A “common application” for jobs?

The Common Application (Common App) is an undergraduate college admission application that students can use to apply to over 500 member colleges. It’s an extraordinary feat if you think about it. These colleges compete with each other in sports, for professors and for students. Yet they have managed to merge all their application processes into one common form.

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If I think back to when I was applying for jobs, the process of filling out applications seems similar to college applications in the pre-Common App era. When the forms are long, there are endless usernames, passwords, and employment histories to fill out. This is especially true for non-professional jobs. On the other hand, when the forms are short, it is difficult to provide enough nuance to make yourself stand out.

If we step back, the incentives between recruiters and college admissions officers are similar. Both want to increase applications, increase acceptance rate, and improve diversity. Both are in continuous competition with each other, but could benefit from this type of collaboration.Yet, educational institutions have ended up in a better equilibrium than the job market.

It seems reasonable that in some end-state of the world the job market would move towards a common application as well. To make the job application process more efficient and less painful, what can we learn from the Common App?

(1) Having both a common form and a supplemental forms can help strike the balance between efficiency and getting the information you need. Most institutions that accept the Common App require at least one supplemental form. Special common applications exist for graduate schools. Studies show schools get higher quality and more diverse applications with this balance. Employment applications could have similar supplements by role and company.

(2) Creating an incentive to not over-apply is important to not flooding the market with applications. The common app reduces friction to apply to a job. But, the application fee creates a disincentive to apply to too many school. There’s no equivalent of that in the job market. A good system should create such disincentives — e.g., limit the number of applications per day or expose how many jobs an applicant has applied to. This puts the onus on both ends to make sure the candidate is a good fit. It also makes keeps recruiters from being flooded with too many applications to respond to.

(3) Facts need to be verified by recommendations up front to keep the process credible. Students can lie on the CA (e.g., about extracurriculars) but the recommendations provide a check against that. Similarly, the a common job application could ask for data from references up front. This would create more transparency and trust earlier on.

(4) Local scale is important for achieving widespread adoption. Research shows that higher Common App membership rates within state increase the chance that an institution that is not a member will join the Common App. A common application for jobs could try to build local scale first.

A coalition of companies or an independent company could spearhead such a system.  It would save frustration and valuable time on the applicant end and result in better outcomes for the companies themselves.

(1)   Ehrenberg, Ronald G., and Albert Yung-Hsu Liu. “The Common Application: When Competitors Collaborate.” Change 41.1 (2009): 48. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

(2)  LLiu, Albert Yung-Hsu, Ronald G Ehrenberg, and Jesenka Mrdjenovic. “Diffusion of Common Application membership and admissions outcomes at American colleges and universities.” (2007)

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