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Why Applicant Tracking Stinks: Part I

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Oct 23, 2006 12:47:00 PM

Read Part II of this series

Looking around it is not difficult to find recruiting professionals who consider ATS a four-letter word. In this series, I am going to take a walk around the industry and my experiences as a new entrant over the past two years to explore how we got here and how to get out of the rut.

The first thing that we need to do is to admit there is a problem in the first place. Perhaps the most stinging rebuke to the industry that I've seen lately was this paragraph in one of Lou Adler's articles on the ERExpo about one month ago:
Your technology investment is yielding a negative ROI.While not a public session, someone described to me a meeting they had with a number of recruiting managers evaluating their satisfaction with all of the available recruiting technology. First, every tool was listed by name, including every major applicant-tracking system, every major job board, and all of the major tools. The ranking was limited to either a positive, neutral, or negative. In the summary report, not one technology product or tool received a positive ranking, and most had negatives.(emphasis mine)
This is one of those rare cases when I breathe a sigh of relief that HRMDirect is not yet a "major applicant tracking system." It's also proof-positive that any major vendor who tells you they've got this business figured out is full of it.

But wait, there's more! Here's Microsoft's Heather Leigh (see Item #10 onThe 17 Dumbest Things in Recruiting), Electronic Arts' Jeff Hunter, and Global Learning Resources' Kevin Wheeler ("For most recruiters the ATS is a sinkhole for both money and time."

Another indicator of the failure of applicant tracking to deliver serious value is the relative absence of it in smaller companies. In enterprise software people often talk about "paving the goat paths" as a way of saying that you can blow invest a lot of money optimizing processes which are collectively inefficient. However, as companies become smaller the process overhead gradually shrinks until you have one recruiter and almost no external process. At this stage, productivity becomes entirely a matter of personal output, and the vast majority of the tools out there just don't deliver much value to the individual user. Process is at the root of all this and I will write more on the subject, but suffice it to say that I approach with certain skepticism the claims of vendors to make 10 or 20 people more efficient when they have a hard time delivering value to one.