A screen grab of Marriott's new mobile job application site. (Courtesy of Marriott International/Courtesy of Marriott International)

Marriott International is opening a new front in the rush to cater to users of smartphones and tablets: It has launched a Web site that allows job seekers to apply for positions via mobile devices.

With its new offering, Marriott is hoping to position itself at the leading edge of what it expects will be a major transformation in the way talent acquisition takes place. In particular, the Bethesda-based hospitality giant hopes it will give the company an advantage in luring millennial generation employees, who are expected to make up 46 percent of the workforce by 2020.

“Making sure that you are on the platforms that are the preferred ways for millennials to engage with you, that becomes very key,” said David Rodriguez, Marriott’s chief human resources officer.

Marriott also expects that its mobile application process will be especially useful in developing countries such as China and India, where many people use smartphones as their primary or their only way of accessing the Web.

“You get as big a pool of people to apply as possible,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s what mobile’is all about, right? That’s where the people are.”

Many firms have already shaken up their e-commerce and marketing functions to cater to smaller screens, but the job application process has largely remained stuck in the realm of desktop Web.

Marriott spent about five to six months developing its mobile job application site, with staffers from its human resources, marketing, investor relations and e-commerce teams taking part in the effort.

The biggest challenge, Rodriguez said, was tailoring the content to be user-friendly on a small screen. The goal is to strike the right balance between obtaining thorough, useful information while keeping the process streamlined enough that people don’t get frustrated and give up.

One way to do that, they found, is to make users do as little typing as possible. The site relies heavily on multiple-choice or drop-down selections, which are meant to help prevent so-called “fat finger” typing errors. For example, if job seekers have LinkedIn accounts, Marriott’s program can connect with their profiles and instantly pull in their job title, job description and other information.

Still, it’s difficult to make the process entirely seamless. Linked­In has so far largely been the domain of professional workers, so it is likely that many applicants looking for service positions lack accounts on the social platform. And even applicants that do have LinkedIn accounts will still have to type in some details, such as their personal address, because the social network doesn’t ask for that information.

In addition to entering basic details of their résumés, many job applicants will be asked to take an assessment test to help determine their readiness for a job. This tool is especially important for Marriott’s entry-level jobs, for which a job seeker might not have much experience to list on a résumé.

The mobile version of the assessment test incorporates photo-based multiple choice questions. For example, applicants for a housekeeping position might be shown a photo of a landscaped area at a Marriott property. They are then asked to make a multiple-choice selection noting how many things were wrong in the photo. (A correct respondent would have to notice that a stray gardening tool should have been put away and that soil scattered on the sidewalk should have been tidied up.) Applicants can read the question and answers, or they can choose to hear them aloud.

“The reason those pictures are there [is that] you have to make it simpler, certainly, for a mobile platform,” Rodriguez said, “but secondly, to provide access to people who might be screened out by other companies because they can’t go through the normal application.”

In other words, Marriott hopes this setup will allow them to identify solid candidates who don’t have especially strong literacy skills but might thrive in a job that requires little reading.

Marriott is aiming to provide mobile users with details they might not get in a more traditional Web job application experience. The site shows job seekers points of interest near the workplace, such as parking facilities, banks and coffee shops. With the help of the device’s geolocation capabilities, it can provide the job seeker with an estimate of his or her commute time.

With this platform, Bethesda-based Marriott hopes to expand its already massive applicant base. Last year, the company received 1.8 million applications for positions in the United States and hired about 37,000 of them.

“If you’re not on a mobile platform,” Rodriguez said, “you’re not going to get people’s attention.”

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