Today's job market isn't just highly competitive. It's costly, too. Right now, employers on average have to spend over $4,100 per hire. Time to hire is at its highest point since the turn of the millennium: an average of more than 40 days. Faced with these hurdles, you can either back down--settling for weaker candidates, perhaps giving up your search completely--or get smart.

Among strategies for attracting better employees, one of the most effective is hiding under your nose. The truth is, making it easier for those ideal candidates to apply will deliver more of them to your business. They want a smooth, swift, and personal process, and you want to give it to them. Right?

Sound challenging? Here's the good news: many companies are still behind the times and behind the curve on application experience, giving you a big potential leg up. And awkwardly enough (for them) it's often more challenging to stick with the old ways than the new. Consider: about two-thirds of service organizations are still accepting paper applications--at a time when 9 out of 10 candidates say extremely long application forms result in a negative experience. (Fully a third of applicants have complained that a bad application experience with a potential employer even discourages them from being a customer.)

Online, meanwhile, half of all career pages aren't optimized for mobile devices, where many of your prize applicants expect them to be. Today, over 60 percent of job seekers quit in the midst of an online application because it's too long or complicated. To snag those in-demand candidates, you've got to deliver on their expectations--and recognize they can often afford to be picky. They won't jump through hoops just to get in the door. Don't try to make them. Make them an application offer they can't refuse: a frictionless process that gives them little opportunity or excuse not to submit.

Focus on keeping the process smooth and easy.

That means simplicity, but it also means an intuitive user experience. (Don't go overboard on the minimalism and white space if it could flummox the busy and annoy the thoughtful.) Give them all the information they need up front, instead of trying to lure them deeper by hiding the football or leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Be welcoming but to-the-point: what experience, education, and skills do you need and want? Are you hiring for certain shifts? If you know or suspect you'll appreciate more detail later in the process, have your hiring managers issue custom application questions or surveys once the right time arrives.

Think speed.

Remember, technology is your friend. So-called resume parsing tech takes uploaded resumes and almost instantly converts them into a standardized application format. For hiring managers, that means no more sifting through weird fonts, checking for "extra" pages, or wrestling with other inconsistencies. With each application looking the same as the next, they can speed up their processing time and get on to the good part--making decisions.

Encourage personality.

Work special touches into your application process that show a candidate's personality. Solicit and encourage application material that conveys a relevant and perhaps valuable personal x-factor. Video introductions can allow candidates to get across not just who they are, but how they present themselves--maybe even a little of what makes them tick. Along with more traditional elements like cover letters, video intros give hiring managers a brief but powerful peek at professionalism and cultural fit, particularly important facets in a candidate up for a customer-facing role.

Taken together, this simple suite of techniques will get you closer to the people you want to send in those applications. Just remember: the more appealing the application itself, the more appealing it'll be to submit.