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: 659

Comment by Sean Ryan on June 28, 2010 at 3:11pm
It seems your title is misleading. Is the ATS the black hole? Or is it the way in which the convenience store is using their online application the frustration? Having been recently unemployed myself for a few months at a time on two occasions, I filled out several of these forms.

It's the way some companies choose to do things. It has nothing to do with the ATS.
Comment by Becki Dunaway on June 28, 2010 at 8:16pm
I believe that companies are not using ATS properly. To an applicant, ATS is the black hole. I don't believe it was ever designed to do the candidate screen that a Recruiter should be doing over the phone. It was initially designed for resume storage and retrieval. Today companies seem to be using it to replace a physical person. As a Recruiter myself, I don't believe that my work can be replaced by a computer program. Before ATS, the Recruiter did the work that they seem to be asking ATS to do. I believe that ATS does add some value. But the value is in storage and quick retrieval; not in the pre-screening that a Recruiter should be doing over the phone.

Since you are on the job market; have you become frustrated yet with the amount of time you are spending answering questions that should be asked in person or at least via phone?
Comment by Jeff Wiehardt on June 28, 2010 at 9:51pm
Becki - You bring up good points and I have been on all three sides of the fence, as the corporate recruiter, agency recruiter, and the recruiter looking for a position. Overall the ATS is a good thing but you're right about a lot of things you say. Throughout my years of experience I can say that yes, some companies use there ATS' poorly and rather ineffeciently. But I think what your husband and others are experiencing has more to do with the fact that companies have cut their recruiting budgets (staff) so much that they perform poorly in the eyes of the candidate. I don't blame the recruiters so much but rather the companies for not putting an emphasis on talent acquisition and the candidate experience. Unfortunately, too many recruiters are responsible for 30, 40, 50+ requisitions have no choice but to rely on their ATS to 'weed out' candidates. Obviously being a recruiter I am baised in opinion, but I have been hearing your argument on a weekly basis and think it's time for companies to take their talent acquisition process seriously and start hiring recruiters to do the recruiting (and with a reasonable req. load).
Comment by Becki Dunaway on June 28, 2010 at 11:54pm
Thanks for the viewpoint Jeff! I do understand that a large chunk of what's going on has to do with companies having limited resources. I fear though, that it will get worse.
Comment by Jim Carwardine on June 29, 2010 at 9:44am
Companies that use their ATS, as a knock out filter, if the form was fully filled in, are doing their company a huge disfavour (Canadian spelling)... We recommend that a partially filled in form is grounds for elimination since the candidate was not motivated to finish the questionnaire. A properly applied ATS can add considerable value to the recruiting process when used correctly. Asking 50 questions on the first pass is not the way. Asking a few questions about attitude and behaviour is appropriate. The whole process is supposed to collect data in preparation for the first face-to-face interview, regardless of what level the job is. Many employers today are getting more concerned about a selection process that doesn't effectively test for things like integrity, even in the lowest paid jobs, which is where much of the theft takes place...
Comment by Chris Kidd on June 29, 2010 at 9:56am
I'd like to add one more perspective, that of a job board owner.

From my perspective, ATS systems do a very bad job of crediting the referring source and/or weighting the talent. Here's a good example:

We've had 6 different, long-time customers go to Taleo (either from a manual system or another ATS). Contending that we didn't send them enough candidates, all 6 dropped our job board after a year of using their new ATS. The reasoning was that our site was not sending enough candidates or that they didn't make enough hires as a result of using our site.

Almost 3 months to the day, all 6 of those customers came back to our website. Apparently, it takes about 90 days for recruiters to see a drop-off in applicants with Taleo.

I'm singling-out Taleo because of personal experience. I'm sure other ATS systems have similar issues.
Comment by Becki Dunaway on June 29, 2010 at 11:22am
Chris - Taleo is one of the systems I have had experience with. ATS is only as good as the people are trained to use it. You've heard the saying "garbage in, garbage out"?

Sounds to me like the issue was not your job board; but that recruiters have written so many requirements into the job posting that they can't possibly find a candidate to fit.
Comment by Paul Hanchett on June 29, 2010 at 1:25pm
I've had experience on the applicant side of many of those ATS systems. :( They do take a long time to fill out, and most times you never hear anything more from the company. As an applicant you have to decide how determined you are to get into the system.

My son needs a summer job, and the local Taco Bell and Office Depot both have help wanted signs up. Anyone interested is directed to a web site, and he hasn't heard anything back. Meanwhile, the stores still need staff.

I see this in high tech, too-- A position stays open for months while the high tech unemployed are sitting on street corners with signs "Will code for food!"

Just does not seem right! Keep up the good comments, Becki
Comment by Thyaga on June 29, 2010 at 2:57pm
This is #1 frustrating experience most candidates remember while applying to jobs using company's job portals. Following are my opinion based on our experience and my knowledge of ATS.

1. ATSs are developed by software engineers who does not really understand minute details of successful recruiting process. Hence their systems are highly inefficient and non-intuitive.

2. Most recruiters are not tech savvy and they find their ATS to be complex to handle.

3. ATS assumes that recruiters to be disciplined to manage job listings. This is not the case with most hiring companies.

4. ATS systems don't blend well for processing high volume of candidates or job requirements quickly. Hence recruiters never get to review majority of resumes those received from their job portal.

5. Most ATS systems does not have matured resume search capability in order to effectively look-up resumes already exist in the system.

6. Communication between recruiter and candidate is traditionally transactional. Mostly it is controlled by the recruiter. Those candidates with good prospects for a targeted position is given some attention. All other applicants are left out in the dark and get no communication.

Summary: ATS software has lot of scope for improvements and recruiting community must work on improving their communication with applicants.
Comment by Becki Dunaway on June 29, 2010 at 3:21pm
Paul-- Thanks for sharing. I so miss the time when you could walk into a restaurant, fill out an application, speak to the manager and get an offer (or not) that day. I wish I knew what to tell you for your son. I am experiencing the same thing rigtht now. But your's happening at all levels and not just those seeking summer jobs.

Thyaga - all very good points. Thanks for your input!


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