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ATS Recruiting Doesn’t Have to be Broken

In a recent blog on Forbes, Liz Ryan stated that the recruiting process is “broken beyond repair” and laid the blame squarely on the widespread adoption of automated applicant tracking systems (ATS).

You might be surprised to hear that we (for the most part) agree with her. Except the problem isn’t ATS technology itself; rather, it’s the way the technology is being used.

Most professionals who build and purchase applicant tracking systems are treating the process of gathering and sorting through applications as a filtering problem.

They start with the assumption that you have too many applicants and need to filter them better and faster. So they aim for tools that allow you to set search parameters for an “ideal” candidate, and then rapidly dismiss any application that doesn’t fit the filter.

Just as a hammer seeks a nail, a person who wants to solve a filtering problem seeks an ATS that is amazing at filtering lots of candidates. These systems typically include applicant-side structures that force candidates into whatever data boxes the ATS needs to optimize screening. And many of them don’t integrate with social media since those data boxes don’t line up neatly.

The very nature of these systems and how they operate leads you to cast your net wide to get as many applicants as possible, because you believe that volume will increase your chances of finding the “perfect match.”

More is Not Always Better

This kind of ATS has turned recruiting into the painful numbers game Ryan describes in her post. And all because it focuses on eliminating people, instead of finding the exceptional candidates you need.

Running a fire hose of candidates through a filter might have made sense a couple of decades ago, when people followed more predictable career and educational paths. Back then it might have made sense to define the ideal candidate as someone with a particular degree, experience in a certain industry or size of company and an average tenure of at least three years.

Today, this approach just doesn’t work, because almost no one fits a definable pattern anymore. And the ones who do may not be the kind of high-performers you’re looking for.

Rather than asking “How can I feed the greatest number of applicants into my ATS?” a more useful question would be, “I have a number of candidates. How do I process them efficiently and in the right way?”

Pushing three hundred applicants through one highly selective sieve is not the right way.

But what is?

Using the Right Kind of ATS the Right Way

Using an ATS the right way involves attracting the qualified, industrious people you want to hire, giving them a candidate experience that reflects what’s great about your company, and then hiring them. None of this can happen if the primary objective of the ATS is to filter out as many people as possible before interacting with them.

More specifically, a great ATS

WillWill Not
  • Be optimized for “how do I manage people right.”
  • Find candidates where they are and make it easy for them to apply right there.
  • Require minimal information to be entered directly.
  • Be socially integrated and accept existing resumes online and LinkedIn profiles directly.
  • Dedicate more resources to targeting potential candidates and marketing to them.
  • Be designed to help everyone involved in hiring efficiently move a candidate through the process by providing a clear track to follow.
  • Ensure that everyone involved in the process (interviewers, hiring managers, HR generalists, etc.) gets clear prompts on what to do next.
  • Offer a personalized candidate experience that is consistent with the company brand and culture.
  • Be designed primarily for rapid filtering and disqualification.
  • Include auto-disqualification, especially tied to an auto-responder! (Can you imagine reaching out to a company to ask about their product and getting an automated email saying you’re not an eligible buyer?)
  • Have a complicated applicant-side system that requires an account and includes a profile, job shopping cart, etc. (Most candidates are not stalking a particular company. They just want a simple application process for the job they’re interested in.)
  • Provide an “apply now” button on LinkedIn, but refuse to accept the LinkedIn profile in the application process!

Most applicant tracking systems are misguided. That’s why they often leave both candidates and recruiters feeling like recruiting is broken. Assuming that better candidates will emerge simply by filtering a bigger pool is absurd; especially if the best candidates choose not to apply because of clunky technology, or get filtered out because they don’t conform to predetermined filters.

These are not new lessons—people in sales and marketing have always known they need to:

  • target their reach;
  • fish where the fish are;
  • put relationship first;
  • make it customized and personal; and
  • focus on qualifying, not eliminating.

They also know that it’s worth cultivating a close fit. You’ve probably experienced this when shopping online. You look at a few products, maybe even add one to your cart, and a number of new items appear with a message something like this: “people who bought X also bought Y.”

Some of our best hires (though not always for the position they originally applied to) have come from a close fit. If we’d been using one of those filter-driven ATS systems, we would never have seen these excellent applicants. Fortunately, NetSuite TribeHR’s applicant tracking system isn’t like that. It readily supports our targeted, socially integrated, people-centered recruiting process; and it is definitely not broken.


Experience a different kind of ATS with NetSuite TribeHR. Start your free trial today!


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