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

Are Contingent Workers The New Peons?

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I’ve written a lot about the rise of the contingent workforce, the increasing degree of job flexibility and the swelling ranks of remote workers. As a natural optimist, I tend to focus on the benefits these roles offer to employees through greater flexibility and increased autonomy. Not to mention the improved agility and staffing responsiveness they offer employers. Wikimedia Commons, National Archives, Public Domain There is, of course, another side to the story of the growing non-permanent workforce. From the concerns expressed by the US Department of Labor about employers using temporary and contract workers to reduce payroll …

Fixing a Bad Hire

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No one intentionally hires someone who can’t do the job or who just doesn’t mesh with the team. And yet it happens more often than we like to admit.  In fact,one survey found that 8 of ten companies had made a bad hire, with 22% of respondents admitting they'd made a bad hire that cost the organization over $50,000. Photo by tishamp, Flickr What can you do when the candidate with the amazing resume, who aced every interview and raised no red-flags during reference checks, turns out to be a non-starter on the job? Well, first …

Contingent Workers Pros and Cons - Part 2

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In our earlier post, Contingent Workers Pros and Cons - Part 1, we looked at the advantages a growing and increasingly qualified contingent workforce offers to employers. As a continuation of that discussion, today we consider some of the challenges associated with hiring more temporary, part-time and contract employees. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Disadvantages of Contingent Workers Reduced control: Employers have less control over contingent workers, especially independent contractors who are self-managed. They can accept or refuse work and typically set their own hours, so the employer has only the power of the paycheck in these relationships. The control of temporary …

Contingent Workforce Pros and Cons - Part 1

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The contingent workforce is made up of temporary workers, part-timers, interns, consultants, contractors and outsourced workers. And make no mistake, it’s growing. Photo by Michael Coghlan, Flickr According to the 2014 Global Analysis of the Contingent Workforce Index (CWI), “the United States and Canada stand out for having substantially large contingent workforces for the region [the Americas], at more than nine million people and 2.5 million people respectively…” Some estimates expect the growth to continue and predict as many as 64.9 million in the contingent workforce in the United States by 2020.[1] What does this trend mean for your …

Fighting the “Mommy Dead End”

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One of the toughest challenges to overcome when looking for work is the dreaded resume gap. A month or two, here and there among a lifetime of jobs is not uncommon and shouldn’t have a significant impact on job prospects—as long as it doesn’t represent a pattern of quitting (or being fired!). But longer gaps tend to awaken the skeptic in recruiters and employers. While a lengthy gap in employment can happen for a variety of reasons, one of the most common for women (though slowly becoming more common for men) is time out …

The Surprising Thing About Accommodation

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In the United States, for all age groups, the employment-population ratio for persons with a disability is less than half that of those with no disability.[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr Employers often hesitate to hire disabled individuals and can be challenged by the need to accommodate employees who develop a disability while employed. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires any employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment that enables a person with a disability …

7 Tips for Hiring Top Design Talent

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This posted orginally appeared on the LightCMS blog on Wed, September 10, 2014 Hiring is possibly the biggest growth opportunity for any web design company. The smaller the firm, the more each new person can contribute in terms of skill, contacts, professional image and team motivation. Of course, hiring a new person represents both potential income, possible risk and certain cost. If you want to make more money, you need to have more manpower to handle a greater amount of work. The catch, of course, is that hiring people also takes extra time, so small, busy firms tend to put …

The New Recruiter

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In our efforts to continually improve our hiring processes, we’re envisioning a new kind of recruiter: the Recruiting Marketer (RM). This isn't  someone who recruits marketers or markets to recruiters, but rather a person who recruits new talent using the tools and strategies typically considered the stuff of marketers. Recruiting, Wikimedia Commons Creating an Employer Brand As one of the earliest advocates of Social HR, we’ve always seen recruiting as marketing and recognized social networks as powerful recruiting tools. Employer branding has also been integral to our recruiting activities and success. As we move …

Did That Job Posting Say Salesman?

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We’ve recently shared a number of articles on achieving workplace diversity, our efforts to improve gender balance and some thoughts on pay equity, regardless of gender. The other day I came across a job posting that clearly demonstrates just how far short of ideal the current environment is. Here is a screen shot of the job posting in question. I’m ashamed to say that the company who posted it is in our own backyard. Right there, in the first paragraph, two sentences hit me in the face: “Have you never met a better salesman than …

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