Stop With the ATS Excuses and Embrace the Suck

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Apr 3, 2023

I know, I know. Your applicant tracking system isn’t meeting your unique needs. It might even suck. While I have talked to some folks who absolutely love their ATS, it can feel like everyone in this industry complains about their ATS. It seems like every few weeks, I have to play the role of patient listener to a recruiting leader frustrated by ________ talent acquisition software.

I hear complaints about clunky interfaces, slow load times, broken functionality, and features that don’t work as advertised. I’ve had colleagues tell me they’ve regressed back to using Excel spreadsheets to track candidate information or that they’ve resorted to using e-mail and other informal ways of collecting candidate data.

They say, “If only we could switch, it would be so much better.”

I hate to break it to you, but that’s (probably) not what’s holding you back.

Every Technology Isn’t Adequate Today

Many companies continue to use ATS systems that clearly aren’t meeting their needs. That part is true. And they aren’t switching because, well, switching is painful. Processes need to be updated and candidate data has to be migrated. Recruiters and hiring managers need to get updated on a new system. Plus, it is typically extremely expensive.

But it’s not just ATS systems that give people headaches. Whether you’re a recruiter, a marketer, or a software developer, you’ve likely had to deal with technology that didn’t quite work as intended. Google Docs is sort of a revelation for a writer, but I’ve cursed this technology so often, I wonder if I actually still do like using this over Microsoft Word (I do).

The point is, technology problems are always going to be the reality when dealing with the diversity of people and their ever-evolving wants and needs. No matter what industry you’re in, there’s always going to be some piece of technology that makes work life challenging.

Instead of getting frustrated every time you encounter a problem, it’s time to start embracing the suck.

Embracing the Suck With Your ATS

What does it mean to embrace the suck? For recruiting leaders, it means accepting that your ATS is going to have problems. Instead of getting frustrated every time you encounter an issue, you take a proactive approach to working with it or working around it.

This might mean spending some time learning how to use the system more effectively, or working with your ATS provider to customize the system to meet your specific needs. It could mean adding additional tools to the platform, even if you know that locks you in even further to this thing you hate.

Yes, the ATS is critical for recruiting. It’s the central system of record. But your ATS is just one piece of your recruitment process. By embracing the suck and working to improve your ATS experience, you can free up more time to focus on other areas of your recruitment process.

It also helps you accept that your ATS probably isn’t going to change. Instead, you’ll need to find ways to work within whatever limitations you have in place.

Making the Most of Your ATS vs. Making Excuses

It’s easy to fall into the trap of making excuses for why your ATS isn’t working and how it’s holding everything in recruiting back. But if you want to be a successful talent acquisition department, you need to be able to work effectively with the technology at your disposal.

Instead of making excuses, it’s time to start taking action. That could mean doing a few things to improve the experience.

Invest in training. Yes, seriously. Some people don’t even know what their ATS is capable of — and no judgment on that. Whether it’s through your ATS provider or through an external training program, investing in training for yourself and your team can go a long way toward improving your ATS experience.

Customize the system. Many ATS providers, even legacy ones, offer customization options that allow you to tailor the system to your specific needs. Again, this isn’t something that is always well-known. Some even have updates that can bring you more in line with a modern experience

Integrate with other tools. Your ATS doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Make sure it’s integrated with other tools you use to streamline your existing process, and use new tools to enhance your hiring stack.

Get feedback from candidates. Your ATS should be designed with the candidate experience in mind. Get feedback from candidates to identify areas where the system could be improved and see if there are ways you can.

Stay up-to-date. Finally, make sure you’re staying up-to-date with the latest developments in ATS technology. Attend conferences (like ERE) and read industry analysts to stay on top of the latest trends and best practices.

Big Leaps, Small Steps

If you can do a wholesale change of your ATS to modernize to the best platform, that’s great. Really. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

But even in that case, improving your ATS experience won’t be something that happens overnight. By embracing wherever you are on your technology journey, even if where you are today isn’t where you want to be, you’ll maximize whatever you have at all times. The important part is to keep moving forward.

Want to hear more about moving forward wherever you are? Join me at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego (and online) this May. I’ll be moderating a panel discussion — “The Future of the ATS: When Should You Repair, Replace, or Remove Recruiting’s Most Maligned Tech?” — during which you’ll hear from actual practitioners solving real problems with minimal excuses.

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