The Black Hole of Recruitment – The Applicant Tracking System – Part 2

With the first time weekly unemployment claims still hovering above 400,000; I have more Applicant Tracking System annoyances.

As I said in my previous post, I get it because I am a Recruiter who has used ATS. And words cannot describe the efficiency an ATS has brought to my role as a Recruiter.

But as an unemployed Recruiter I am becoming increasingly angered at the ways I see ATS being used. Recruiters, take notice and listen to someone who has been on both sides of ATS because with what I have seen as an unemployed Recruiter, I am beginning to question the value add of this tool. This time, here is a real life example.

My husband has been teaching as adjunct faculty at a local community college while pursuing his MBA (which he has now completed). Since he has not yet found a new career and he is not teaching this summer, he decided to find a job to keep us afloat while he continues his career search. He walked into a drug/convenience store and asked if they were hiring. The reply from the person at the counter was “yes”. Naturally, he asked for an application. To his surprise, he was told to go to their website to apply. Now, call me old school, but really? Apply for a drug/convenience store clerk job online? He went to their website and 2 hours later, he was angry because the site kept crashing. He said he was done applying.

At my urging, he returned to the site later to try again. Another 2 hours later, he finally reached the screen telling him it was successfully submitted. Part of this application included 50 personality questions. How can a questionnaire with multiple choice answers really tell a Recruiter if the candidate has a good personality/character? Recruiters, we’re relying on a computer to tell us if a candidate has the right personality for the job. Is this really a value add for you? Sadly, this is not the only employer he has experienced this with.

My husband tried different employers. He walked into a restaurant and asked “are you hiring”. Again, the same result - apply online. Come on…really? I date myself here, but in the late 1980’s I walked into a restaurant, asked if they were hiring, was handed an application, upon completing it, the manager spoke with me right there and then asked me to start on Saturday. This whole process took probably under 2 hours and occurred all on the same day. Keep in mind now that my husband spent 4 hours of his day applying online (or trying to apply) just for 1 job! He spent another 2 hours of time on the restaurant online application.

Recruiters, are we belaboring the hiring process by using our ATS this way? Is value being added to the process to make a candidate spend 2 hours on an online form to determine if their personality is ‘okay’ for the next step? Most important, have you left yourself any questions to ask the candidate in person? We’re removing the human contact and letting ATS handle it all for us because we trust that the great and powerful ATS will be able to tell us to hire or not.

I know you’re dying to hear what happened with my husband. It’s a month later and did he receive a call or a job? NO! No response from the store or the restaurant. Here is a perfectly capable worker, willing to work the crazy store/restaurant hours and he has received nothing from these employers except an initial system email with the canned response that the application was successfully entered into the system. And by the way, my husband actually has quite a few years of retail experience and still has had no phone screen.

I am left asking myself some questions. Would his end result have been different if he would have completed an application at the store and speak to the manager right then? And as an ATS user, how long must it have taken the Recruiter to actually set up a 50-question questionnaire in their ATS in the first place? Value added? I think not. What do you think?

Views: 572

Comment by Sylvia Dahlby on July 3, 2010 at 8:33pm
Take my comments with a pound of salt, because I am a purvey of a leading ATS. First, I'm going to disagree with Thyaga's first five points and say "don't blame the black-hole on the ATS."

1) Most ATS are not developed by software engineers in a vacuum; many are developed by recruiting experts such as job boards, staffing agencies, and tech savvy people that have worked as recruiters or run recruiting firms.

2) Most recruiters CAN and do use their ATS; although some do not use it properly, and I concede some systems are more intuitive & user-friendly than others.

3) Most companies do a good job of managing their jobs; many ATS are "job centric" which means managing the job requirements is the key to successful hiring. Recruiters that don't manage jobs well are the ones who contribute to the black-hole phenomenon.

4) ATS are absolutely necessary for the managing of high volume hiring; how else can recruiters review & process large numbers of applications received? A good ATS is designed to help identify the most qualified applicants. Of course recruiters will focus on the most qualified first and may not get to many of the lesser or under-qualified in a timely fashion. Does anyone have a better way? Patent it.

5) Most ATS have highly evolved and sophisticated search tools. In SmartSearch there are about a dozen ways to search candidates including full text or boolean string of resume text, skill search, profile search on a large number of fields, natural language (semantic) search, past job activity, more. We've been around since 1986 when computer screens were blue with the first resume-scanning and search capability for the staffing industry, so our product is quite mature. Our web-based app is on v14 -- and we have strong competition because their search capability is strong too. In fact, the entire industry has come a long, long way since web-based apps came to market in 2001.

However, on the 6th point and summary comment, Thyaga is 100% correct. The #1 reason for the ATS black-hole effect is that recruiters don't use the system for CRM, developing real relationships, and leveraging the communication tools built-into many of the systems. For all the recruiting industry chatter about brand-building and engagement -- finding ways to communicate with candidates in a timely and responsive manner is what needs improvement. The ATS is a TOOL, nothing more. And like any tool, its effectiveness lies in the hands & skill of its user.

There are many companies that use their ATS like a wall between the hiring managers, recruiters & candidates. Part of the solution is for the candidate to do their homework & find ways to differentiate themselves, to stand-out from the crowd. With some many people out of work, it's a buyer's market -- candidates need to learn how to market themselves & attract attention.

And now here's my dirty little secret: Knowing intimately how these systems work, I would never send my resume or application into an ATS without BEING INVITED to do so. This means I make personal contact with the employer FIRST and only after I've aligned my resume to fit the job requirements or company business goals. In the age of the internet, it's not hard to connect with company employees to leverage a referral, or contact key people at at organization via LinkedIn etc. Candidates need to reverse-engineer the recruiting process and use the same strategy & tactics to identify and pursue opportunities that recruiters use to identify top candidates.

The job market has never been tougher than it is right now (and I've been in the industry since 1979, so this is what, my third or fourth big economic downturn?).

Becki hits the nail on the head about the importance of making real human contact -- which can be done via local community involvement and real live (or online) networking to get a referral or job interview.

Paul, and my advice to your son would be to chat up his friends and neighbors working at those retail outlets and ask for a referral to the hiring manager.
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 3, 2010 at 11:24pm
> Paul, and my advice to your son would be to chat up his friends
> and neighbors working at those retail outlets and ask for a referral
> to the hiring manager.

Sylvia, it seems that the systems being set up by HR are making these human contacts harder and harder to achieve. In many companies the switch board will not connect you to anyone in HR without both a name and extension.

I don't believe the problem starts with the ATS, I think it starts with an attitude that "Applicants are a problem and they are dishonest. They have to do what *I* want to be considered."

My concern is that the skills required to get the attention of the internal recruiter will have very little to do with the skills required by the position to be filled, and only the people with the first set of skills will ever be evaluated for the second.
Comment by Sylvia Dahlby on July 6, 2010 at 7:30pm
@Paul - agree the "systems" make it harder, but with LinkedIn group & other online communities, and social media making it easier to make connections with people, an enterprising candidate can find their way around, over & under the ATS wall. I'm also not talking about connecting with HR - rather connecting with employees & hiring managers directly for a referral. HR & internal recruiters tend to take referrals from employees & hiring managers more seriously than candidates that just toss a resume into the system.
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 6, 2010 at 7:58pm
Sylvia, I hear you but I wonder if it misses the point-- I personally was raised with an ethos that frowned on using friends and connections for personal gain, so it would be morally difficult for someone like me to use your short cut. The point in any case is that using this trick might be key to getting the position, but it says nothing about a person's qualifications for the position.

For social positions, skill at using social networks may be important; for many positions social skills are relatively unimportant (even working on teams!)

I've flogged this enough. Thanks for hearing me out! :-)
Comment by Sylvia Dahlby on July 6, 2010 at 8:25pm
Huh? Since when it is unethical to network with family, friends, business associates, neighbors, coworkers & connections for personal gain? Don't you ask people for referrals EVERY DAY? I know I do whether I need a job, want to find a great place to eat in an unfamiliar city, need a plumber, or find a dentist or doctor when I move to a new town. And aren't you willing to share information or help someone else who asks for a referral? I know about a half dozen recruiters who are out of work, I encouraged them to send me their resume so I can refer them to my clients & anyone else who might be looking for a recruiter.

There are entire organizations devoted to sharing leads (ie BNI and pink slip parties) and referrals from trusted associates. LinkedIn is a perfect example (I assume you're on LinkedIn for leveraging your connections as well as helping them?).

Just about every job I ever got was thru a referral & my clients are my BEST source of leads & referrals. What's morally difficult about connecting with people in your own industry, chosen profession or area of personal interest to make connections - what exactly is networking for if it's not to make meaningful connections? (yes, give a little & get a little).

Another great way to network is community involvement - I belong to a few local community service & charity groups & don't expect anything in return for volunteer work or donation of my time, dollars & efforts to a cause I believe in. But this is also a great way to connect with people that share your values & vision. You're there to help them, so what's wrong with asking for help when you need it?

One of the aforementioned recruiters actually posted a call for help on a LinkedIn group - literally begging for donations to buy a laptop computer, he had fallen so down on his luck like many in the recession. This is someone I have met twice, and don't know very well - but his story touched my heart & I wrote him a check. Was it wrong of him to ask? Who else is he supposed to ask, the government? You can read more about his story at http://www.ere.net/2010/05/20/recruiter-job-famine-coming-to-an-end/

I was raised to believe we're here to help each other. I wasn't suggesting any trickery - what's wrong with building a network & reaching out to people at a company that are in your industry or in your neighborhood? Asking them what it's like to work there? Opening a dialog? And building a relationship that leads to a referral? Isn't that why we're here on Recruiting Blogs, or else I am missing the point.

PS - 7 ways to get your resume noticed http://newgradlife.blogspot.com/2010/07/resume-writing-strategies-t...
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 6, 2010 at 10:29pm
My point was that what is natural to you, might not be so for someone else. Just as what is natural for someone else might not be so for you. The point was, unless that skill or ability has something to do with ability to carry out the position, it is not a valid selector, no matter how benign. Having to work around the system to be noticed as an applicant suggests the system is not performing in its intended purpose, no?
Comment by Sylvia Dahlby on July 6, 2010 at 11:16pm
@Paul, ok I do agree that having to 'work around the system' is the point of this whole discussion - and that's many companies use their ATS as a wall, or do not use the CRM tools to effectively communicate with applicants or build relationships. However, in general, networking is natural for most people, it's just a mater of being willing or able to apply it in a job search. It's also something that can be learned.

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