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Online applications can save time, paper

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The number of unemployed Pennsylvanians was at 530,000 in September, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. That's a lot people looking for jobs — and, once upon a time, a lot of paper applications.

Many companies have turned to online job application systems, which eliminate the paper and allow job seekers to apply from almost anywhere. These systems make the process easier and more efficient for those doing the hiring, representatives with two local companies said.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. uses an online system for stores nationwide, including its midstate locations. Job seekers can apply for open positions online or at kiosks within stores.

The technology has allowed Bon-Ton to become more efficient, and storage is streamlined, said Tom Slaski, divisional vice president of talent acquisition.

"The paper applications became a major issue between space and the ability to get data quickly," Slaski said. "We fill about 27,000 jobs a year. That's a lot of applications and a lot of paper."

Several local colleges, including Dickinson College in Carlisle, use online systems as well. Candidates can apply for jobs online or at a kiosk in the human resources office, said Steve Riccio, Dickinson's director of staff development.

Here, too, the savings on paper is important, from an efficiency and sustainability perspective, he said.

Online job applications allow better access to a prospective employee's information. Once someone applies for a job with either Bon-Ton or Dickinson, that information remains accessible to those hiring, even if it is not for the job the person originally applied for.

While Bon-Ton's system does not automatically match a candidate to a position elsewhere — Slaski said he hopes the next wave of technology will allow it to do so — any store can see any candidate. For example, a candidate might not be a fit for a position in Hanover, but a manager in York could still see that application and reach out.

Dickinson's system does not have automatic matching either, but information is saved and applicants only have to fill out forms for other positions in which they are interested, rather than having to re-enter all of their data.

The information is quick to reach human eyes, Riccio said.

"(Hiring managers) get to see everyone that comes in," Riccio said. "Applications are certainly on the rise, but we don't have it set to kick out by keywords. Most of the departments out there are doing their due diligence."

This helps hiring managers make the best possible decisions so they do not have to go through the process again in six months, he said, noting a recent opening for a professor position that received 600 applicants. Almost 90 percent of the candidates had doctorates and experience in teaching, but the search committee still reviewed all of the applicants individually.

"They go through each of them because they want to get the best candidate, and you never know who that's going to be," Riccio said. "If someone comes in with minimum requirements but has something that is transferrable — perhaps they do not have a higher education background but bring skills from another industry — they'd certainly be in consideration."

Slaski said Bon-Ton does use prescreening questions for some positions.

"As you're doing the application, there are some key things we're looking for. We can set yes/no questions, tell it what we're looking for. That's used on a job-by-job basis. For the bulk of hiring for store positions, we don't have that," Slaski said.

He used seasonal hiring as an example of the prescreening process.

"We're hiring 12,000 people for the holidays. We absolutely, positively have to have people who can work weekends," he said. "So if you want to be a holiday seasonal associate for us and you can't work weekends, well, that defeats the purpose."

Those applicants remain in the system, he said. "HR managers can still see you. You're not lost in the black hole somewhere."

These online systems also allow for quicker and more efficient communication with applicants.

Riccio said Dickinson's system allows hiring managers to post updates, showing the stage the search is at. The college also tries to avoid vagueness in job descriptions and qualifications, which is beneficial to both those hiring and those looking to be hired, he said.

Both Bon-Ton and Dickinson have room for improvement in their online systems, the managers said, but overall the added efficiency has been beneficial.

"I think once companies make an investment in it, and you just see how much time it saves, how much better it makes your recruiting process, how much better you take care of your candidates, the idea of having an online application tracking system is a no-brainer," Slaski said.

A tip for employers

Keep in mind that some job seekers fear online systems, thinking that their applications will never be seen by a human, Peter Cappelli, management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It,” told PBS Newswatch recently.

“I got 500 emails … people who have applied for jobs in their own company, for example, and couldn’t get hired. They pretended to be an applicant with the same abilities and resumes they have, and they got kicked out of the process,” Cappelli said in the interview.

Make sure that, if you’re having software screen out unacceptable applicants, you haven’t been so specific that you prevent qualified candidates from getting through, experts recommend.

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