Corporate Eye

A Macy’s Mystery

When it comes to the “why” of a perplexing matter . . . I’ll keep working on the mystery long after I should have stopped. In this case, I started out with one perplexity and ended up with another–but overall, the quest produced some interesting results. So let’s retrace:

7 AM. A post on asks: It’s Web 2.009. Is your company’s career portal keeping up? Naturally, I’m hooked! But it turns out the discussion is mostly concerned with usability. (Some good tips on UI testing, by the way, so worth a read.) Very important of course, because really bad functionality will be a deal breaker for most visitors. But “keeping up” today means much more than decent (or even flawless) functionality–and there’s nothing very new in the post. Except . . .

7:15 AM. I notice this sentence: “Congrats to my buds at Yahoo for winning ERE’s prestigious 2009 award for best corporate careers website last week.” Rush to award site to find out the award criteria, rush to Yahoo! Careers to see what the judges liked.

7:30 AM. Disappointed. (a) No criteria. (b) Yahoo very nice but not fabulous. Attractive, upbeat, easy to navigate, and plenty of amenities—but no surprises. And certainly not at the leading edge.

7:45 AM. Since there the website provides no stated criteria for the award (well, not really—just some general questions the nominees must respond to), I looked for previous winners to see if there would be a theme. Hmmmm. For the record, the 2008 award went to KPMG, with Johnson & Johnson and The Warehouse as finalists.

8 AM. Fly-by of cited sites reveals the 2008 crop to be nice (KPMG), nice (J&J), and . . . were they talking about the New Zealand-based retailer? If so, it’s nice. Looks like the common theme in all three sites might be gee-whiz graphic effects on the landing pages.

8:15 AM. Make more coffee.

8:30 AM. Return to original post, then follow another lead, from mention of 2008 Forrester Research study entitled “Best and Worst of Career Web Sites.” Track down press coverage and learn that Forrester reviewed twelve sites for the study:

American International Group (AIG), Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and The Goldman Sachs Group in the financial services industry; JCPenney, Kroger, Macy’s and Rite Aid in retail; and job boards, Dice, Monster and Yahoo! Hotjobs.

8:45 AM: All the reviewed sites failed the test—and apparently, they failed abysmally. According to this summary in The Industry Standard:

“Ten of the 12 sites reviewed scored below zero,” the [Forrester] report reads. A passing score on all 25 criteria Forrester examines would be a +25 or higher, with a score range of between -50 and +50. “Yahoo! Hotjobs fared the best at +10, which is 15 points shy of a passing score; Merrill Lynch fared the worst at -18. The average score across all of the sites evaluated was -8.8,” Forrester reports.

So what was wrong? Here again, specific criteria were not revealed in the summary. But according to Forrester, common problems across all industries included: “missing content and functions, flawed navigation flows, illegible text and poor use of space, as well as poor error handling and missing privacy and security policies.” And the report concludes that “companies need to design career sites with the user in mind and begin revamping by first fixing problems that inhibit site usability.”

8:45 AM. There are now three fascinating new questions that demand following up. Question 1: Did the Forrester-reviewed sites fix their problems in the months after the report was published? Question 2: How did Forrester manage to extract what it calls “best practices” from this batch of bad sites? And Question 3: How did the Macy’s Career site go from industry-leading innovator to—

9 AM: Decide post will have to be in at least two parts. Stay tuned!

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.