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Building a Better ATS, Part 3: Supporting Effective Recruiting

by
Raghav Singh
Apr 22, 2004

With this article I begin a series on improving applicant tracking technology. My previous two articles provided an overview of the bigger issues that (in my opinion) currently prevent applicant tracking systems from being effective solutions for recruiting. First, to determine what makes for an effective recruiting solution requires that we consider the recruiting process in its entirety ó not just what we see in an ATS. What we see in most applicant tracking systems is a focus on efficiency, drawing on concepts from supply-chain management and process automation. Most applicant tracking systems exist to support workflow, starting with the intake of candidates and ending with the hiring decision. But this myopic approach ignores the bigger picture: that is, all that comes before and after. Sourcing Concerns For starters, effective recruiting requires effective sourcing. An ATS is much like a car without any gas. Without the right gas, it makes little difference if the car is a Lexus or a Chevy ó it’s not going anywhere. Sourcing provides the fuel that makes the hiring engine move. The emphasis that ATS vendors place on processing is placed on the wrong thing. Processing is akin to miles per gallon ó very different from the price of gasoline. If you can’t get enough of the right gas, who cares what kind of mileage you get? So sourcing needs to be better supported, but how? Currently, the only support for sourcing in an ATS is to connect with job boards. This would be fine, but unfortunately job boards provide only a minority of hires for most corporations, and a small minority at that. Job boards once held the promise of being the chicken ranch of recruiting. As it turned out, they are more like strip clubs ó lots to be seen, not much to be had, and expensive at that. A recent article in The Economist (March 25, “A Monster Success”) makes the point well:

Not every job can be filled online… Though the online job market works well for workers and employers who know what they want, it works badly for the vague or tentative. If your resume says clearly that you want to be a pool cleaner or an aerospace technician, the filters will ensure that it reaches the right human resource departments. If it is unclear, they will confine you to electronic darkness. The old saying among human resources folk was that “you kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince,” says Mr. Taylor [Jeff Taylor of Monster]. On the Internet, you kiss fewer, but only those frogs who really know what they want will find themselves on the end of their princess’s puckered lips.

Building True Relationships A majority of professional jobs are still filled the old-fashioned way ó by networking (61% according to CareerJournal.com). A few vendors have made feeble attempts to tap this source by providing technology that supports the creation of online communities. While a sound idea, the effectiveness of such an approach is limited, since it depends on transferring the goodwill of participants in the communities into interest in employment with the sponsor. A better approach might be to provide better support for building relationships with candidates. Most vendors claim to do so already, the usual approach being that candidates can store a profile and search criteria for jobs they are interested in. When a job opens up that matches a candidate’s profile or interests, she is contacted, most likely by email, and then asked to apply. The idea that this constitutes a relationship is ludicrous. A true relationship requires give and take, and mutual disclosure. As currently supported by most applicant tracking systems, it’s a one-way street. The employer effectively controls everything ó including the information that’s released and the information that’s required from a candidate. Why not, for example, provide candidates with an assessment of their capabilities relative to the jobs they are interested in? If this is too expensive or impractical, why not provide candidates that make it to the final stages in hiring with feedback on why they fell short? That would tell them their likelihood of success if another job was to open up, or what they could do in the meantime to improve themselves. Similarly, in the spirit of give and take, why not allow a candidate to query an employer, instead of assuming that candidates will (or should) ferret out what information they need to know about a company? Knowledge management tools already exist that can support this. Incorporating a limited version of the technology should not be difficult and is more likely to create a relationship with candidates than anything available in an ATS today. If that idea sounds far-fetched, then consider this: Britain already has a law that requires job applicants to be provided full access to selection-related information if it involves an automated process (Employment Practices Data Protection Code, 2002). Since applicant tracking systems were created in response to EEO laws, do we need to wait for a law before they get around to providing such functionality? Of course, a relationship is only going to work if both parties are willing and interested. Let’s be blunt: most employers are only interested in “relationships” with candidates when there’s a shortage. As any number of candidates found out when the job market went south, employer attitudes towards them went south with it. But these things all come in cycles, and the more enlightened employers recognize that there is a need to have a true relationship with candidates that outlasts them. The need for the functionality to support these kinds of relationships is clearly there. Recruitment Advertising More low-hanging fruit that ATS vendors could easily grab includes better support for advertising jobs in newspapers, since plenty of jobs are still advertised in print. Currently, the most any ATS provides is data transfer to an ad agency or other service for placement of an ad. This is no more than what email provides. Most major newspapers have published standards for accepting in-column ads, along with pricing criteria. Ad agencies routinely provide online services that allow a user to create and price an ad without any manual intervention from the agency. The same functionality could easily be added to an ATS. This also brings up the role of ad agencies in sourcing. Currently, sourcing is a disjointed process. Ad agencies provide branding and are frequently a conduit for the placement of ads and other recruitment services. The technology provided by most ATSs excludes the role of an ad agency. This frequently results in incomplete or inadequate source tracking, thereby reducing the amount of data available for the fine-tuning of sourcing strategies. Providing an integrated approach to placement of ads, or better yet, offering a portal through which an ad agency could manage client requests for advertising, would definitely improve the overall effectiveness of sourcing. In summary, improving ATS functionality requires an understanding of everything that goes into making recruiting effective. Vendors need to take a more holistic approach that looks beyond the core hiring process, instead of forcing their clients to live within the narrow confines of the functionality they provide in this one limited, albeit critical, area of recruiting.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Martin Snyder

    I reviewed both earlier parts of Raghav’s ATS series so even though its late, I’ll wrap up too.

    Raghav has continued with a wide survey and has raised some interesting points, and although my conclusions are not quite in line with his in all cases, he offered up a few key ideas.

    First the little stuff: In the USA right now, its wishful thinking to ask ‘Why not provide candidates that make it to the final stages in hiring with feedback on why they fell short?’ It’s just too legally risky to say much of anything about anyone. There is no good reason for a business to add risk for no real reward by offering more information than the laws of state and courtesy require.

    As for the way they do it in the UK, ‘Britain already has a law that requires job applicants to be provided full access to selection-related information if it involves an automated process (Employment Practices Data Protection Code, 2002). Since applicant tracking systems were created in response to EEO laws, do we need to wait for a law before they get around to providing such functionality?’ that would take a lifetime to adjudicate here. One person’s automation is another person’s manual labor. How might a defendant explain the results that their ‘expert’ text searching systems arrived at? It would be virtually unexplainable in a legal sense.

    And hey, I’m usually leading the way for making things better for candidates. A good ATS makes it possible for organizations to provide some basic standard of response to many job seekers at a reasonable cost. But helping them to ‘Ferret out what information they need to know about a company? Again, I don?t think so. Not every candidate is really even a candidate, and showing too much over the web or in any uncontrolled way gives a window into your operations for competitors and others who may mean you no good. Good candidates are well able to gather information from any number of cues on the employment branding trail; too much information violates the golden rule.

    As far as Raghavs thoughts on employment advertising between Job Boards and Newspapers-

    Its not hard to parse the meaning of a selected quote: ‘On the Internet, you kiss fewer, but only those frogs who really know what they want will find themselves on the end of their princess’s puckered lips.’ The Economist (March 25, ‘A Monster Success’) That speaks to Monster being effective, not the other way around, and a real and growing division between staffing for easy fit jobs and for more creative jobs like sales, executive management, artists and content people, etc.

    Job boards are one of the major innovations of the age in their way, so I would be hesitant to say their time has passed, when it may yet bloom more fully. Newspapers, on the other hand, are pretty well able to sell as much classified job advertising as conditions will allow; it?s a mature if not declining market and the actual labor to post ads and record sources manually into an ATS is neither materially expensive nor difficult to obtain.

    Two important points that I do agree with Raghav on are these:

    ‘A better approach might be to provide better support for building relationships with candidates. Most vendors claim to do so already, the usual approach being that candidates can store a profile and search criteria for jobs they are interested in’

    Yes, networking can only be done by people, at least at this time, and not in the UK! ATS software that supports recruiting the way its done in third party staffing provides the tools that all salespeople require; calendaring, activity management and search, fast lookups, email tools, strong relationship modeling, etc. etc. As they say, you can do applicant tracking with recruiting software, but you cant recruit with applicant tracking software.

    Finally, ‘Outlasting Cycles’, or being ready for markets that are both candidate rich and job rich is a critical long term success factor. It kind of forces you to do a good job all the time.

    You can read the original article at:
    http://www.erexchange.com/a/d.asp?cid=3F6A11F1D845467F8926E2A293D41DEC

    Post your own Article Review
    http://www.erexchange.com/p/g.asp?d=M&cid=3F6A11F1D845467F8926E2A293D41DEC

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