When Applicant Tracking Systems Attack

Jul 26, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Applicant tracking systems are wonderful contraptions, aren’t they? Recruiters: what a great pleasure to behold to have a system where you can review, disposition, and index all of the extraordinary candidates who apply to our jobs. It sifts through resumes; it assesses the skills of candidates; it even allows us to interview and check the backgrounds of the rockstars who await that shiny new offer from our companies.

Let’s not forget that these systems are going mobile these days and have befriended our dear associate social media.

The possibilities are endless and surely we recruiters will persevere in our quest to hire the best candidate for every job. These ATS’s do it all! They can do what we were incapable of doing on our own for decades. Our work has decreased and been made easier as the ATS has advanced. All of our vacancies are filled in a timely manner. Retention of all hired employees since the implementation of the ATS has remained with our companies.

The C-suite has stopped questioning the value of HR because our analytics and reporting are unmatched. Payroll, Benefits, Compensation, and Learning Management are all playing nice with the ATS and speak to one another in the King’s English — crisp and clear. What on earth did we do before the ATS?

Who loves the ATS more than us?

Jobseekers, of course! Jobseekers love to enter seamless, intuitive career portals that allow endless possibilities for uploading and applying to positions. These fantastic ATS’s don’t stop. They churn out updates on the many jobs you apply to. You have direct, real-time knowledge of where your resume is going. If you’re lucky, you will be pre-screened, interviewed, hired, and onboarded via this system. In the end, you say what a wonderful experience this has been. It was quick, intuitive, and painless, and I got a job as a result. Why can’t everything in life be this easy? The problem is nothing in life is this easy and ATS’s are no departure from this.

The truth is recruiters spend more time troubleshooting and working around the things that don’t work in the ATS than they do enjoying the inherent benefits of the system. The other truth is jobseekers spend more time concerned about whether their resume has been received and/or the status of their application to truly have what we call a “positive” end user experience. Now that we know the truth we realize that both sides are far too involved in managing the system and its outputs to experience it in all its glory.

Vendors will say the issue is poor implementation and customers will say the ATS on the whole just stinks. There is truth in both theories, so let’s explore ways to satisfy the masses and perhaps change the course of events going forward:

  1. If you are a company in the process of implementing a new ATS, realize that if you put garbage in you will get garbage out. Spend time and resources looking at your recruitment and onboarding processes for inefficiencies. Remember that the system should not drive your process the process should drive the system.
  2. ATS’s can do almost everything you can think of that pertains to the management of talent. Do not mistake its ability to do “almost everything” to doing “everything” your mind can conjure. There is a limit. It is not a procurement system. It is not likely to talk to any homegrown systems your savvy IT team has created. And it will not ask you how your day was. At best, it is a system that will facilitate your team’s efforts to attract, select, hire, develop, and retain your employees. That is all.
  3. ATS vendors: do spend time, money, and resources in research and development of your product. Be sure your test groups are comprised of recruiters and others likely to use the system. Sometimes it seems that you are asking the wrong people about the functionality of your system. Get the word from the streets!
  4. Users shouldn’t feel like they need a class in C++, Java, or a degree in computer programming to use an ATS. It should be smooth, intuitive, and easy to use. In addition, users shouldn’t have to go backwards in life by using old software because you fail to keep up-to-date with your support.
  5. While you are focused on user experience don’t forget the reason why you exist in the first place: the jobseekers. If jobseekers are so overwhelmed by the obstacles of the system that they fail to apply at all, we all lose.

The bottom line is applicant tracking systems are phenomenal inventions. However, when they are ill-conceived and/or poorly implemented they are headaches and a terrible waste of time. Conversely, when humans fail to evolve in accordance with the advances of HR technology, there is fear and lack of understanding which leads to panic, and in turn ends in misuse of a perfectly good tool.

photo from bigstock

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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