Would you hire someone with limited industry experience? What about a candidate who had an unusual work history? These are two examples of job applicants who don’t show well on paper. If they apply through a standard automated tracking system (ATS), it’s unlikely their resumes will ever make it to a hiring manager’s desk. That would be a real shame, however, since I’ve placed candidates just like these who proved to be transformational hires.

I get it: Not every candidate with an unusual work history will be a great hire. But some can be – and telling the difference is my job. As a recruiter, my job is to identify these “diamonds in the rough,” the candidates with unique resumes that are passed over by an automated screening process. They’re the perfect candidates with the imperfect resume, which means they’re often overlooked. This is what I call the “AI blind spot.” ATS can be an effective screening tool, but an overreliance on it at the director and manager levels can hurt recruitment success. Given the already tight candidate market, mistakes like these can be costly.

The Blind Spot: When ATS Misses Your Best Hire

The downsides to ATS are well documented. Technology is improving, but even the newest systems can struggle to read some document formats. Candidates who fail to include the right keywords – using acronyms rather than spelling out a skill, for example – may be overlooked.

Consider this: I recently placed a candidate with a company that calls this professional the “best hire” they’ve made in the last year. But what if I told you the company could have hired this person six months ago without ever partnering with a recruiter? That’s right: the candidate initially applied for the position through the company’s online resume submission portal. But the candidate’s resume did not match the ATS requirements, so the system rejected it.

When the company later partnered with me to fill the still open position, this candidate immediately stood out at the top of my search. When I spoke to him, he was surprised the position was still open and the company wanted to interview him. “I submitted my resume months ago but never heard back. I assumed they weren’t interested.” The problem wasn’t the company’s lack of interest; it was that the ATS had ruled out the candidate before anyone could give his resume a proper review.

Making ATS Work for Your Recruitment Process

ATS isn’t going anywhere, but companies do need to consider carefully the best ways to integrate this system into their current hiring process. ATS has the potential to remove human bias from pre-screening. It can instantly analyze hundreds of resumes, freeing hiring managers to focus on higher-order tasks. For large companies, like those in the tech and pharmaceutical industries, ATS is essential to navigating the deluge of resumes these companies receive every day.

For mid-level and senior-level position, however, ATS should be an addition – not a substitute – for human review. An experienced recruiter can add valuable insight into common keywords and phrases applicants may use that your ATS is overlooking. A recruiter can also spot check: if I run a candidate’s resume through your ATS and I consider this candidate a strong fit, did the system come to a similar conclusion?

ATS and AI have the potential to transform the hiring process. Let’s be sure that in doing so you aren’t missing the best candidates.

Do you use AI to review resumes or pre-screen candidates? I invite you to share more about your experience in the comments below.






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