Tag Archives: Applicant Tracking Stystems

4 reasons why the applicant tracking system is ineffective

My wife has an ongoing argument with Amazon’s Alexa. “Alexa, play WBUR.”

“I don’t understand your question.”

“No, Alexa….Play WBUR….Alexa, play WBUR.”

“Playing a station from Boise Idaho.”

“Argh.”

alexa

As I watch this interaction, it demonstrates how technology and humans don’t always jive. This transaction between my wife reminds me of how the applicant tracking system (ATS)—of which there are hundreds—doesn’t work for the following reasons.

People are only human

No matter how hard I try, some job seekers don’t send résumés tailored to specific jobs. Instead they send generic résumés to every job, exclaiming in aspiration, “Why don’t I get interviews? I’ve sent hundreds of résumés and gotten no interviews; not even a phone interview.”

For years I’ve been preaching to job seekers that keywords are the trick with the ATS. I tell them that they can identify keywords from the job postings by using software as simple as http://www.tagxedo.com or http://www.wordle.net to create word clouds, and then do the same to compare their résumés to job postings. Or they can use a more scientific method using http://www.jobscan.com.

Take the time to dissect the job post to understand the required major requirements and skills. Modify your Branding Headline, Performance Profile, Experience section, essentially everything to fit the job post.

The ATS is not human

The ATS can’t do human; it doesn’t know you as a person who has so much more to offer than the requirements for the job at hand. It is designed to do one thing: parse résumés for keywords. Only if your résumé contains the keywords—and density of them—will it be delivered to the hiring authorities who will read it.

Learn more about the ATS by reading 8 things you need to know about applicant tracking systems.

The ATS is so exact in the keywords for which it searches; there is no room for error. It doesn’t  digest the following bold words in this sentence written by a job seeker: “Demonstrate organizational skills by coordinating events that garnered 98% participation from municipality constituents.

It recognizes the following words in bold from a job posting: “Must coordinate events for functions that attract an extremely high percent of participants. Candidates must be extremely organized

Here is where the job candidate fails in matching the three keywords.

  1. coordinating doesn’t equal coordinate.
  2. participation doesn’t equal participants.
  3. Organizational doesn’t equal organized.

The ATS promotes a failing system

The ATS is brilliant because it eliminates as many as 75% of hundreds of résumés submitted for one job. This makes hiring authorities’ lives more manageable and keeps them sane. Most large, and many midsize, companies use applicant tracking systems. One source rates the top 99 applicant tracking systems.

For years we’ve realized that the hiring process is deficient in various ways. When human meets machine, the process fails. You submit your application through an ATS, which does a great job of rating your résumé among others (remember keywords).

However, if your résumé doesn’t meet the ATS’s criteria, you’re out of luck for that job. what the ATS can’t determine is perhaps the most important aspect of a candidate’s potential, emotional intelligence (EQ). The ATS focuses strictly on the skills stated on your résumé, it does not sit across from you in an interview.

The ATS also delivers unqualified people to interviews. This might be attributed to career developers, such as myself, who advise job seekers on how to get by the ATS. (Surely not all people who can play the ATS game are unqualified.) The ones who are unaware of mechanics of the ATS, are being passed by for less qualified people.

The ATS perpetuates job boards

Job boards are chum line. If you’ve ever gone deep-sea fishing, you know what it means to use chum line. Scraps like squid, clams, fish parts, and basically anything that would attract large fish are thrown overboard. The bait attracts any fish who happen to be near the surface.

Hiring authorities reason that they might not get the perfect candidate, but there are job seekers out there who are qualified enough. In other words, what they don’t see, they won’t miss. This thinking is human nature, but it is also faulty.

The ATS allows employers to accept more résumés, convinced the most qualified candidates will be presented to them. Further, the résumés that don’t pass the ATS the first time will be stored for future perusal. Hiring authorities will have a trove a future candidates to look at. This is of no solace to job seekers who need a job now.

The job board’s success rate ranges from 2%-10%. The marriage between it and the ATS is a perfect union.


Friend or foe, the ATS is no better than Alexa. My wife eventually taught the machine to find the radio station she desired, but it took some teaching and frustration. Will the ATS be smarter? Will it be more human? More intuitive? If Alexa is any indication, there might be hope.

Photo: Flickr.com, Victor Gonzalez Couso

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