Your Applicant Tracking System Doesn't Work


I hate to break it to you, but that ATS you spent so much money on purchasing and time on implementing is a huge barrier to job seekers wanting to connect with your company and be considered for open jobs. As Liz Ryan of HumanWorkplace describes it, the ATS is a giant black hole into which hopeful job seekers pitch their carefully crafted bespoke resumes and hours of their data entry time, only to be rewarded with an auto-response email that tells them they will never hear from the company again if the faceless machine of the ATS doesn’t deem them a suitable applicant.

Here are some ways you are using your ATS to alienate job seekers and turn people off from your brand:

  1. Letting them hurl their qualifications into a virtual trash can, never to be seen again, without any personal response from you.
  2. Actively discouraging any personal contact information for an actual staff member from being made available to job seekers. They should be happy with the auto-message that says "we have so many wonderful applicants we couldn't possibly respond to all of them, including you." This "don't call us, we'll call you" message has become the standard, but that doesn't make it an effective way to recruit.
  3. Using “evergreen listings” (listings that remain open all the time for frequently filled positions) or leaving job postings open for an excessively long period, hoping that simple passage of time will magically bring you the perfect candidate (it won’t do that-it will just discourage job seekers from thinking you really have an opening or intend to fill it during this century, and give you 50,000 resumes to review).
  4. Thinking you’re letting someone down easy by just not responding. You aren’t-you’re just frustrating the job seeker and giving him a bad impression of your company. Hiding behind a faceless machine to make it seem like you are not really making a decision to reject someone is a weenie move. Just say, "no thanks, and we wish you the best." It's not that complicated.
  5. Psst...your ATS doesn't work. It crashes in the middle of the 45-minute unpaid data entry project you are making job seekers complete in order to streamline your hiring process. The best talent has one answer: "abandon ship!"
  6. Asking for every piece of information you could possibly need in order to consider and reject a job seeker. Check out your completion rates-the people with the most self-respect are the ones who fail to submit your application, not the ones who don't have enough gumption and a long enough attention span to make it to the end. If you want a candidate pool filled with people desperate enough to complete a long data entry project with all of their personal information, before they have any idea whether you are interested in hiring them, then you are getting the right people with this technique!

No one denies that the volume of applications received for open positions at a large employer cries out for some kind of assistance, whether electronic or human. Here are a few things employers could do to help the situation:

  1. Create and implement an actual sourcing strategy. Simply posting job openings on your company’s careers website and on Indeed or LinkedIn without any plan doesn’t count. It just ratchets up the number of potentially unsuitable applications you will need to wade through.
  2. Maintain a pipeline. Market the positions and your company, to the right-fit job seekers you need to hire, all the time, not just when all of a sudden your hiring manager needs to fill an open position “yesterday.”
  3. Don’t waste the candidates you’ve vetted but who weren’t a perfect fit for another role. Keep in touch with the candidate who was “second choice” for a role, but would be a perfect fit for your company. Keep an eye on positions that will open soon, and encourage her to apply.
  4. Post for appropriate time periods, in the right places, with effective marketing and sourcing (see above). Do you know that your entry-level engineering hires tend to be made in the spring, in advance of a busy summer project season? Then you can be sourcing through professional groups and targeted college programs in the fall. No relo offered? Find the pockets of people in the right geographic areas and network with them so when positions open up, all you need to do is put the word out and you will have the best quality candidates in the area applying. And continuously let potential hires with the qualifications you need and in the places you need them know who you are and what you have to offer.
  5. No evergreen postings, for heaven’s sake! At least take them down and re-post every month or so. They just sit out there like week-old bread getting moldy. Job seekers don't believe they're real and if they do apply and you're not hiring today, they feel cheated if they are qualified and are still rejected (without an explanation, of course).
  6. Just check out your ATS from the user side once in a while, to make sure it's actually working. And don't ask for job seekers to give you their mother's maiden name when they apply. If you actually think they could be a fit, maybe you could maybe ask for that later. Or not.
  7. Communicate with job seekers and candidates in a human way-they are customers of your company and referral sources for other, better fit job seekers. Practice courtesy, courtesy, courtesy. And friendliness. And warmth. All of these are in order, mostly because it's such a great opportunity to shine, since it’s not difficult to stand out from the crowd by treating job seekers with respect and scoring a win for your brand.

People like me who work in the HR Compliance space understand that the ATS can be a necessary evil, especially for its ability to document the hiring process and ensure that every job seeker is treated consistently. But if you can make your ATS work better for your organization, while keeping it from alienating the job seekers who just want to do great work for you, why wouldn’t you? Happy hiring!

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

Photo credit: Jeff Dray via / CC BY-SA