What makes a good application process?

Kathrin Justen 2/13/2024

Our guest author Kathrin Justen explains what makes a good application process

Table of contents
  1. Does the term application process actually still fit and what does it stand for?
  2. How do I build a good application process and how long should it take?
  3. How do I choose a suitable tool to support my application process?
  4. What are the reasons for a rejection in the application process?
  5. Three tips for the application process
  6. Conclusion

Over the past few years, I have been asked time and again whether I could read about job applications. I was asked what the perfect application should look like, as well as what the recruiter's view of it was and what they wanted to hear in interviews.

I don't have a single answer. But the first answer to all these questions is often - unsatisfactorily for the questioner: “It depends.”

It depends on which industry you are in and which people or job you are looking for. It also depends on what previous experience and knowledge they need to have and what the corporate culture is like. And it depends on the perspective with which the question is asked.

A recruiting employee may answer the question differently to the person applying and looking for a new job. For example, it may be that the internal processes, including supporting tools, are well coordinated, but on the other hand, the applicant's response may be bumpy or lengthy. Or it may be that everything is geared towards making everything as low-threshold as possible for candidates, but this means that more work is needed in the background. For example, when someone sends the documents by email and then everything has to be entered manually into a recruiting tool in the background.

The following also applies: for recruiters, the process is usually successful if the advertised position is filled with a suitable person. For the applicant, the process is successful if the position has been filled with them, and only them.

Although these perspectives should have converged in recent years, as the omnipresence of terms such as employee market, skills shortage and ghosting shows, my impression is that there is still room for improvement.

A good application process serves to get to know each other and takes equal account of the applicant's perspective and that of the company.

Does the term application process actually still fit and what does it stand for?

I have been asking myself this question for some time. And I like to use the term “getting to know each other” myself. Why?

There is a lot of talk about the shortage of skilled workers and that the relationship between employees and employers is changing so that employees now have the upper hand. As a result, the traditional term no longer feels right to me at first glance.

First of all, it refers to the process of people applying for an advertised position and then, by screening the application documents, references, interviews, assessment centers, various tasks or trial working days, selecting one or more people who receive a job offer. Or as ChatGPT says: “An application process is a structured sequence of activities and procedures that both employers and jobseekers go through when applying for a job.”

So far, the focus has been on the fact that these people have to apply to the company and prove their suitability for the job to the organization. That no longer fits. That's why I've been using the term “getting to know each other” most recently. For me, it focuses more on mutuality and eye level, which I think is essential. After all, that's what it's all about: people want to get to know each other in order to decide whether they want to work together.

There are also arguments for continuing to use the term application process. As long as the companies are serious about being on an equal footing and also apply to those who are interested in a job. What can we offer? What makes us tick? How do we want to develop and what role can you play in this? If these or similar questions are addressed actively and in detail during the application process, this can be a strong argument for the other person to join the organization.

But enough of the verbiage - even though language is important. It is not for nothing that many people no longer talk about Human Resources, but about People & Culture. What should become clear:

The underlying attitude with which recruiters approach application processes is crucial for a process that both sides find pleasant and profitable.

How do I build a good application process and how long should it take?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Organizations should first ask themselves which people they want to attract and how they can best do this. They should also ask themselves what they want to convey about themselves during the process.

I think it is important to reconcile comparability and getting to know individuals as well as possible. For me, this demonstrates fairness and equality towards every candidate. As early as the job advertisement stage, I can think about what I would like to learn from my interviewees in the course of our interviews. I use these as guiding questions in questionnaires for the various steps of getting to know each other. This is also helpful in the event that different colleagues are involved in the application process and conduct interviews with applicants.

For me, individuality means that I don't stick strictly to the guidelines, but allow myself to talk to people. This, plus the fact that it makes a difference to me whether I get in touch with someone via a recommendation, recruitment consultancy or application form, means that the first interview sometimes takes longer than expected, or that we go into great depth in the second interview, even though this was perhaps only planned for the third interview.

For us, this means that when we first get to know each other, the focus is on making sure that the candidate has a good understanding of the advertised position and the role behind it and has gained an initial impression of how we tick and work. I also try to get an idea of what motivated the candidate to take part in the interview or to apply. In the following interview, we deepen this first impression, look at what someone already brings to the table professionally, how this person approaches the work and what kind of working environment this person needs to be able to work well.

These two interviews are each conducted by just one person. Then it's time to get to know each other in depth with a focus on professionalism. For this, we ask the candidates to prepare a task. Here we talk in pairs. We then invite them to a coffee date with other team members and the final step is the concrete offer.

And if you're thinking “Oh wow, that's quite a lot”, I would say: Yes, we have a few conversations. This can feel contradictory to the fact that at the moment it is often described that application processes should be as lean as possible, otherwise people will quickly drop out.

For me, however, this is not a contradiction. Getting to know each other well AND a lean process are important to us. I see this above all in the fact that we have a lean application form and strive for maximum responsiveness and speed. In other words, feedback on an application or an interview should be provided within one to two working days and appointments should be proposed as quickly as possible. It helps to set a target figure for how many days it should take from initial contact to a contract offer. It is also important to involve colleagues from the specialist departments. There is often a bottleneck there, as no appointment slots are available for recruiting interviews.

Speed alone is not everything; getting to know each other well is paramount. This may also include preparatory exercises.

How do I choose a suitable tool to support my application process?

Of course, the administrative effort involved in the application process should not be forgotten. It is also worthwhile for small companies to invest in supporting software for recruiting instead of maintaining the applicant data completely manually via Excel. Software can facilitate the handling of documents and improve recruiting through helpful analytics. The market now offers a wide range of tools, such as Personio, Recruitee, coveto, Softgarden and SmartRecruiters.

The following procedure is recommended in order to choose a suitable tool for yourself:

  1. ⁠A software selection process takes time and resources. Make sure you have both.
  2. Create an analysis of the status quo and derive your requirements and goals for the new software from this.
  3. Create criteria that you can use to compare the providers' offers with regard to your requirements. You may also need detailed tender documents so that the software providers can then contact you with an offer. These should also contain information on the planned implementation schedule and your contact details.
  4. Identify potential providers that are suitable for you. If you are planning a tender, publish it on suitable platforms.
  5. Evaluate the long list: View the offers received and the providers you have identified yourself based on your criteria and then invite your favorites to a personal briefing.
  6. You may get further insights from reference customers.
  7. Then it's time to start negotiating offers with the remaining favorites.
  8. To make a final decision, you compare all the information you have gathered with your criteria.
  9. Once the contract has been signed, the next step is the implementation phase of the new software.

What are the reasons for a rejection in the application process?

An application process is - for both sides - associated with hopes and expectations. An open position is to be filled, a new career chapter is to be opened. Of course, it is a damper when one side turns you down. And unfortunately, in most cases, neither side is particularly transparent about the reasons behind it, even if there is a lot to learn from it. Employers are often afraid of making themselves legally vulnerable by giving reasons that are too transparent.

  • The most common reasons are:
  • The substantive and technical requirements are not met.
  • Expectations of the organizational culture and the working environment differ.
  • The general conditions are not right, e.g. due to the available working hours.
  • Someone else was a little more convincing - unfortunately the role can only be filled once.
  • The position was not filled after all.

And of course, on the applicant side, there was a better offer elsewhere.

It is not always easy to find out the real reasons for a rejection. Sometimes it pays to follow up by phone.

Three tips for the application process

The list of possible tips for the application process could be long. I will limit myself to three points that are equally relevant for both sides:

  1. Be responsive. Respond quickly and reliably as an applicant as well as a recruiter. As an applicant, you don't want to be left in the dark forever about how the process of getting to know you will continue. It is often even better to communicate an interim status, such as: “Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to make a decision. We will probably get back to you at the end of next week." It is also important for me as a recruiter to know whether someone is still interested in working for the company. I am also familiar with ghosting. And I don't understand why some applicants don't at least write briefly in response to an invitation to an interview that they are no longer interested.
  2. Be authentic. It doesn't help either side to not show yourself as you are. After all, an important decision needs to be made in the end. For me, this also includes showing what interests you about the person or the company. I can understand that the cover letter loses its appeal - I don't like reading it either if it's just a CV and I don't learn anything about what made someone curious about us. But as a recruiter, I find it important to understand why the other person is interested in the job, where he or she sees themselves or where they want to go. This is especially true if the tasks do not correspond 1:1 to the previous profile.
  3. Be patient. For most people, changing jobs is no small decision. As a recruiter, this can mean making a phone call alongside the usual process or putting someone in touch with potential team colleagues for an exchange - the main thing is that applicants get the answers they need to make a decision. There are also good reasons why many companies like to take the time to get to know someone well before making an offer.


“It depends.” I started this text with this answer to the question of what makes a good application process. In my opinion, there is no blueprint. The industry environments and the people who work in them and in the various professions are too different for that. Companies are still the main designers of application processes. They should know themselves and their target groups well in order to establish a process that combines attitude, process orientation and tool support in a targeted manner.

Kathrin Justen
Kathrin Justen

Kathrin Justen ist bei der Digitalberatung digital dna GmbH für People & Culture zuständig. Sie verantwortet dort alle HR-Themen – von Recruiting bis Personal- und Organisationsentwicklung. Im Recruiting ist es ihr wichtig, nahbar zu sein und auf Augenhöhe ins Gespräch zu kommen. Bewerber und Bewerberinnen bekommen von ihr mit der Einladung zu einem Call auch ihr Kurzprofil – ein Pendant zu deren CV. 

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