Creating an Online Application Form for Jobs

In August 2009, I pondered on the idea of creating a system where teachers could apply for jobs in a school using an online system.  Teachers were complaining, rightly, that it was costing them over €2 every time they applied for a job.  Moreover the amount of trees being killed every summer thanks to the reams of paper being wasted was ridiculous.  I made some enquiries about setting up an online application system for jobs in my school but was unable to do so at the time due to various restrictions.

Almost a year later, some of  the education partners came together to publish a standard application form for teachers.  The idea behind this was to make applicants’ and schools’ lives easier as all applications would look the same.  I believed it was a step closer to moving these forms to an electronic format but I’m way too impatient to wait for that!

I rang the INTO to ask them would it be ok to copy the relevant parts of the standard application form to an online form asking the same questions.  The idea was that instead of filling out a paper version of the form, teachers could apply using almost exactly the same form, except in electronic format.  The INTO saw no reason why not but asked me to check with my patron body first.  Thankfully there was no issue at all with this and I believe we became the first primary school in Ireland to adopt an online application form for teacher jobs.

Creating the form was very easy thanks to an inbuilt form creator on our web site.  We used “cforms” which is a plugin for WordPress.  However, any form builder will work including Google Forms.  We asked the same questions as the paper application form, (except for the religion ones as we are an Educate Together school), simply by typing in the question and selecting the type of answer the user could fill in.  For example, the question “What is your name?” needed a single line answer so we selected the “single line of text” answer label.  Longer answers used a bigger “text box” and choices used some of the inbuilt “options” buttons.

The clever thing about the form was we could “force” applicants to fill in certain sections of the application or the form would not send.  For example, if they didn’t put in an email address, the computer would pop up a message asking them to fill this information in before they submitted again.

Of course there were some factors to consider.  For me the most obvious first caveat was that we might get a lot more applications than if we used a paper method.  It was a free application after all.  In order to try and stop this, we decided to add a couple of questions to the standard ones to prevent applicants simply copying and pasting their answers.  The first asked applicants why they had applied to our school in particular.  The second asked what they could bring to our school specifically.  This ensured that applicants had to find out a little bit of information about our school before applying.

Another possible problem was spam.  There are a number of  “Internet robots” that automatically fill out forms with advertisements for Viagra and Rolex watches.  To prevent this, we added a security question, which if answered incorrectly would be dumped.  The question was “4+5=?”.  If an applicant wasn’t able to answer that question, we probably weren’t going to hire them anyway!

Aside from problems, there were also security issues to look at.  How could we make sure that we didn’t read applications until the designated date?  What if an application got lost in cyberspace?  What would happen to the applications once we had processed them?

The first issue was solved by creating a new email account where applications were sent.  We created a gmail account and every application was stored there until the selection panel were ready with criteria in hand.  The only time the account was opened was if an applicant emailed to see if his/her application was received.  We didn’t have to open the emails to find out as we could just check to see if we received an email from the name given.

The Internet is probably more reliable at sending information than An Post but most people don’t ring schools to check if their postal application has reached the school.  When it comes to the Internet, people are much less trusting and we received about a dozen enquiries asking if we had received applications.  When a teacher submitted the form, the web site reverted back to the home page.  Next year, we will load a page thanking them for their application to avoid this confusion.

The final issue regarding the storing of applications was solved with a little disclaimer at the top of the form.  We wrote that all applications would be stored in an email account but nobody except the selection panel would have access to this account.  All applications would be deleted after one year.

We also decided that we would not accept applications in any other format except through the online form.  Our postman was a very happy man this year, although we still got 3 applications in the post, which were sent back with a message to resubmit online.

The good news is the whole thing went flawlessly.  We had a similar number of applications as we had done the year previously.  We even came up with a cool system to narrow down applications by moving “possibles” to a folder in the email.  Once we finished looking through the applications the first time, we opened this folder and further whittled down the “possibles” until we had about a dozen left.

We emailed these applicants to inform them of the interview and also wrote them a letter with the same information.  We were thrilled that we were able to hire some fantastic teachers on the interview day.  We asked them for their feedback on the online application procedure and we were delighted that all of them had huge praise for the process.

Once our new recruits had accepted our job offer, it was time to inform the unsuccessful candidates that the posts had now been filled.  In the previous year, this had meant stuffing over 200 envelopes with the same standard letter.  This year, we simply wrote one email and sent it to all unsuccessful applicants, (we used the BCC to paste in the email addresses to hide their identities), which took approximately 3 minutes including the writing of the email.

I was heartened to read a couple of posts on the IPPN’s Education Posts Forum.  For those of you unfamiliar with the forum, it is a discussion forum where teachers can talk about education.  One thread was about jobs being offered in areas of Ireland and teachers would inform each other about upcoming interviews or rejection letters (or PFOs as they called them!) received.  Teachers’ main complaint is that schools do not write to them informing them that they have been unsuccessful.  A number of users were delighted with our online application system and even were praiseworthy when they received the email from our school letting them know of the negative outcome of their application.

I would highly recommend schools try out an online application system for jobs coming up in their schools in the future.  It saved me, the selection panel and our school’s secretary hours of work and, best of all, no papercuts!

Last Update: August 17, 2017  

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