April 1, 2016 |

Hiring: Apply Online

By Daniel P. Smith

Should you adopt online applications?


Three years after opening Slice of the 80’s in Westland, Michigan, Adam Matt had enough.

Matt tired of the laborious process of managing paper job applications. He grew weary of running off copies each time he needed to refresh his current stack or revise his customized employment application with a more specific question. He hated the risk of losing a paper job application and, potentially, a qualified employee.

So in 2011, Matt went digital. He placed an “apply online” button on his pizzeria’s Web site and hasn’t looked back since.

“The online applications are more efficient, more convenient and just a cleaner, better process all around that helps us look like a more modern and professional operation,” Matt charges.

William Walker knows the paper-to-digital shift as well.

Walker has been accepting online applications at his two Old Shawnee Pizza locations in suburban Kansas City since 2003 –– a relative pioneer in the effort. He considers online applications “seamless.”

“I’ve been doing it this way for 13 years and would never go back to paper,” he says. “I see every completed application and can better assess candidates.”

Here are five reasons operators are ditching paper applications in favor of the digital variety and one big element to consider before making the switch:

• Immediate access to candidates. Every time a new prospect completes an application for Slice of the 80’s, Matt and his three managers all receive the application. That quartet can then flag the best prospects and follow up in quick time.

Erin Powell, business development manager for Snagajob, a human resources tech company for hourly employment, calls the ability to get an applicant’s information immediately into the hands of hiring personnel a key advantage for restaurants.

“When you have a good applicant, you want to be able to move ASAP,” Powell says.

• Deeper applicant pool. Since debuting online applications, Matt reports an uptick in applicant numbers and says he’s been able to cast a wider net for prospective employees, an important edge given the industry’s inevitably high turnover.

“There’s always a steady flow of applications trickling in and I can archive them, interview them or even overstaff if I find a great candidate,” Matt says.

Operators can encourage prospects to apply online by broadcasting the message on pizza boxes, receipts, social media, pizza toppers and more.

“It’s much easier to invite candidates to apply by providing an online link rather than asking them to come in and grab an application,” says

Nathan Shackles, CEO of ApplicantStack, an applicant tracking system designed for small and mid-sized businesses.

• Accurate information. Online applications eliminate legibility issues and many software providers like ApplicantStack flag incomplete data, which allows a manager to avoid scrambling for information himself.

“The last thing you want is to not be able to contact a promising prospect simply because he forgot a digit in his phone number or you misread his email address,” Shackles says.

• Specific questions answered. While operators can certainly get specific with their questions on a paper application, it’s an easier, more convenient process online.

Matt’s Slice of the 80’s application, for instance, features the precise questions Matt wants answered, such as a candidate’s availability, schooling, experience with restaurant equipment and previous employment.

“This minimizes a lot of back and forth and makes sure I’m taking the next step with the right candidates,” Matt says. He adds that he enjoys the fact that he can revise and update his application within minutes.

Owners can also employ what Shackles calls “knockout questions,” basic screening questions, such as whether the applicant holds a valid driver’s license or is over 21, to ensure leadership reaches out to viable candidates. Shackles urges operators to visit their job descriptions and translate each role’s tasks into application questions. (He also suggests operators consult legal counsel to ensure the pizzeria is following all necessary laws and guidelines.)

Similarly, the right questions can show an employee’s eligibility for the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which can provide $1,200 to $9,600 for hiring individuals from certain designated groups.

Yet owners should avoid getting too extensive, Snagajob’s Powell cautions, especially as national unemployment hovers near five percent.

“You want to lower the barriers for applicants so you can get people into the system,” Powell says.

• Onboarding efficiencies. The online application can also help downstream. With the press of a button, operators using ApplicantStack, for instance, can invite promising candidates into the store for an interview rather than sending individual e-mails. The ApplicantStack system can also collect key data upfront so operators can quickly conduct background checks.

• Trading print for digital. For online application’s many benefits, Matt admits there’s an important trade-off in moving from paper to digital.

“We hire for personality and having a paper application generally allows for direct interaction and an opportunity to feel someone’s vibe before granting an interview,” he says. “Plus, coming in to fill out the paper application shows initiative.”

Walker, too, sometimes laments the absence of direct personal connect, especially since 98 percent of Old Shawnee applicants apply online.

“You definitely lose that dynamic,” Walker admits. “It’s nice to see how someone speaks and carries themselves.”

To combat this limitation, the forward-thinking Walker has contemplated adding a video piece to his online application, an opportunity for him to assess how applicants present themselves.

“It’s a down-the-road idea, but one I’m thinking about because getting a better sense of someone’s personality is important in this business,” he says.

Chicago-based writer  Daniel P. Smith  has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.