A person buys the best hammer in the world only to discover that it doesn’t change their ability to hammer a nail. Sounds silly, yet companies that set out to buy what they’ve determined is the best ATS often find nothing has improved a year after installing it. Their mistake is buying an ATS thinking it’s a solution, when in reality,
a tool is only as effective as it is used. The irony is companies who install ATSs
often end up in worse shape than before, through no fault of the ATS
The hiring process will never be replaced by technology because it all comes down to people hiring people. An ATS's value is its ability to provide an infrastructure for managing the process, but that process will always be dictated by people. Given the current market, the subject of ATS efficiency might not seem important, but this is the most strategic time to focus on it. When the market rebounds, will you be ready for it or fall back on the bad habit of reacting to situations? Quality of hire becomes increasingly critical.
As a contract recruiter, I was always astounded at companies that seemed to start every new job search from scratch when they probably already had resumes of the people they’d most want to hire. The problem is forgetting candidates after they went through the process and not having the means to revisit them. If someone took another job or weren’t quite right for a specific job, does that mean you wouldn't want to ever hire them? Chances are companies pay more in agency fees for hires they could have made with existing candidates than they paid for the entire ATS! Whenever I started a new assignment, I always sourced existing resumes first, which invariably resulted in free, quick, strategic hires.
Another problem that results from poorly implemented ATSs is lost candidate submissions. On paper, it might seem logical to have the candidate enter all the information you want in your ATS for you. But think how often candidates simply give up before finishing the submission process! I always insist on personally testing
the submission process, and often find glaring errors. I also insist on getting website statistics to identify at what point candidates quit before completing the submission process. If you were a highly desirable candidate believing that companies would want to hire you, would you be less inclined to complete a laborious submission process when other companies don’t require it? OFCCP requires you to obtain certain information about a candidate but nowherein the regulation does it say who has to enter the information. In fact, the degree of complication in your submission process actually lowers the quality of the candidate pool, which is a big deal to hiring managers. If that means the ATS can't do the busy work part of your job well, isn’t that what you’re paid to do, anyway?
Few companies ever consider the importance of standardizing simple candidate data entry. Instead of thinking big-picture, they wait until the problem becomes unmanageable. By that point, correcting all the legacy data is untenable. Titles and technology keywords should be as limited as possible or you lose candidates. For example, if some candidates are entered as C++ engineers, others as OOD engineers and yet others as Object Oriented Developers, even though they're all the same thing, you now need at least three separate searches to find essentially the same skill sets. As another example, there are basically three operating systems: MS, Mac and Unix. Subsets of these like XT or Vista are rarely important because chances are you’re looking for specific disciplines like QA, GUI, RDBMS, etc., and most people tend to be current on the OS, anyway. Once your Boolean search delivers a short list, you can quickly review the resumes, which is how you’ll really
determine if they’re a potential fit.
A real world example of the value in this was with one of my first clients. They’d suddenly lost an engineer with a critical, hard-to-find skill set. They immediately started contacting agencies, offering increased fees, but never once considering if we might already have a replacement candidate. Having just finished tuning the ATS, I conducted a search which surprisingly turned up 12 potential candidates they didn’t know they had. Within an hour, I’d qualified four available candidates, two of which had previously declined offers but now were interested in being hired. Within a week, they’d hired their replacement and the savings in agency fees paid for my services.
The point is a tool isn’t the solution to a problem, but the time to get good at using it -- which is a key part of the solution -- is before you really need it, like an ATS in today’s hiring market.