If you’re the company recruiter, or the HR generalist who also handles recruiting and hiring, having an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) may seem like heaven – even a necessity to maintain your sanity. When it’s possible to receive hundreds or thousands of resumes/applications for a single job posting, it is indeed a daunting task to wade through all that data in order to identify the best 3, 5 or 10 applicants you want to pursue further. In fact, this is probably the number one reason an ATS is implemented.
Other good reasons include:
Discrimination. A computer program is sorting through the resumes, so there's no opportunity at this stage of the process to rule anyone out based on age, gender, ethnicity or other protected characteristics that may be evident or implied in a resume. The ATS also allows you to quickly show you’re complying with all federal laws. Additionally, if you’re a federal contractor, the data you must collect, keep and report on is easily compiled into those required reports.
Cost effectiveness. The time and effort saved could easily best the cost of hiring additional staff to handle the task.
Ancillary tasks. Provides job requisition, offer approval, and onboarding processes so that you can concentrate your efforts elsewhere and provide a consistent approach to all your new hires. Eliminates duplicate data entry by integrating with other systems like background checking, E-Verify and HRIS.
All good reasons to use an ATS, whether you go simple, bare bones, or pop for one with all the bells and whistles (and $$$!). But then, there is a dark side. One which many applicants are quite familiar with, and that recruiters and HR folk should be aware.
With all the functionality these systems offer, you can program them so restrictively and make the application process so cumbersome, you’ll lose many applicants. Either they’ll get so frustrated trying to simply apply for your job opening that they give up, or the system will weed them out and send them into the deep, dark of ATS hell, never to be seen again.
In order to have the system screen for the applicants you want, it’s programmed to look for certain keywords that you choose. These keywords match qualities you want in an applicant or skills you need in the job. If a resume contains the right keywords, the system sends it to the next stage in the process. These keywords might be names of universities, degrees or certifications, former employers, skills, etc.
The problem is that if you program it so tightly, you’ll miss many great candidates because they didn’t use the "right" keywords the system is looking for. It’s a machine, it’s not perfect. In fact, according to a 2012 study by Preptel, "Seventy-five percent of applicants are discarded [by Applicant Tracking Systems] because of the words in their resume," Granted, Preptel has a horse in this race, since it offers a service that optimizes resumes for job seekers. But even if the figure isn’t as high as 75%, that’s a huge number of candidates you could be losing out on.
Beyond keywords, formatting and the way headings are placed or worded can muck up the works; the software unable to read the resume unless formatted in the preferred way.
Becoming dependent on an ATS’ ranking of resumes also poses risks of missing good candidates. In fact, many recruiters don’t even look at the resumes, but rely on the system’s ranking and pass them along to the hiring manager.
Overuse of these attributes of Applicant Tracking Systems dehumanizes the hiring process; for both the applicant and the company, and prevents you from seeing the best applicants.
It’s possible to take advantage of the best features of these systems, while avoiding the traps. Just another way to keep the "human" in human resources.