rejected once I hit “submit.” I met all of the qualifications listed in the posting, but the questionnaire also asked if I spoke Vietnamese (I don’t, and it’s not an especially common language in my city). I’m almost positive that’s why I got rejected–because I didn’t meet an apparently-firm requirement that wasn’t listed in the job posting and wasn’t disclosed until the END of the online application process. Had I known upfront I wouldn’t have wasted my time dealing with their system.

    1. Ruffingit*

      UGH, that is so frustrating. I also hate it when they do this in job descriptions. I read through a long job description thinking I meet all the requirements and then I get to the very bottom and it says “Also must be bilingual in Swahili.” UH…really??? That is obscure enough to put at the top therefore saving people the trouble of even reading through the job description since most will not meet that requirement.

      1. Marmite*

        Really any language requirement should be prominently listed, whether it’s Swahili or Spanish.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I agree Marmite. I’m not bilingual so a requirement to be so in any language is going to remove me from the applicant pool. It would be nice to know this upfront.

          1. COT*

            Agreed–especially when it’s not that likely that someone will speak that language.

            I remember I once applied for a position that said Spanish was preferred but not required. However, right away in the phone interview they made it clear that Spanish was required. Being that I don’t speak Spanish, it was a waste of everyone’s time.

      2. 2013 Jobseeker*

        The “also must have X rare talent” ones are super frustrating. The ones that really ticked me off this year were several (at least a half dozen) where after reading through all of the requirements and qualifications — none entry-level, all 40h full-time positions — I found buried way down at the bottom “this is a six-month unpaid position” or “this is an internship with no stipend.” Wow. Just… wow.

        1. KAS*

          I ran across one from a very prominent computer based company that listed 3 years X experience, 3 years Y experience, and 3 years Z experience. At the end of the posting it was an unpaid internship. I couldn’t believe it! Who, with that much experience, would take an unpaid internship?!

          1. Meg*

            Yeah, but for every unpaid internship with spectacular requirements, there’s three well paid full-time jobs with the same requirements in DC area.

        2. Jane*

          Seems like this is unfortunately more and more common these days. Competition for these low-paying or unpaid jobs requiring several years of experience is pretty stiff in some areas. Some of the jobs are even considered prestigious (I’m thinking of the unpaid Special Assistant US Attorneys positions that started to be rolled out in the past few years as an example).

        3. excruiter*

          In the spirit of over experienced unpaid interns, the high volume of applicants has also apparently allowed “entry level” positions to require more than 7 years of experience. Last I checked, 7 years is a long time to be entry level.

        4. Melissa*

          Yes – on the flip, I’m a PhD student and I’ve been looking for some skilled part-time research assistant positions. It’s just supplemental income because I have a fellowship. But while I’ve been looking I’ve seen several skilled part-time jobs that require higher-level degrees but pay like $15/hour. These folks want social workers, lawyers, licensed teachers, doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists to work for them for 20-25 hours a week at $15/hour!

          1. Anonymous*

            Yes, the massive pet peeve of mine with job listings–not putting major requirements in the ad or just listing it as part of the general job description and not deliberately emphasizing in it. If you want someone (for example) with advanced Excel skills and that thrives in a fast paced environment, state that. Just saying “proficient in Excel” (when proficiency is fairly subjective) and leaving out the fast paced environment (when some people may not be looking for that/are able to handle that) are not clear. Be transparent! If some employers spent a little more time fine tuning the listing before making it live, it would save both sides a lot of trouble.

  10. Just a Reader*

    I almost didn’t apply for my current job because the online app was more than 10 pages long, incredibly detailed and very invasive. I decided I wanted the job enough to suck it up but it took HOURS to complete. Blah.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m glad it worked out for you even though the process was grueling. I hope you provided them feedback on that process?

  11. OneoftheMichelles*

    When I read the OP’s example, I visualized a small business owner–possibly paranoid and definitely in their own little world–spending the ridiculous time it would take to CRAFT such an application. Then I read the comments.

    Alison, what do the people creating these unwieldy applications think that they are going to discern? Have you heard some of their reasons?

    1. CatK*

      My guess is they are looking for the “perfect” candidate. I’ve known a few people in hiring manager positions who had laundry lists of qualities the perfect candidate should have – and of course their standards were impossible to meet. Then said hiring manager would bemoan the fact that they could never find anyone good and that the country has having a “talent shortage.” Nope, you’re just impossible to please.

    2. jennie*

      From a recruiting perspective, I’ll give you an example of why some applications might be structured this way.

      For very high-volume recruiting for low-skill positions (retail, call centre, etc.) when you’re filling hundreds of positions a month, the more alike the applications are the easier it is to screen them. So asking for specific dates of employment rather than whatever people choose to put on their resume (just the year) makes it much easier to see who has 3 years experience and who has 2 years, one month. And you can see who has graduated from a school vs who attended, which can be phrased ambiguously on a resume. Not to mention, the information is formatted the same for all candidates, making it easier to parse. No functional vs chronological resumes to decipher.

      Same with all the screening questions. It lets recruiters only deal with the applicants who are qualified rather than reading every single resume.

      The problem is, often companies will set up these high volume efficiency systems to save time, but still use the same application when dealing with higher level positions that are less structured, where you’d consider different types of experience and education. That’s when it falls apart because you’re not dealing with thousands of equally qualified applicants, you’re dealing with higher level professionals who don’t have time to waste on this stuff. And as Alison said, the good ones just won’t bother applying if they have other options.

      So it’s not really laziness, but an attempt at efficiency that backfires.

      1. VintageLydia*

        The issue isn’t the existence of applications and requiring them being answered a certain way, but the application described in the OP, as well as every single retail app I’ve filled out since 2004 or so, ask for things that hiring managers wouldn’t need immediately (SSN or references) or ever (HS GPA, SAT scores, previous salaries, etc.)

        Just because someone is a minimum wage applicant doesn’t mean it’s OK to waste their time with this stuff.

        1. IronMaiden*

          True, and asking people what year they were at kindergarten is a great way to screen out candidates that are “too old”.

        2. 2013 Jobseeker*

          Yeah, this. Online applications are, themselves, fine. It’s the really poorly thought-out, poorly programmed, or offensively invasive ones that are just a waste of everybody’s time.

        3. Meg*

          In defense of retail, asking for HS GPA is typical because a lot of HS students will apply for part-time retail positions, and employers need to know if this is a kind of person who will need to take time off work to work on their grades. Someone with a higher GPA is more likely to be able to juggle part-time employment along with a full-time courseload… or so it was explained to me.

          1. VintageLydia*

            I used to be a retail manager, and though I wasn’t directly involved in hiring, I was close to the ones who were. GPA wasn’t necessarily a good indicator of how well someone did at their job, and all of our high schoolers were extremely part-time anyway (10-15 hours.) Still doesn’t explain why people who’ve already graduated need to reveal their GPA.

      2. fposte*

        I don’t think it really is an attempt at efficiency, though, I think it’s craziness that flies under the “efficiency” banner.

      3. Anonymous*

        I am applying for entry level, low skill jobs.
        How could asking me what nursery school I went to or how I paid for a year at a university 20 yrs ago be “efficient”–let alone relavant?
        These applications don’t look like laziness to me. They must take considerable time/resources to build. (Yet so pointless :’)

        1. jennie*

          Well in my example they aren’t asking for information prior to high school, just asking for more detailed information on dates and degree status than you’d see on a resume. I agree that it’s idiotic to ask for information about elementary school, high school majors, etc. But if the minimum requirement for a job is a high school diploma, I think it’s fine for the application to ask if you have that rather than relying on a resume that may not specify it.

          1. VintageLydia*

            That’s reasonable. The vast vast VAST number of chain retail asks for much more than that.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Honestly, I think it’s a combination of complete thoughtlessness and some cluelessness about how to hire. They think they’re being creative (like that’s a good thing in this context, which it isn’t), and they’re oblivious to why it’s a bad thing to ask all this of candidates.

  12. rw*

    One company’s online application auto-filled fields based on some database and didn’t allow attachments or changing the auto-filled items. My university was young and wasn’t in their database, so I couldn’t proceed. I emailed asking for guidance and they replied, “We prefer candidates not contact us. Please use the online application.” Great. Bullet dodged.

    1. Columbia Grad, x 2*

      Well, my university is one of the oldest in the whole country and some of these online applications have never heard of it either. University of Phoenix, yes. Columbia, no.

      When an online system can only recognize the colleges and universities in the immediate vicinity, that’s not a good sign.

  13. Lizabeth*

    Is there any reason not to email the company via whatever email is available on their website and let them know that you aren’t apply for XYZ because the application process is too invasive for the initial process? I bet if enough people started to do it (referring them to askamanager column on the subject) that things *might* start changing. It would be professionally done without snark.

    1. Kat A.*

      Or email them a link to this letter and discussion. You could use a dummy email address to do it.

  14. College Career Counselor*

    My spouse works in the healthcare field and recently filled out a couple of online job applications for hospital positions in our area. In each case, spouse had been asked to do this so HR could set up an interview.

    In my opinion, most of the data was a complete and utter waste of time and was only asked for because it’s *easy* to ask candidates to go all the way back to the dawn of their time on the planet and ask what their major was in kindergarten. I’m not kidding. They wanted to know kindergarten.

    Because of silly things like this, the online process took over two hours for each application (pretty much every field was required), did not save, did not accept pasted text, had ridiculous required fields (ie, mailing address for jobs from 20 years ago–are you seriously going to send them a hardcopy letter?), and required five references. At least three of those references had to be supervisors–which makes me wonder how someone applying to their 1st or 2nd job would complete the application.

    The kicker was that you after you entered all the information for your references (name, address, phone number, email, and a FULL PARAGRAPH explaining how you had worked with them, how they knew you, etc.), HR sent you another link to do the reference information all over again so your references could be send an email reference form to fill out. That’s right, double data entry for any candidate as a matter of course because of separate systems. But you need a job, so what can you do except capitulate?

    1. Natalie*

      Kindergarten major: alphabet and counting, with concentrations in tag, sprouting beans in jar of water, and finger-painting.

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        We didn’t do sprouting in my kindergarten.
        I had to take remedial sprouting in third grade :'(

        1. Maggie*

          I went to kindergarten way back in 1962. At that time it was pretty much just daycare. So I would say I majored in naps and minored in snacks.

          1. Marie*

            What if your major no longer exists? I majored in “dress-up”, but I think they now call it “dramatic play.”

            1. Guest*

              I didn’t even go to Kindergarten, or Grade 1 or Grade 2. Started right at Grade 3. Where I was born, girls did not go to school. When we moved to a bigger city, my mom was shocked to see the neighbour’s daughter going to school and started sending me too. This was in Asia in the 1960s.

      2. Kelly O*


        So now I have to explain why I still can’t cut in straight lines… stupid fine motor skills…

    2. TheBurg*

      My mother works in healthcare and every job she’s applied for the application seems to take HOURS, and not all of them will save the data for later. I wonder if it’s a healthcare thing.

        1. bob*

          THIS!! And the worst part is that most of the healthcare organizations use 1 of the 2 or 3 largest “talent provider” backends like Taleo who apparently has a bunch of trained monkeys writing their code with no qc or user testing done on it.

    3. Marmite*

      I got kicked out of the British equivalent of kindergarten, so I guess I’m not getting this job.

      1. Chinook*

        The high school I graduated from now only goes to grade 6, so I can only imagine the employers confusion if they called to verify my information.

    4. Elsajeni*

      Arrgh, the mailing addresses! The store where I worked my first job, in college, has since gone out of business. (As far as I can tell — I suppose it’s possible they just moved, but if they did, I have no idea what their new location is.) So my choices are, put in no contact information for them and have the application refuse to proceed, or put in out-of-date contact information for them and look like a liar if anyone tries to contact them to confirm my employment.

    5. Lindsay J*

      And I thought asking for a major and diploma type for high school was bad enough.

      I also hate the specifications with references on job applications.

      Let me give you my supervisor’s contact information from my previous jobs.

      Don’t ask for that information, and then ask for 3 additional work references that are not supervisors or employers. Don’t ask for 5 personal references that know me outside of a work context but that aren’t related to me and don’t live with me.

      After you interview me, if you really need that information then I may give it to you (though I don’t understand why you need to talk to personal references if you’re already talking to work ones – you care what I’m doing at work, not in my private life). I’m not going to hand out the contact information of everybody that I have ever known before you even decided that I’m worth speaking to.

    6. Christine*

      What was your major in kindergarten??? Now I’ve seen everything!! Cracking up, DH is probably thinks I’m nuts. Oh, and FTR – my major in kindergarten was spelling :)

      I’m with Lindsay J below – asking what you studied in high school always had me scratching my head.

      As for references – Actually, I can somewhat see the rationale for requesting this up front. I wonder if it’s a time-saving measure; maybe once they have their final candidates, they have the info at hand already.

  15. Liz in the City*

    I’ve spent a good share of my time in recent years helping my dad apply for jobs online, and I used to rank the various companies he’d frequently apply with (since they were contract positions = OK to apply again) based on how much I despised their online system. Asking where he went to high school, PLUS the address. Asking for a complete work history (his is 30+ years of jobs — really, can’t I line list after 10-15 years?) with supervisors, salary, address and contact info. Some of his old supervisors from his earliest jobs are dead. It’s crap like this and then employers wonder why the “perfect” candidate can’t be found. That candidate took one look at the application system and went somewhere else! /rant/

  16. kasey*

    …and what is with the initial and endlessly long online app that wants your SSN? At this stage? Um, thanks, but I’ll pass.

    1. RLS*

      Also with coffee shops! Honestly, I have always had this silly desire to be a barista part time. I love the Caribou brand and in college I applied to stores more than once. I could ONLY do online applications, and they asked the worst questions (let’s forget the million-page personality test you have to take that tricks you by asking the same question three times with different syntax)…like, how long do you plan to be here?

      For real?! I wanted to try and be a corporate branding drone for you for awhile and just sell bean juice! Sheesh!

      And sadly, now that I am looking for a second job…there are no cutesy little indie shops around…just Starbucks, which I will have a hatred for until my dying day (and well after). Well, that, and Dunkin…but I don’t really call that a coffee shop.

    2. Marmite*

      I am so wary of putting my National Insurance Number on online jobs apps and that’s no where near as big a deal as an SSN. I recently had a couple jobs applications request scans of passport and/or driving license. Um, nope.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        I am pretty sure all my jobs have asked for my NI number. And my last 3 positions I have needed a PVG/Disclosure check too.

        1. Marmite*

          Asking for it once you’re are offered employment yes, it’s required to pay you! I’ve only come across one or two that ask for it at the application stage and I haven’t put it in. I’ve had to do DSB checks for every job I’ve had (I do youth work) but again it’s at the employment not application stage. I’ve also had to have a credit check run against me, but again at employment stage.

    3. Chantel*

      I once applied at a retail store that asked for SSN in an online app. A laptop, containing 125,000 applications, got stolen from the corporate office, and all of us had to be supplied with a year’s worth of identity theft insurance, since all of our unencrypted information was now available to a criminal. I’ll never put my SSN on a job application ever again.

      1. Anonymous*

        At least they owned up to the problem, rather than pretending it never happened.

        1. kasey*

          I should add that I am not certain if companies realize (or care?) about the damage they could do via a tech breach or a smarmy employee. Why would they want that responsibility?

          (in one job) I once saw a huge stack of (quite old) applications w/ all sorts of delicious data, (hard to leave you hanging online)…but, (wait for it…) …..on the floor. A huge stack, as in 100s. I didn’t know they were even there, kinda the stack of weirdness you inherit w/ the new office? Thus were there for months before I even had the time and will to delve deeper. I flipped out. I don’t give my SSN on an initial application. Ever. And I won’t re-apply with just 000s as many HR folks tell me to do, b/c now I just don’t respect you!

  17. Eric*

    I had one that wanted to know (required field, couldn’t leave it blank) what my High School major was. I don’t know how to answer that question.

    1. Steph*

      I ran into this recently and decided to go with the super-informative “General Education.”

    2. LPBB*

      I’ve always typed in N/A, since it is but, maybe I’ll go with General Education from now on.

    3. FormerManager*

      I put down Advanced Studies because that’s what my diploma track was in high school (ours was tiered: Advanced Studies and General Studies).

      Not like “Advanced Studies” says anything about my ability to do the job…

    4. -X-*

      “what my High School major was. I don’t know how to answer that question.”

      Oh come on! That stumped you?

      If you had no major, the answer is “none” or “NA” or “no major” or perhaps “general education.”

  18. Jean*

    Thank you for posting this column. I have the (very faint) hope that some of the people who design these highly frustrating systems will repent and streamline their application processes!

    What I found most frustrating were the fields that could absorb tons of text but only gave you a tiny “rectangle” in which to work. (All text that you’ve previously entered scrolls out of view as soon as you type something else.) To proofread for errors you have to move through the text using the arrow keys and squinting as the 20-25 visible characters slide past your field of vision. Not fun!

    Second most aggravating: Fields that enforce a character limit, but don’t disclose this fact. Third most annoying: Fields that don’t allow pasting.

    I think I am going to follow the example of folks who–viewing this as an early warning about a difficult workplace–SKIP applying for jobs with companies using these methods.

    1. ProcReg*

      I wholeheartedly agree with this!

      I don’t believe HR even looks at the online applications. I fill out the applications that don’t frustrate me, type up a nice letter telling them so (with a resume), and odds are extremely good that I get a phone call.

    2. Natalie*

      “Second most aggravating: Fields that enforce a character limit, but don’t disclose this fact”

      This should be against Internet Law, along with password syntax requirements that aren’t listed unless your password is rejected.

      1. Rana*

        Oh, god. And field boxes that require the information to be entered in a specific fiddly format, with no instructions (such as “dates must be entered as 01-03-2013” – and not 01/03/2013 or 1/3/13 or January 3, 2013, or 3 January 13, or…)

        1. Lynn*

          The fiddly formats should be banned on all web forms. Seriously, it’s 2013. Anyone who cannot pull the numbers out of “0123 4567 8901 2345” should not be working as a programmer. Regex, motherfucker! Do you speak it?

          1. Evan the College Student (now graduated)*

            I’m a programmer.
            I don’t speak regex.
            But I know what they do, and I know where to look them up, and I know that I must use them in situations like these.
            Oh, and I just graduated from college.
            If programmers with (I assume) long experience at these companies don’t know to do this, they should be fired and forced to make their way through six dozen ridiculously-detailed online job applications before finally finding another position.

          2. Meg*

            I’m now going to Photoshop Samuel L Jackson into a polo shirt and glasses with “Regex, mothercucker! Do you speak it?” as a meme and post it outside my cubicle.

          3. Mander*

            “Regex, motherfucker! Do you speak it?”

            OMG, this had me actually laughing out loud. I love the Samuel L. Jackson idea that follows, as well!

      2. Kelly O*

        I will absolutely vote for someone who runs on this platform.

        If there is a character limit, or you need the date or phone number in a certain format — TELL ME UP FRONT.

        If you need a password to have so many characters, and you need me to include a number and a symbol and one of those letters needs to be capitalized — TELL ME UP FRONT.

        There is absolutely nothing worse than filling out what you think is correct, and then having to go back through and “fix” all the things you had no idea were wrong in the first place.

        1. Rana*

          Especially if they don’t tell you why it’s wrong. My husband got one of those this year; it gave you the dreaded Red Asterisk next to the box but no further explanation. And while you could leave boxes blank initially with no penalty, once you entered something in a box, you couldn’t just delete it. You had to correct it. Eventually we figured out what it wanted, but there was much cursing and shouting before that happened.

    3. -X-*

      “What I found most frustrating were the fields that could absorb tons of text but only gave you a tiny “rectangle” in which to work. (All text that you’ve previously entered scrolls out of view as soon as you type something else.) To proofread for errors you have to move through the text using the arrow keys and squinting as the 20-25 visible characters slide past your field of vision. Not fun!”

      If a form is important and allows pasting, type on MS Word or other word processing software with spell check, and do your proofreading there, then copy/paste into the form. As a bonus, you’ll end up with document of the info you entered in the form.

  19. Sniper*

    One thing that I now do is skim through all of the requirements for the application prior to filling anything out. Most ATSs allow you to do this, so I check out what they are asking for before doing anything. At most, it takes me a minute to do and if they are asking for a lot of nonsense, I just move on.

    If I figure figure it will take more than 30 minutes to complete an application, I move on. Because at that point, they are asking for stuff that is not relevant and is just wasting my time.

    1. Marmite*

      I’ve found a lot of them don’t let you skim ahead. I wish on the 30 minutes, but for me that’s too many potentially good jobs missed out on because there are so few applications that can be completed this quickly. A friend of mine just applied for a part-time retail assistant job at a well-known British high street store and the application took about an hour and a half and included a psychometric test.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        Is it a founding British retailer by any chance? I have had a similar experience…

        1. Marmite*

          High street chemist that sounds like a shoe store :)

          I actually worked for them years ago when I was in secondary school. I took the psychometric test needed to apply there now. Failed it. I was an excellent employee and got great references from my managers there!

          1. Carrie in Scotland*

            Oh yes! I couldn’t get passed that stage either.

            I have a fairly recent experience with the retailer that tends to be used as how the retail market is going. It was a waste of time as I put full time with a minimum 28 hours (as in I couldn’t afford to work for less hours) and couldnt work sundays. when it was a group interview/how.do you get on with other people & can you make a shelf.look attractive I said the same only to be offered a job

            1. Carrie in Scotland*

              (cont) as my phone doesnt like the comments box very much….
              I got offered the job with 24 hrs over several days including a sunday.

              I mean, why waste my time? Grrrr.

  20. Kelly O*

    Oh lord have mercy, this is the most ridiculous thing ever.

    One night, I spent over an hour on one application for a rather large, well-known company. I finished the application late one evening, somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 (I don’t recall exactly right now.) By 8:30 in the morning I had an auto-generated response that they had “carefully considered” my application but were rejecting me.

    The other crazy thing was a staffing agency that had an online application that apparently does not matter. I had to fill out a paper application when I arrived, because they had no way of pulling my information from their database, and “sometimes we don’t capture everything in an online application” – so basically I just wasted over an hour of my time filling out your application twice? Seriously, kill me.

    The other thing I hate is the demand that you give them your social, driver’s license, and references before you even meet a person. Nevermind wanting to know my grade school, high school, and related GPAs. And I went to a local community college, so sometimes it’s not listed in the schools either, and trying to find a way around that is a pain in the rear. There have been some things I have purely stopped because the application was such a pain. (And I’ve spent nearly two hours on one application, so that should tell you how patient I’m willing to be.)

    The whole hiring process is jacked. Oh, and get this – I cannot tell you how many times I hear people say “we don’t care about LinkedIn profiles for your level” – so having an active social profile on a professional website is not important for someone potentially handling all these details of running your organization? Okay then.

    1. Ruffingit*

      OMG, that double application thing with the staffing agencies is so ridiculous. It makes me wonder why they even have the online app. Why bother with that if you can’t get any information from it?

      1. FormerManager*

        My favorite records-related staffing agency experience involved a well-known one (global company) that not only lost the photocopies of my SSN and driver’s license (which was the first thing they did when I interviewed) but got my SSN wrong on my W2.

      2. Christine*

        …or don’t bother to print it out. A few years ago, I applied to an industry-specific staffing agency that had a pretty comprehensive application procedure; I think the forms I had to fill out were emailed to me, but could be filled in on-screen. Anyway…I get there and–again, can’t remember exactly–they either forgot to, or couldn’t, print everything out. I didn’t bring my own copies (d’oh!), so it turned into a total waste of my time.

    2. Marmite*

      I feel like giving your SSN, driver’s license, previous addresses, schools etc. is enough for some identity theft potential.

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        I used to work in a credit center.
        I could steal your identity with Way less info than this–and no they shouldn’t be eliciting such crucial data so casually.

    3. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, I recently applied to a large hotel/property management group. Long taleo application, completed between midnight and 2AM. By 9:00AM the next morning I received the message

      “After careful evaluation of your experience and qualifications, we have chosen to pursue other candidates for this specific position; however, you may be contacted for future opportunities as they become available.”

      I’m guessing this is one of those situations where I got kicked by an ATS – someone comes in, runs a report, and auto-rejects everyone not fitting specific criteria – because there was no time for a human to have looked at it at all, never mind carefully evaluating it.

  21. Iknowhowyoufeel*

    I recently filled out the exact same job application. It is called the “Topgrading Method”.

  22. Cali7*

    Once I looked at a nearby city hospital. I am an MSW. They were hiring full-time and part-time MSW’s. I was doing alright until I got to the part where you put in your degree. MSW wasn’t there. You couldn’t continue without answering this question, but you couldn’t select the required degree for those positions they were hiring for. You could however select “animal husbandry” or something like that. I gave up as I’m happily employed and was only looking for a side job or something anyway.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That’s really weird considering they were hiring for the MSW and MSW is a known degree so not having it as a standard choice in a database is weird.

  23. OP*

    This was mine, and it was a mid-sized hospital in Chicago for a nursing position. There is absolutely no reason it’s relevant to the position! I’ve applied to this hospital before and had to have some excess information, which the system remembered, but the really over-the-top stuff was new. Hospitals here all seem to do this but I’ve never seen it quite to this extent before.

  24. Ed*

    My company recently went to a system like this for recruiters. They are no longer allowed to contact any hiring manager directly. They create a profile, fill out a form to submit a candidate and then HR screens them. My manager was complaining to me that it’s almost impossible to fill positions now. All of the local recruiters participate but with the IT market so competitive, we are now at the bottom of their list when placing good candidates. I think recruiters would rather place candidates where they have relationships that promote repeat business and now they can’t form relationships with any of our managers.

  25. Ann O'Nemity*

    Ugh, this reminds me of my own horror story with an overly long online application. And it was done in pages with no progress bar. I’d already invested a lot of time and effort by the point at which I wanted to just quit. On and on it went – all education, all work experience, weird personality questions, long essay requirements. All for a job that probably paid $12-14 an hour. The worst part? A few minutes after submitting, I received a canned email saying that I was rejected due to the volume of applications. WTF?! I couldn’t believe they would set up an automatic rejection but not close down the ability to apply. This may sound petty but I have badmouthed this company’s hiring process and boycotted their products ever since.

    1. Mike C.*

      That’s not petty at all, and is a completely legitimate complaint and response.

      Companies like this should be publicly shamed and mocked for these sorts of practices. It’s not unprofessional either.

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        I wonder if you can search for comments about individual companies’ application processes. Maybe the lousy ones have an online track record you find out about b4 spending 3+ hours on something that isn’t going to work.

  26. ArtsNerd*

    My favorite was a question on whether I consider myself “dominant” or “submissive” in a 4-hour long application I actually bothered to slog through.

    But no room for a writing sample or portfolio, for a “Writer” position.

    1. fposte*

      And the person hiring for the sex worker position was not asked the dominant or submissive question but was required to create a sample press release.

  27. tangoecho5*

    Oh these kinds of online applications suck. I’ve done a few (but not as detailed as the OPs experience) when I needed a job but now that I’m working? I wouldn’t bother.

    What is also a major major PITA is when you do bother to provide page after page of information or take the questionnaires some employers require, when you get to the end or near it, the website freezes up or refuses to accept the application for some reason. So all that time wasted!

    1. 22dncr*

      OR – you get half way through and you get an email thanking you for your application when you haven’t even FINISHED it!

  28. AllisonD*

    I was subjected to an interview of this nature (example, why I chose a particular after school job at the age of 15, etc. etc. ) Note that I was in my early 30s at the time and well established in my career. This senior executive took 13 pages of notes during my interview. I finished the day’s appointments at the company, called the recruiter and said I had ZERO interest is working for these crazy people.

    RUN (fast)

  29. Anonymous*

    I have to admit that our online application is just plain dumb (as an internal applicant, I had to do it for my job even though I had been here for 5 years) and it’s because our HR department is as lazy as they come. They were sold this system and because it was cheap and they don’t vet any applicants, they refuse to do anything about it. It makes the applicant fill in 10 years of job history with every single month to be accounted for, personality tests x 2, fields that truncate, job history fields PLUS uploading a resume/cover letter and some other foolishness that I can’t remember. If you don’t complete the entire thing, it won’t send your information though. It’s the biggest sham I’ve ever seen, so I sympathize with the people who are spending endless amounts of time filling out online applications for lazy HR departments.

  30. louise*

    Scrolled through the other comments and noticed someone else already pointed this out — it’s a Topgrading application. If you get to the in-person interview stage, they’re usually about 3-5 hours long.

    Interestingly enough, while the application feels super invasive (and is!) they use it to make charts and graphs about you. It kind of feels like it’s just for their amusement (because they have entire departments devoted to this type of recruiting and it’s all they do all day long), but OTOH, it really beats getting kicked out of a system for not meeting one little undisclosed criterion.

    I’d love to hear AAM’s opinion on the Topgrading method.

    1. Liz in a Library*

      I just read some of the FAQ’s on their site and I’m still flabbergasted! I just can’t fathom a four-hour chronological interview…the best interviews I’ve had as an interviewer (and resulting best hires) have been fluid conversations where I have plenty of room to move back and forth, dwell in important areas, skip things that are irrelevant…

  31. Jen in RO*

    This thread inspired me to search for jobs again, and turns out that: a. there’s a new one* up; b. they use Taleo. I’ve never filled in an online application, so I’m going to do it out of curiosity. I’ll report back with the results!

    [*My field is tiny around here and there’s usually 1 new job every couple months.]

    1. Jen in RO*

      Ok, this took 15 minutes and it didn’t ask for *any* details – just the companies, job titles and dates. They did let me upload my CV, but… why not just read the damn CV in the first place?

  32. Scott Woode*

    I’m going to +1 AAM’s one word ending to this post. The use of “Boo” was priceless (and made me smile with a little over an hour to go in my work day). :D

  33. HAnon*

    This. I’ve been applying to a job a day for the past few months and I’ve run into a couple that were so intensive (or glitchy!) that I just gave up…like the one I was really interested in, but I had to first find the job through their web agent, then it redirected me to another site where I was supposed to fill out the info, and because of a glitch it wouldn’t save my info and would keep asking me which job I was trying to apply for and redirect me back to the original site.

    After about 4 tries I gave up.

  34. JW*

    On the flip side, I have encountered several online applications recently that let me put in my LinkedIn info and then autofill everything from there. Then I just have to read through to correct any errors that may have occurred, upload or copy/paste a cover letter and submit.


  35. anon*

    I once spent a considerable amount of time filling out an online application for a position, only to be auto-rejected at the “finish” screen because, according to the system message, I didn’t meet their minimum educational requirements. Which was funny to me (I had to laugh to prevent myself from punching my monitor) because the job description had clearly stated, “Bachelor’s degree PREFERRED. An equivalent combination of education and experience will also be considered.” I’m in the middle of finishing my bachelor’s degree and had 4 years related experience.


    If they’d written “Bachelor’s degree REQUIRED”, I wouldn’t have bothered wasting my time.

  36. Anonymous*

    I too like many have abandoned applications due to them being to intrusive. I also refrain from those extensive questionnaires and personality tests. My resume attests for itself and I am not applying for entry level positions so base your judgement of me on my merit. One company that will not be named sends you a massive questionnaire, yet they are ALWAYS farming for resumes.

    1. Lynn*

      I wonder if these things become a vicious circle. I know companies have problems with high school dropouts applying to be nuclear submarine captains and chief of surgery and stuff, and they need some simple way of making the initial cut. So they go to these systems, but then a lot of the most desirable candidates won’t put themselves through all that. Do they get in a vicious circle where they say “80% of our candidates weren’t even close, so let’s make the initial screen more thorough!” And then six months later “90% of our candidates weren’t even close, so let’s make the initial screen more thorough!”

      Maybe not. I just wonder.

  37. Jubilance*

    When I was job hunting I ran into so many applications that left me extremely frustrated because they seemed to want an endless supply of information. At least once a week I’d quit an application halfway through because it seemed to never end.

    I once attempted to apply to a boutique staffing agency, and they wanted information like my SAT/ACT/GRE scores. Once I got to that point, I quit the application.

  38. Acidartha*

    I didn’t read through all the comments but the one thing that really annoys me is when they get you to upload your resume (fine…I get that) and then want you to fill out all the details!!! Some allow autofill but if your resume isn’t formatted to their autofill specifications then it just puts things in random spots and you have to fix it anways.
    It’s almost as if they assume that if I’m looking for a job I have oodles of time to spend on filling out their cockamamy application.

  39. Anonymous*

    Definitely a crying need for onlineapplicationsthatsuck.com – all contributions anonymous, of course.

  40. Ali*

    I applied for a job that asked for my HIGH SCHOOL GPA. I graduated from high school almost 10 years ago…AND…this was a required question! Why does this matter? It was a lower-level office position at a local college…not like I’m applying to be a faculty member or department head!

    1. Whadup*

      I don’t even remember my grad school GPA let alone high school or undergrad. I know the ballpark, but not the exact. I defintely dont remember my SAT or my GMAT scores. I also don’t remember my exact salary history beyond what I’m making right now; and even current salary requires thought since I think more in terms of what my paycheck says every two weeks and not what I pull annually before taxes. I hate all this stuff. Last week I handed in a background check for with asterisks all over it referring to one footnote, *this is an estimate as I don’t remember exact GPA’s, salary’s from 10 yrs ago, or test scores. I’m so jaded by all this BS.

      1. Ali*

        I am so glad I don’t really need this job. I think I want to leave my current career field for lack of good opportunities (I am employed in it now, but the outlook is Not Great), so I threw in the application because higher ed student affairs is a career I have considered. My job pays decent right now and I work for a good company, so if this school doesn’t call me, it’s no worries. I’m being selective this job search try.

  41. Kat A.*

    OMG. I want to print out this letter and your response and send it to every job I’ve had to apply to for the past 7 years or so (except for my current job) because some of them have been enormously ridiculous.

    My current job didn’t require this mess, and that’s one reason I applied.

  42. Erica*

    Recently, I was invited to fill out a candidate survey as a follow-up to submitting application materials. One question asked the extent (on a sliding scale) to which I consider myself a ‘smiler’. I’m not sure what this employer was hoping to get out of such a question.

      1. Kelly O*

        And Theon Greyjoy would ALWAYS have a job.

        Which makes sense, his type usually does…

        /nerd reference

  43. Whadup*

    Ive always thought the overly detailed applications might relate to background checks if you get the job. they want you to tell them where you went to high school and where, etc so that if they offer you the job they have enough info to check you out and not confuse you with someone with the same name. Still, completely horrible and annoying, but this is my guess as to why they ask some of these questions.

    1. Tinker*

      I figured they were asking because they had the same application process for everything from floor mopper to rocket surgeon, or at least started from the same application and only added on from there.

      I don’t recall my high school GPA, but it was of dubious meaning even at the time. There was a four-point system, but you got bonus points for taking the honors courses and the folks aiming for college generally took all of them. Result was that everyone in the top ten somehow had GPAs of over 5 on a supposedly 4-point scale, and you probably had to go down 20% of the class to get a GPA below 4.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, I graduated high school with a 3.99 GPA, and was 99th in my class out of 600.

      2. Kelly O*

        I had the same thing. I had a 4.2 GPA because of AP classes, and was still third in my class.

        1. Chinook*

          I was valedictorian and had a 79% average in grade 12 (no GPA’s in Alberta). Class rankign means nothing if they don’t know your class size (which was 7 and I was the only one taking the academic stream though I did tutor my friends through a chemistry class I never took ).

        2. TheSnarkyB*

          Exactly, I had a 2.7 in high school… But at a top 5 (nationally) high school, having taken some of the hardest courses available. Am now getting an Ivy League master’s. (Im like a blowfish: I only get pretentious when threatened!)
          But that definitely took me out of the running for multiple jobs with those apps.

  44. Jane*

    I find having to draft a cover letter and update my resume to be hard enough without adding in all of these additional requirements!

  45. Mike C.*

    You know what the best part about this is? All the companies which then whine and complain about not being able to find any talent and how it’s the fault of everyone else but themselves.

  46. Anonymously Anonymous*

    I loathe them. Matter fact I’m boycotting the whole online application process. I may never find a new job…
    I have so many fragments of applications online that I refuse to create another friggin account. I never got a called back from any of the ones I completed however I got a rejection email from one place that I didn’t even complete the application. If I see that ‘apply now’ button I skip that listing unless it has alternative method of applying (ie emailing, fax or mail)

    1. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve never gotten a job from an online application.

      For retail, etc, I have much better luck going in and looking presentable, and filling out an application there. I’ve filled out an application, been interviewed, and offered a job on the spot more times that I have even been interviewed based on an online application I’m pretty sure.

  47. Anonymou*

    There are really two aspects that are at issue with these systems. One is the ridiculous amount of data that is requested, and the the other is the fact that companies allow computers to screen their applicants with no human intervention.

    My own irritating experience was an application that went on for more pages than I wanted to count, took hours, and ended by requiring you to fill in your salary requirements for the job before you had an informed idea of what it really entailed. The only reason I didn’t quit in the first hour of this ordeal was that a key contact had suggested I apply, and I had to write back and say “Thank you so much, I applied right away” instead of “Thanks for thinking of me, but I couldn’t be bothered to fill out the online application” if I was every going to get another lead or recommendation. The process was hell.

    In a second example, my uncle (a retired chief of police) was asked to help out FEMA. He agreed, and had been on the job more than a month (hiring expedited by humans who knew his qualifications) when he received an automated response to his online application explaining that he was not qualified for a position.

    1. Noah*

      Two weeks ago I received an auto-response from the company I work for.

      “We appreciate your interest in the position of ‘my current position’. However, at this time we have decided to move forward with other applicants. Thank you for the time and effort invested in your application and we hope you will apply for future openings.”

      The crazy part is that the position did not exist until 12 months ago. It was created for me after I finished my degree and I was the only candidate, they didn’t even post the job. It was an internal promotion. No one in HR can explain why this message was sent out.

  48. Columbia Grad, x 2*

    Ok, I was trying to add this comment above to the section where people were talking about kindergarten and someone said: “I love this site!” I wanted to say: me too.

    But I will add my miserable comments about being a teacher and applying to different districts. I have applied to quite a few and since there is no central place for listings – because they are all special snowflakes and want you to seek them out – I have had to burrow through each unique and horrible online application system.

    The worst application was 27 pages long. Did you hear that????!

    27 PAGES long!!!!

    They did not call me for an interview.

    I have had some excellent jobs and I am an experienced and excellent person. : ) But without exception the best jobs I have had came from personal introductions of my own where I met someone or spoke to them on the phone or whatever. My own personal interactions and the strength of my simple resume did it – for the best jobs.

    When I see 27 pages of misery staring at me, I also see a crappy work environment that is disrespectful of me before they have even met me. If I make the mistake of going to the interview (which I do because you can learn alot from an interview), then sadly this disrespect is often consistent.

    Again – the best interviews and the best jobs I have had are simple, straightforward, professional and respectful for both sides. That starts at the application/initial contact stage and carries through all the way to the day resign.

    The best applicants definitely will not tolerate this abuse, if they have other options.

    Thanks for posting this comment, it is very timely!

    1. Chinook*

      Columbia Grad, up in Canada there are a couple of companies that school boards use that the user must pay to submit their applications. On the plus side, you only have to put in the information once and you will get regular updates about any job openings. On the downside, you have to pay to use the process and per application and those school boards will not accept applications any other way.

      There is something so very wrong with having to pay to simply apply for a job.

    2. TheSnarkyB*

      Columbia x2, since you’re in education, I wonder if you went to TC? And if you have thoughts on their career office and the damned Stall Street Journal?

  49. Lindsay J*

    I like the ones that ask what your major and what type of diploma you got from high school. (And there is a separate spot to indicate if you got your GED or not, so that’s not what it’s asking.)

    I always just put general high school in both those slots because I can’t really imagine what they are looking for there.

    1. Anonymous*

      When I went to high school in New York State (1960s) students could earn a high school diploma or a Regents diploma. College-bound students who passed all the Regents exams for the courses they took (including a required core of courses) could be awarded a Regents diploma.

  50. EnnVeeEl*

    208 comments, four syllable expletives and companies still continue to do this crap. I noticed how bad the application process was when I was unemployed and it was kind of my job to fill out online applications. Since then, when I come across applications asking for references up front (what for?), all kinds of things that aren’t anyone’s business or relevant, or they just make it too hard, I pull out of the process and don’t apply.

    My most recent amusing application story was a company that had a link “apply here.” I clicked on it and it was supposed to pull up an email address or application, but it was in Outlook. I don’t have Outlook on my laptop. I thought it was kind of silly. A lot of people probably don’t have Outlook on their home computers, and I sure as heck ain’t applying to a thing at work. It just seemed cheap and janky and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I showed it to my husband for fun and he was like, “I can download Outlook to your laptop.” Again, what for? I told him not to waste his time, because I wasn’t going to. I wonder how many good applicants saw that and passed. Why not post the email address or use an application system? A lack of common sense with really simple things doesn’t bode well.

  51. Lindsay J*

    Also, I hate the ones that ask for the specific day of the month that you started a job.

    I understand asking for a month and year, but am I really supposed to remember what day in May I started working a job I had for a few months as a 16 year old in 2002?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Agreed, I hate the detailed information that makes no sense to ask for. In cases like that, I just choose the first of the month since they require that you put down a day.

    2. Liz in the City*

      I just attempted to fill out another one for my father (who’s a contractor). He’s had jobs since 1980. And yes, they do. I’ve started just putting in the 1st of whatever month it was.

  52. Greg*

    On the bright side, I’m sure the National Security Administration really appreciated that company’s efforts. :-)

  53. Eliza*

    Maybe you could sent up an system similar to your email-your-interviewer campaign where readers could submit the company’s contact email to you and you would automatically send them a letter explaining them why they should stop hiring this way (basically what you just said here). I know I would LOVE to be able to do that when I across these types of applications.

  54. Greg*

    Haven’t read through all 250 comments to see if someone else has made this point, but my rule for job application forms is to fill out as little information as I can get away with. For example, you usually can put the name of the employer and dates worked; you don’t really need to paste in every bullet point from your resume. And if they make information required, I’ll just put in filler text ($0 for salary, “upon request” for references, etc.)

    I suppose a computer could end up dinging me for stuff like that, but I doubt a human screener would. I simply can’t imagine someone saying, “Looks good, solid experience … what’s this? No SAT score? He’s out!” And honestly, that’s a risk I’m willing to take in order to not waste precious minutes out of my life.

  55. evr*

    Over the course of the last few years, I’ve learned to just skip applying for jobs that ask for extra crap in the application/selection process. They always seem to be misguided and/or run by the types of people I don’t want to work for.

  56. ew0054*

    It can get to the point of excruciating. I have been helping my mother apply for jobs, and they have PAGES of survey questions that are all similar, with the 5-point scale of Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree.

    I feel this is counter-productive because after some time, you are just checking neutral on everything just to get through it.

  57. Beth Anne*

    One job I applied for (a govt job no less) had a question: “What makes a job fun?” I had NO IDEA how to answer it because what if what I say isn’t how this job is?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, you don’t want to tailor your answer to what you think they want to hear — you want to be honest, because that’s how you avoid ending up in a job that’s a bad fit.

      1. ew0054*

        I couldn’t agree more.

        The first six months at my current job were my “happy place.” I seriously thought I could stop hopping.

        But the last six months have been miserable due to change in structure. I am only kidding myself by telling myself it’s ok.

  58. Manda*

    It’s so relieving when the instructions just say to send your resume and cover letter by email. Almost every time I apply through an online system, I’m caught off-guard by something or other. I applied for a job at some company and I believe the application system was ulrtrarecruit. I pasted the text from my resume and below the box was a button that said, “parse resume,” if you wanted it to populate the fields itself. I didn’t trust it but I was curious. The stupid thing couldn’t even figure out that contact info is usually all at the top. I think a company name went into the address box and my postal code went where my email should have been, or something ridiculous like that. One page asked for a formatted resume as well. Below the upload button were instructions on how to upload more than one document, which seemed odd. I expected the next page to ask for a cover letter but it didn’t and soon enough the application was done. I was pissed that I wasted all that time writing it up and I didn’t even get to include it. I eventually applied for a different job at the same company, at which point I had made changes to my resume. Turns out, there’s no way to replace the old one. I uploaded the new version but it didn’t replace the file. There were two, and I couldn’t delete the first. I didn’t want the job that badly so I decided, screw it, and I logged out. Well, then I got an auto-response email saying my application was received. What? I didn’t even complete it. What if I had planned to continue later? Logging out without finishing should not be considered a submitted application.

    1. ew0054*

      That’s why an address and contact name is the best way for me.

      I agree, these resume auto-fillers have room for improvement. The most-often problem I have is the jobs and dates get mixed up.

      It takes so long to do it on the computer. I could have printed and mailed 10 resume/cover letters in the time it takes to submit one application online to any of the big companies.

  59. Rachel*

    Seems we’re all in agreement for once. Long application forms that ask for a lot of irrelevant information up front before you’ve even spoken with an actual human being serve only to make HR filing clerks feel important. It has no benefit in terms of attracting talent. I can’t see me ever being desperate enough to play along. One position I saw advertised recently asked for three referees, and warned that said referees “could be called before interview”. Guess you’re not interested in hiring anyone that already has a job and doesn’t want their existing boss knowing that they’re applying for jobs before a conditional offer is on the table, then. It’s hard to believe that there are companies this stupid out there. I can only imagine their HR departments are just going through the bureaucratic motions to justify their continued existence.

  60. Pat M*

    I don’t want to identify myself because I am embarrassed.

    I recently received a job application that is asking for the dates I attended high school and college. I graduated from high school over 40 years ago, so you know how old that makes me.

    I figure if I am honest and fill out the application truthfully, I will be screened out immediately due to my age. I am experiencing many financial hardships and I really need a job.

    The application also asks if I have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor and the sad truth is that I have. Some applications only ask for convictions during the past 7 years. The conviction was in 2007, so that was 6 years ago. The city I live in is very strict and I was convicted in housing court for failing to make repairs to my property by the deadline. I was sentenced to 6 months in jail and fined $1,000, but I did not have to serve any jail time or pay the fine because I corrected the violations by the next deadline.

    The failure to maintain my property was considered a criminal offense.

    If all that isn’t bad enough, my credit history is lousy due to long-time unemployment. I received unemployment benefits for only 4 weeks, then my former employer contested the award and my benefits were rescinded. I never did pay back the funds that were given to me. I can’t afford to.

    So that is the miserable situation I’m in. I suppose I will be truthful in filling out the application. I won’t get hired anyway.

    There are organizations studying the causes of homelessness. How about long-term unemployment? Ya think?

  61. Anna Mouse*

    Several applications have literally taken me the entire day to fill out and yes I ate lunch while working on the computer filling out forms. Multiple people warned me about one employer but I was out of options so I applied anyway. Filled out an insanely long application and two weeks later I received a message that the bank updated their server and deleted all files. They went on to mention I could apply again if I was still interested. Gee thanks.
    After a while I started tracking my applications to see if I could save some time. I did create several cover letters, questions everyone seems to ask, list continuing ed courses, and so on – to cut and paste into job applications but I still end up working 15 hour days – if not pulling an all nighter. No seriously, I have literally pulled all nighters filling out applications. Crazy, no? Adding insult to injury are the people who make comments about how “nice” it must be to have “SO MUCH TIME OFF.”
    One time I just finished up yet another interview, with the thanks but no thanks line and went up to a small law firm to ask if they needed any help. A kind older portly gentleman said he could give me some money. He told me to find his friend who worked in the mall. His friend gave me a makeover and I found out that I don’t look half bad in makeup – even if I still look like a drag queen. So after “networking” with the lawyer on a stained couch in the alleyway, I had gas money. Yah, new economy and my word are acrylic nails hard to get off! Oh and don’t bother slamming me, there are literally no more rungs down the ladder I can fall.

  62. cliff*

    These so called employers with all these strange and ridiculous questions may not even be employers at all, but some silly prankster who has nothing better to do.

  63. Carmen*

    These online job applications are just too invasive. They ask questions that should not even be asked on an application. Things that I would be expected to answer if I actually got the job and filling out orientation paperwork.

    I just exited out of the middle of an online application that was asking me for emergency contact info, extensive educational background, college major, if i’d be willing to screen for drugs within the next 24 hours, what I do throughout the day, if I had any periods of extended unemployment, and why. If I’ve ever been self-employed, If I’ve ever applied to Medicare, if I’ve had the same address for the past 4 years, if I have ever been default on student loans! Seriously, why would a measly retail job need to know about my financial history like that? It’s invasive and disrespectful… Then finally, the “whats your race” question… I feel like those questions are made for statistical purposes, not employment. But to top it all off, THEN they want me to take a personality test consisting of 85 questions that will take “between 45-65 minutes,” and to “work quickly!” I just stopped; I refused to do anymore.

    1. Beth Anne*

      OH I totally agree!! There have been several applications I’ve just exited out. Why can’t we just email a resume and cover letter and be done with it?

  64. UhNoNo*

    Ive had it up to here- with online apps they do ask to many personal questions and to think they would just completely look over your app ive spent nearly an hour on a single app before and as soon i ive submitted the app minutes later i got an automated email telling me tht they hav chosen a more qualified candidate i was baffled i felt like i totally met all of the requirements its definitely total disrespect and mockery!!!!

  65. kristine*

    i agree wholeheartedly! i think it is VERY disrespectful to waste applicant’s time with questions that should be asked during the interview. many places that require an exorbitant amount of information in the initial application already have less than qualified people working there, so obviously it doesn’t work. i have come across this and it truly deters people who are highly educated and qualified because we know our worth and the resume speaks for itself!

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