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Mr. Recruiter, Tear Down This ATS!

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Nov 8, 2006 1:27:00 PM

Recruiters are supposed to be in the people business. Why, then, do applicant tracking systems erect so many walls between people, companies, and the people whose job it is to get new people excited about working at them?

Why Applicant Tracking Stinks, Part III
One day you're wrapping up a demo with a customer, and you think to yourself, "my, that WebEx is a tasty and delicious product. I wonder if they might have any openings for a salesperson like me." So, you go to their website, find an opening for a Senior Sales Representative in your area, and click the "Apply" button. At which point, you get something like this, which makes a Form 1040 Schedule D look user-friendly and welcoming by comparison. 

You can get someone excited in a chocolate chip cookie if you put it in the right kind of box. But the opposite is just as easily accomplished. Think about the message it sends to a candidate when the first step in the recruiting process is to fill out a stack of forms: 
This is a test. If you can put up with this counter-productive and bureaucratic application procedure, you just may be enough of a sheep to tolerate working for a company like us.
Forget about the OFCCP, the piles of junk resumes you get from job boards, and all the other inside baseball only HR departments care about, even if they are important. Candidates don't care, and in the end neither do hiring managers. If the company is really lucky, a good candidate will be so sold on your company that he or she will take David Perry's advice and go over and around the HR department and go straight to the hiring manager, making the recruiter look like a do-nothing bureaucrat. Now I don't think that's what you are, but it's not me you need to convince.

But what if you're lucky, and this great candidate actually goes through your whole process anyway? This is where it gets really ugly.

Assuming someone awesome does apply, how long will it be before you actually read it and realize that you'd be crazy if you didn't call this person right away and beg them to come in for an interview? All too often, the same tool which is designed to hold the mongol horde of unqualified applicants at bay also buries those great applicants beneath a pile of process. The result is that it can take weeks before a recruiter even knows this person applied.

It's not that applicant tracking processes don't serve necessary purposes. At some point the i's and t's need to be dotted and crossed. Systems have by and large been designed to deal with these issues and many of them do a serviceble job of it. But the problem is that most applicant tracking systems are too dumb to know when to get out of the way. 

Consider the costs. A great candidate is worth tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands more than an average or mediocre one. A req filled next month costs you thousands in lost productivity versus one filled this month. Most companies spend anywhere from $5,000-$50,000 per year on their ATS. If that tool causes you to miss the boat on even one good candidate, it is blowing you and your ROI right out of the water.

What We're Doing About It
A recent survey of HRMDirect clients showed that it was taking them anywhere from two to six days from the time a resume was received to when it was actually read by a recruiter. That includes weekends, so the actual count is probably a bit lower, and I think that's pretty respectable number compared to averages. I'd attribute this to the fact that our system is easy and intuitive to use so it's not a pain to review candidates manually.

But from my perspective, it still was not good enough. I've always said that if a person who worked at one of our competitors sent us a resume, that I would want to know right away. So we came up with a deceptively simple feature that I expect will quickly become a must-have feature: keyword alerts. You define a list of keywords (like the names of competing companies) and when someone applies with any of those keywords in their resume, our system will automatically send you an email alert containing that candidate's whole resume, within one hour, so you can go straight to the phone and show that person some love. It's like having an assistant to read every resume for you as they arrive and make sure the important ones go straight to you right away.

It's not that we don't think that applicant tracking systems can't make you more productive. But sometimes the most productive thing they can do is to disappear. Does yours know when to get out of your way?

Cross-posted to RecruitingBloggers.com

Read parts I and II of Why Applicant Tracking Stinks