Job hunting’s terrible UX

All the reasons why looking for a job is such a bad experience

Think
12 min readOct 20, 2022
Flames raging in a corporate dumpster, that is your job search.
dumpster_fire by Philip Neustrom

There are a lot of parts to this topic, so here’s an Outline of all the aspects I cover in further detail below:

Janky job sites

  • Janky bugs and compatibility
  • Janky forms and flows
  • Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
  • Application treated as war with an arms race

Terrible job descriptions

  • Aspirational and idealistic postings
  • Typos and copy-paste errors
  • Opacity and more opacity
  • Tone deafness

Demeaning interactions

  • Lack of agency
  • Lack of respect
  • Lack of feedback
  • Bias and more bias

A cluster of middlemen

  • Too many job sites and “profiles”
  • Too many recruiters
  • Subcontractors and staffing agencies

Corporate trends of evil

  • Layoffs for profit
  • Layoffs for social engineering
  • “Restructuring”
  • Monopolies and automation

Janky job sites

The first barrier to looking for a job online are the sites that contain the listings and manage how you apply. Most of them seem to be pretty iffy, both in basic technology and with interface decisions. The only standards they seem to adhere to are that they’re difficult, ill conceived, and not maintained.

Janky bugs and compatibility

Sites that host jobs for companies are some of the most bug-ridden messes I’ve encountered online. How can they be this way? Well, no one wants to invest in something they’re done with as soon as the role is filled. Then there’s the fact that job seekers are using it because we have to. There really is no choice but to plod through these janky sites in order to apply.

Here are some details of their failings:

  • Sites that don’t work with modern browsers. Either things just fail to work or the method they use to check for browser compatibility is so old, you get a message blocking your progress, saying “You need to update to a new browser, like IE 6.” as if we’re going to use a long-dead browser.
  • Sites that don’t work well or at all on mobile browsers. This is particularly disappointing applying for companies in the mobile space, hiring you for mobile work.
  • Sites that have long multi-part forms that let you reach the very end, then fail to submit because they’re using some javascript for only this part, that breaks on your browser. So, you have to go through the whole process again with another browser, hoping it won’t have the same problem at the very end.
  • Similarly sites that get part way through, then fail to let you continue. Sometimes different parts will fail on different browsers. Even more fun!

Janky forms and flows

Thinking more about just the forms and the pain they inflict—there’s a lot of questionable, outdated, unhelpful, and unnecessary experiences baked into them:

  • Forms that force you to enter all the information that’s already in your resume and/or LinkedIn profile—which is the primary information you’re applying with. No ability to import this info or assume it’s actually present in your resume/profile. Why bother submitting a resume when I’m forced to copy paste the whole thing in, field by field? Oh right, because the resume upload is another required field. Great. That brings us to…
  • Endless forms. Endless wizardized forms. Dozens of questions on every page. Page after page of questions. No way to tell what is going to be asked for or how long it might take. Forms that make you spend minutes to hours hunting down the info they want. Not only does this waste a lot of time, it also shows you…
  • Forms that time out before you can complete them. No ability to save your progress, allow you to return, or help you through this timeout in any way. Why do they even have a timeout in the first place? Useless.
  • Forms that will not allow you to apply for a job unless you create an account. If you’re lucky, there are no bugs with the joining process and you’re just left with another login that you’ll never use again. If you’re not, then you’re stuck, unable to apply because you can’t join.
  • Next is a small thing but still irritating because it should be so easy to fix: Forms that don’t pre-fill the job I’m applying for. I mean the job title is right there, either on the same or previous page. Really, that’s too hard?
  • I’ve seen forms that expect you to hand over your Facebook account. That’s just not acceptable.
  • Lastly, forms that want everything as an attachment. There’s this thing out there… I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, called “The Web” and it allows you to share things with something called “a link”. All kinds of job application info now can be shared this way. It’s quite magical.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

These are the worst possible thing for humane hiring practices. The ATS reduce all the info you enter into a jumble of keywords that get ranked by frequency to how well they match the keywords of job descriptions.

So basically the ideal resume is a job description. Nice one.

Choices to make your resume nice to read? Lost.

Formatting to make your resume look nice? Gone.

Sending anything but a software overlord Word doc? Scrambled.

Job application treated as war—with an arms race

So what ends up happening with everyone slapping an ATS between themselves and their applicants? Well after getting a stream of people who just happened to be stuffing keywords into their resumes—you get people who try to intentionally game the matching machines. First individually and then at scale. Automated (or cheap labor) keyword stuffing. An arms race of people who refuse to talk with one another, choosing to build systems that fight each other.

  • Job seekers are treated like spammers: to be filtered, sorted, ignored, lost, and kept back with all manner of intentional and accidental friction.
  • Job seekers get so little feedback, they feel the need to spam their resume to as many organizations as possible and follow up repeatedly.
  • Companies and staffing agencies so often keep the name of the organization secret, making any kind of meaningful tailoring of the application impossible.
  • Companies put more and more byzantine steps between job seekers and the job: giant forms, new accounts, tons of background info, multiple levels of phone screening and interview loops, “test” work, etc.

This arms race only escalates. No good can come of it.

Terrible job descriptions

When you’re looking for work, the “job description” is often the first and only thing you see. There has been no real improvement in this form of communication, ever. The most they do now is have some sales-speak at the beginning with a few tone deaf buzzwords.

Aspirational and idealistic postings

Any guesses about why job seekers try to stretch the truth as far as it will go in their applications? It’s a direct result of the unrealistic tone and contents of most job descriptions. One moonshot deserves another.

Most often they’re asking for someone who doesn’t actually exist on Earth. In cases where they’ve been a little more grounded, idealism often returns in the interview process, making job seekers tell lie after lie about how they just loooove the company and working so hard, all the usual BS.

Typos and copy-paste errors

What’s more frustrating than getting your application rejected because of a typo? Getting it rejected after seeing typos in the job description. Double-standards like this are just as outrageous as they are common.

Opacity and more opacity

Want to know who to address with your application? Maybe to include a formal salutation in a well crafted cover letter? Sorry! No name available for anyone who might be looking at your resume after it miraculously makes its way through the machine.

Oh, and did you want to actually know what company you’re applying for? Why in God’s name would you want THAT? To maybe look them up and see if there’s anything you could use to personalize your application? Pah! Who does that anymore? Just concentrate on stuffing your keywords, peasant!

Tone deafness

Applying for a software dev job? Better put some copy from the Sales department in there! They’ll love that!

Different job types have different, what I call, “professional cultures”. It’s best not to get them confused and crossed—but that’s exactly what I see happening all the time. When a posting is all gung ho about this or that, it really does nothing to grab most qualified job seekers. It’s definitely a turn off, something we have to wade through in order to see the set of fantastical requirements.

Demeaning interactions

Lack of agency

When you’re a job seeker, it is made very clear that no one is seeking you. Everything shouts to you, “This is a buyer’s market. You are a cheap commodity and we have all the power. Submit! SUUB-MIIIIIIT!”

From the way every job site is constructed, to the words chosen, to the basis of communication that all parties participate in—the message is that the job seeker is but a necessary nuisance. You are not in control of much, nor can you initiate much. They force you into the same corridors of bureaucracy and obtuse neglect. Your only real choice is whether you want to stop trying. That doesn’t make us feel very self-determined, guiding our own fate.

Lack of respect

Along with having so little control, you’re put in the position of basically begging for a job. Even when the people speaking with you do clearly respect you, the structure and the process removes any excess from you. In most situations, any air of a level playing field is really just false confidence on the part of the job seeker. We absorb a lot of disrespect as job seekers that we wouldn’t put up with in any other situation.

Lack of feedback

I don’t have data to back this up but I assume that most job seekers apply for a large number of jobs, hear back from only a handful, and get offers from only 1 or 2. Since selling yourself is a particular skill—many feel it’s an odd skill—it would make sense to expect some kind of feedback to know maybe, if you’re doing something that isn’t working?

The thing is, I think most people go through this whole thing and get hired without knowing:

  1. What details of their application and interviews got them hired.
  2. What other details got them rejected; both by the people they heard back from and all the others that couldn’t even muster a robo-rejection.

So how are you supposed to know what to do next time? And if you didn’t get hired yet, how are you supposed to know what you need to improve? It could literally be anything!

Bias and more bias

Beyond the demeaning aspects that are nearly universal, there’s the most special aspect of horrible biases. Let’s list them, shall we?

  • Racism: Have an “ethnic” looking name? Your resume ends up in the trash. Have black or brown skin? You’ll have interviewers passing over you after privately using phrases with their colleagues like “didn’t feel safe” or “seemed too intense” or “donno about their work ethic”. If you do manage to get hired, you’ll be one of the first to get laid off.
  • Sexism: Being a woman will get you passed over and paid less. Even more so if you mention pregnancy.
  • Agism: Look or sound young? You must be inexperienced. Too old? You probably aren’t cut out for being overworked and trying anything new. Clearly you can’t be hired.
  • Classism, ablism, genderism, etc.: You’re seen as “different” from everyone already there, so clearly you won’t be “a good fit” either.

And that’s not all! Biases are the gifts that keep on giving. If you do manage to get hired, these stigmas and behaviors will follow you throughout your time at this job. Peachy!

A cluster of middlemen

Lastly there’s “the cluster”. The growing futile mass of people leeching off the chasm between job seekers and potential employers. On a good day, they’ll help you past the aforementioned barriers. On a bad day though, they’re colliding against one another in a ballroom of doom.

Too many job sites and “profiles”

If you start looking for jobs and applying for them, you’ll soon find that there are a lot of sites that host the job listings. Most of them, big and small, want you to join and make a “profile”: basically another form like part of the job applications but you still have to fill out separately. Profiles usually don’t auto-populate job applications or vice versa. You also usually can’t import profiles from one job site to another. Or have one shared between them. LinkedIn probably comes the closest to this but even that compliance is rare and shaky.

Just know that you’ll have to fill out your same information over and over and over across all these sites. Then years later realize that they still have your ancient info still searchable on the web. Good luck regaining access to your old profiles!

Too many job sites and recruiters

So with job seekers joining and looking on multiple job sites—guess what employers do? They POST to multiple job sites. Those posts also get picked up by dozens of recruiters.

Quick test: Which version of it will reach you first?

a. The posting on job site 1

b. The posting on job site 2, 3, or 4

c. The independent recruiter you’ve spoken to before

d. The random recruiter calling/emailing from who knows where

e. The staffing agency you haven’t spoken with in a while

The answer: No way of knowing!

Bonus: If you don’t happen to notice they’re the same job and apply using more than one of the above methods—most employers will automatically reject you!

Subcontractors and staffing agencies

The last part of the cluster is the ambiguity around who you’re actually talking to at any stage of the process. At worst you’re talking to the cheapest of 3rd party matching software and at best you’re chatting with the actual person making the decision to hire you. Everyone in between could be another decision maker, a colleague, a partner, a contractor, a subcontractor, an independent agent, an algorithm, a small staffing agency, or a conglomerate agency.

With so many roles and agendas at varying degrees away from the actual people you might be working with—it can take a lot of unnecessary energy to code switch between all these people (and robots).

Corporate trends of evil

In our society, member of the same economic class interact more with one another than with other layers. One of the more disgusting dynamics of that, is that these rich people in control of companies do all kinds of immoral things together, starting trends that ripple through industries. They’ll be at some elite party, conference, what have you — and they’ll say something like, “We’re about to announce a round of layoffs. That should net us a good margin this quarter, with all the forecasts we’re seeing this season.”

Then someone else will say, “Yes I agree, the time is right for downsizing.”

A month later, you get mass layoffs. From the outside this could seem like unfortunate reactions to lost earnings or something. But no, it’s an engineered problem born out of rich guy social isolation, peer pressure, and jousting.

The results the rest of us see from all of this is that the job market gets even worse, with rapid floods of suddenly fellow job seekers, fresh from these layoffs. Yeah thanks, so helpful for all of us. Ugh.

Layoffs for profit

For quite a while now, companies have learned that every so often, they can make some short term profits for themselves and shareholders by firing a bunch of employees. Does this also hurt their ability to produce products? Certainly. Does it result in brain drain, dooming companies to keep making critical mistakes by way of collective amnesia? Of course. But it also pays for a new executive yacht and a dozen lobbyists.

Layoffs for social engineering

You know what scared the shit out of most rich people? When they discovered recently that the job market had briefly become an “employees’ market”, where companies had to actually appeal to job seekers. During the depths of covid, a large number of workers had the mental space from the usual rat race of everyday capitalism to wake up and realize, “You know what? My job sucks. It has always sucked. I want to do something different. I’ll go switch jobs right now.”

They did that and it caused rich bastards to majorly freak out all over the news. They called it the “Great Resignation” and it’s been the only thing to scare them as much as professional unions. Since they knew right away that they do not want to be pandering to job seekers — I think that’s a huge reason why were seeing so many layoffs in the wake of that. Fire enough people and it becomes an “employers’ market” again. When the job market sucks, companies are sitting pretty.

Once again they can overwork, underpay, harass and otherwise oppress their workers because they’re afraid to lose their current job.

“Restructuring”

This is one of many terms that are just synonyms attempting to obfuscate the fact that they’re firing people for no reason good for anyone but executives and/or shareholders. Either it’s for one of the reasons already mentioned or it’s just dysfunctional leadership (which in most cases, is a synonym for leadership).

Monopolies and automation

What’s worse than layoffs based on childish behavior? Losing whole positions or professions because they’ve been eliminated through consolidation and/or robotics and AI! If they can remove a competitor by buying them and scrape off as many employees as they can, the DOJ will let them in most cases. If a machine or chatbot can cost less than paying you, you’re history.

So yeah, that makes it harder to find a job because those jobs have just disappeared.

In conclusion…

So yeah, it pretty much blows in every way. It’s been like this for far too long and it’s high time more of us realize just how bad it is—so that we have a chance of figuring out some better ways of going about this whole activity.

Do you know any other ways it’s bad for you and hundreds, maybe thousands of other job seekers? Have any solutions?

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