ATS Recruiting Doesn’t Have to be Broken

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In a recent blog on Forbes, Liz Ryan stated that the recruiting process is “broken beyond repair” and laid the blame squarely on the widespread adoption of automated applicant tracking systems (ATS).

You might be surprised to hear that we (for the most part) agree with her. Except the problem isn’t ATS technology itself; rather, it’s the way the technology is being used.

Most professionals who build and purchase applicant tracking systems are treating the process of gathering and sorting through applications as a filtering problem.

They start with the assumption that you have too many applicants and need to filter them better and faster. So they aim for tools that allow you to set search parameters for an “ideal” candidate, and then rapidly dismiss any application that doesn’t fit the filter.

Just as a hammer seeks a nail, a person who wants to solve a filtering problem seeks an ATS that is amazing at filtering lots of candidates. These systems typically include applicant-side structures that force candidates into whatever data boxes the ATS needs to optimize screening. And many of them don’t integrate with social media since those data boxes don’t line up neatly.

The very nature of these systems and how they operate leads you to cast your net wide to get as many applicants as possible, because you believe that volume will increase your chances of finding the “perfect match.”

More is Not Always Better

This kind of ATS has turned recruiting into the painful numbers game Ryan describes in her post. And all because it focuses on eliminating people, instead of finding the exceptional candidates you need.

Running a fire hose of candidates through a filter might have made sense a couple of decades ago, when people followed more predictable career and educational paths. Back then it might have made sense to define the ideal candidate as someone with a particular degree, experience in a certain industry or size of company and an average tenure of at least three years.

Today, this approach just doesn’t work, because almost no one fits a definable pattern anymore. And the ones who do may not be the kind of high-performers you’re looking for. 

Rather than asking “How can I feed the greatest number of applicants into my ATS?” a more useful question would be, “I have a number of candidates. How do I process them efficiently and in the right way?”

Pushing three hundred applicants through one highly selective sieve is not the right way. 

But what is?

Using the Right Kind of ATS the Right Way

Using an ATS the right way involves attracting the qualified, industrious people you want to hire, giving them a candidate experience that reflects what’s great about your company, and then hiring them. None of this can happen if the primary objective of the ATS is to filter out as many people as possible before interacting with them.

More specifically, a great ATS


Will Not

  • Be optimized for “how do I manage people right.”
  • Find candidates where they are and make it easy for them to apply right there.
  • Require minimal information to be entered directly.
  • Be socially integrated and accept existing resumes online and LinkedIn profiles directly.
  • Dedicate more resources to targeting potential candidates and marketing to them.
  • Be designed to help everyone involved in hiring efficiently move a candidate through the process by providing a clear track to follow.
  • Ensure that everyone involved in the process (interviewers, hiring managers, HR generalists, etc.) gets clear prompts on what to do next.
  • Offer a personalized candidate experience that is consistent with the company brand and culture.
  • Be designed primarily for rapid filtering and disqualification.
  • Include auto-disqualification, especially tied to an auto-responder! (Can you imagine reaching out to a company to ask about their product and getting an automated email saying you’re not an eligible buyer?)
  • Have a complicated applicant-side system that requires an account and includes a profile, job shopping cart, etc. (Most candidates are not stalking a particular company. They just want a simple application process for the job they’re interested in.)
  • Provide an “apply now” button on LinkedIn, but refuse to accept the LinkedIn profile in the application process!

Most applicant tracking systems are misguided. That’s why they often leave both candidates and recruiters feeling like recruiting is broken. Assuming that better candidates will emerge simply by filtering a bigger pool is absurd; especially if the best candidates choose not to apply because of clunky technology, or get filtered out because they don’t conform to predetermined filters.

These are not new lessons—people in sales and marketing have always known they need to:

  • target their reach;
  • fish where the fish are;
  • put relationship first;
  • make it customized and personal; and
  • focus on qualifying, not eliminating.

They also know that it’s worth cultivating a close fit. You’ve probably experienced this when shopping online. You look at a few products, maybe even add one to your cart, and a number of new items appear with a message something like this: “people who bought X also bought Y.”

Some of our best hires (though not always for the position they originally applied to) have come from a close fit. If we’d been using one of those filter-driven ATS systems, we would never have seen these excellent applicants. Fortunately, NetSuite TribeHR’s applicant tracking system isn’t like that. It readily supports our targeted, socially integrated, people-centered recruiting process; and it is definitely not broken.


Experience a different kind of ATS with NetSuite TribeHR. Start your free trial today!


Photo credit: background image courtesy of stockimages at

A Diverse Team Counters Complacency

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A colleague handed me a book the other day. The cover looked like a children’s book and the title did little to dispel that impression: A Peacock in the Land of Penguins.  Like many business books in recent years, the authors (B.J Gallagher and Warren H. Schmidt) decided to create a fable[1]  to illustrate their point and share an important business lesson. It was a very fast read: large print, short pages, and plenty of illustrations. In fact, the book was deceptively simple. It was an entertaining light read with a heavy, even vital, message …

Effective Co-Workers not BFFs

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During the recent evaluation and debrief of a year-long leadership development program, which involved teams working together to solve problems for community organizations, we learned a few things. One of the most obvious was: it’s not easy for randomly selected groups of strangers to gel into functional teams. In spite of workshops on group dynamics, coaching and a library of resources; most of the teams faced group process challenges, ranging from minor personality clashes to all-out war. A couple of teams were notable exceptions. These two teams seemed immune to the dysfunction that plagued the others. When …

How to Hit a Moving Target

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Organizations used to develop five and ten year strategic plans. Some actually followed them. It took over thirty years for the idea of using radio waves to detect metallic objects (first theorized in 1904) to become a usable form of radar. Confused by Felipe Ibazeta, Wikimedia Commons In 1937, Bulgarian physicist Georgi Nadjakov discovered the photoelectric effect. Within one year, Chester Carlson applied to patent the process later known as “photocopying;” but it took another 11 years for Xerox to introduce its first copier. Can you even imagine a world that forgiving? Can you imagine a work environment that offered you …

4 Steps to Make Your HR Tactics Strategic

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In his article Strategic vs. Tactical Thinking: Empowering the HR Professional, Hebe Lugo differentiates between the two as follows: “doing things right” is tactical thinking, while “doing the right things” is strategic thinking. The challenge for HR professionals is that success relies on “doing the right things right!” Milan Mikuláštík - Chessball/Wikimedia Commons In other words, focusing purely on strategy without ensuring effective implementation is just as potentially damaging as ignoring strategy in favor of exemplary tactics.   Even more challenging is ensuring the use of effective strategy …

Sitting is BAD for Your Health!

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You may have seen news stories recently proclaiming that “Sitting is KILLING You!” or “Sitting is DANGEROUS”.  I’ve seen articles about sitting and poor health in the papers, on TV, in blogs and I’ve heard about it on the radio. It seems to be everywhere. It occurred to me that I better find out more about this if I’m going to be able to lead my clients to live healthier, fitter, more productive lives. Human Dystopia, from passivelysedentary, Youtube Like many active people, I assumed that by …

Leading Workplace Tribes

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An Executive, who had watched her organization grow from a tight-knit team of 35 to a global workforce of over 5,000 people, shared this observation: “I used to know everyone personally— without even trying. When we reached 60 people, I had to work at it. When we hit 150, forget it! I had to accept that most new hires would be strangers.” When pushed on it, she couldn’t really identify the exact point when she realized that maintaining a personal relationship with everyone in the company was no longer possible.  But her gut said it was around the 150 …

How to Shake Off a Slump

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The Urban Dictionary defines a slump as “A period of time during which a person goes without an object or action.” When I think about what it feels like to be in a slump, the geological definition seems so much more apt: “a form of mass wasting that occurs when a coherent mass of loosely consolidated materials or rock layers moves a short distance down a slope.” Yes, that pretty much describes the slump sensation—an inexorable slide down the productivity slope of life and work.   Photo by Tambako The Jaguar, Flickr Sometimes a …

The Power of a Leader’s Appreciation

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It’s always refreshing to watch a leader demonstrate the principles he advocates; showing, by example, how those principles translate into action. Last week, we celebrated the official opening of our new NetSuite Waterloo location (home of TribeHR), in Kitchener, Ontario. True to the spirit of celebration, the event reflected a carnival theme, complete with midway games, popcorn and funnel cake cupcakes (yes, there were cupcakes with funnel cakes on top – you had to be there!) The space was packed with employees, customers, suppliers, friends, family and local dignitaries. Ceremony was minimal and fun was the order of …

Don’t Wait for the Exit Interview (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this article, drawing from The Power of Stay Interviews, by Richard P. Finnegan, we looked at some traditional means of managing employee retention and why they often don’t work. We also considered the main reasons employees choose to stay with a particular employer (or not), and what commonly contributes to that decision. As the title of his books suggests, Finnegan advocates stay interviews as one of the most important tools for cultivating employee engagement and improving retention. Finnegan’s defines a stay interview as: “A structured discussion a leader conducts with each individual …

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The Latest from Workplace Tribes
ATS Recruiting Doesn’t Have to be Broken August 27, 2015
A Diverse Team Counters Complacency August 25, 2015
Effective Co-Workers not BFFs August 20, 2015
How to Hit a Moving Target August 18, 2015
4 Steps to Make Your HR Tactics Strategic August 13, 2015
Sitting is BAD for Your Health! August 11, 2015
Leading Workplace Tribes July 30, 2015
How to Shake Off a Slump July 28, 2015
The Power of a Leader’s Appreciation July 23, 2015
Don’t Wait for the Exit Interview (Part 2) July 21, 2015