As applicant tracking systems (ATS) become the gold standard for online resume submission, companies are experiencing an unexpected problem: plenty of applicants but no qualified candidates. Is the market just too tight to yield great candidates, or is ATS making the talent search process harder?

Yes, record low unemployment does mean there are fewer qualified professionals actively looking for new opportunities. Unfortunately, ATS may be making it even harder for your company to find these professionals.

When ATS Doesn’t Work

A few years ago, ATS was primarily used to pre-screen applicants for entry-level jobs at large organizations. Now, many mid- and senior-level positions require submission via a company’s ATS. An applicant’s experience, skills and education are entered into a candidate profile for hiring managers to view. Both job seekers and hiring managers are becoming disillusioned with this process. Here’s why:

  1. Job seekers still struggle to optimize resumes for ATS.
    ATS software scans resumes for contextual keywords, verbs, and phrases, scoring the resumes for relevancy. Only resumes with the highest scores make it through to the hiring manager. Here’s the problem: many job applicants – especially those for more senior positions – are pretty bad at crafting a resume that’s easy for ATS to read, scan and rank. Even newer systems can reject a candidate for spurious reasons, like resume formatting. As a result, ATS is disqualifying candidates who would otherwise be considered a good fit for the role.
  2. ATS hurts a company’s employer brand, making it harder to attract great applicants.
    When ATS determines that a job seeker’s resume doesn’t match requirements, the system sends an automated “thanks but no thanks” message. This may be a great solution for entry-level jobs, but an impersonal reply isn’t ideal for senior talent, especially talent who is qualified but didn’t have the right ATS keywords. This experience can leave job seekers with a bad taste for your company and no desire to apply for future openings.
  3. ATS can’t assess soft skills.
    Patty McCord, the former Netflix Chief Talent Officer, says it best: “One company’s A player may be a B player for another firm.” You can’t use a formula to determine the optimal hire, yet ATS, powered by AI, tries to do just that. Making great hires is about making great matches– and they’re often not what an algorithm can predict. It’s not enough to bring great talent in for an interview and assess soft skills during this conversation. We need to start from the very beginning of the recruitment process, probing beneath the surface of resumes. Unfortunately, with ATS, we’re removing the human element from recruiting and missing out on a substantial passive candidate pool.

How to Fix ATS Problems: When a Recruiter Can Help

I’m not advocating for companies to stop using ATS altogether. ATS is great for entry-level jobs that can receive hundreds or thousands of submissions. Automated pre-screening saves hiring managers valuable time, which they can put towards a custom recruiting approach for specialized roles and senior hires.

Flipping the Script: Candidate-First Recruitment

As a company looking to hire, it’s easy to focus on the recruitment process only from your perspective: you need talent fast. But you also need to consider the candidate perspective. What is a candidate looking for in their next role? Is your company the right fit for their goals? This is where a recruiter can help.

In addition to applying a more custom screening approach to active job applicants, recruiters will also reach out to their passive candidate pool. The right recruiter will understand your business and the core problems you need to solve. By focusing on business growth needs rather than an exhaustive skill list, recruiters can bring in passive candidates uniquely qualified to support your company’s future. Most importantly, recruiters know how to sell this talent on opportunities at your company– ensuring your new hire will be engaged and energized from day one.


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