It’s 2020 — Are You Still Unhappy With Your ATS?

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Jan 2, 2020

The title of this article is a loaded question, for sure — because if there’s one thing that often unites talent acquisition professionals regardless of industry or company size, it’s the belief that their ATS could be better. Which isn’t to say that we all hate our ATS. Rather, it’s that many of us simply think that there’s room for improvement. 

You probably don’t need a survey to tell you what I just said above, but here’s one anyway: The State of Applicant Tracking Systems, recently released by (in partnership with BambooHR), found that: 

  • Only 30% of respondents say their ATS is good or fair at automatically matching candidates to the right job postings and then alerting the recruiter.
  • Almost half (47%) say their ATS offers no way of gauging job candidate experiences.
  • Most respondents do not view their ATS as being good at integrating with other systems.
  • Just about one-third of respondents agree that their ATS is good at locating internal talent or helping to reach passive candidates.
  • The aspect of their ATS that people liked least is that it lacks needed features.

Fairly disappointing, right? Especially when you consider that the research also shows that respondents would like to see the following enhancements over the next several years:

  • Greater personalization
  • Greater integration of AI capabilities
  • Improved assessment and filtering tools
  • Greater reporting flexibility

A Future of Franken-ATSes

The report goes on to list a slew of other interesting findings, but none is more important than this statement:

“The greatest perceived future risks are that an ATS will become too automated, complicated, and invasive.”

It’s almost too much to wrap one’s head around, and sure enough — curiously enough — the report fails to address this finding. Buried inside the study, it reads like a throwaway statement rather than the Molotov cocktail it truly is. So let’s break this down:

Too Automated

The irony here should not be lost. The very foundation of an ATS lies in increased automation. You know the spiel: Technology should handle a slew of administrative and operational burdens so you can focus more on more strategic work. This is the gold promise of automation.

In theory — and perhaps only in theory — greater automation should equal fewer boring, admin tasks and more fun, strategic activities. Why, then, do we fear that the ATS may get too automated?

Too Complicated

There’s irony here, too. On one hand, the survey points out that ATSes lack the right features. On the other hand, what happens when an ATS increases functionality? More buttons to click, more boxes to check, more webpages to load, more headaches to cure.

It’s like author Barry Schwartz says broadly in his book, The Paradox of Choice, “[T]hough modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before…we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.”

In other words, choices can seem complicated, which begs the question: When it comes to your ATS, do you really want freedom of choice — or do you want freedom from choice?

Sure, you can argue that ATS providers can make things less complicated by giving you the right choices to make when it comes to functionality. However, Greenhouse, iCIMS, SmartRecruiters, and Taleo (oh Lord, especially Taleo) did not build their software just for your business. To ensure flexibility, personalization, and configuration (let alone customization!) for their vast array of clients, ATS solutions have no option but to bloat themselves with features and various processes. It’s then up to you to select how you want to use the technology.

Too Invasive

Uh-oh. Yet another irony. Findings reveal that people desire greater integration of AI capabilities, but the myriad algorithms, bots, and codes can still seem spooky.

AI decreases unconscious bias. No, wait, it increases it. AI increases personalization during the recruitment process. No, wait, it strips humanity out of it.

AI is basically the coffee of talent acquisition. It’s good for you, says one study. Until other research says it isn’t. But unlike coffee, you don’t have the liberty to give it up. AI is here to stay, one way or another.

It’s a New Decade

This article raises more questions than it answers, but the larger point is that as we being a new decade, there will be increasingly difficult issues with which to grapple.  But grapple we must.

Welcome to 2020.

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