Is It the ATS or Recruiting That is Broken?

There is something fundamentally wrong with recruiting. It’s more than just a process. I think it has everything to do with our technology.

In the 1990’s the ATS which is short for Applicant Tracking System was developed as a way to house online applications for the purposes of online storage and compliance. And personnel professionals were overjoyed with the functionality. It made much of the hiring process paperless. We said goodbye to the file cabinets filled with handwritten job applications and replaced them with file cabinets filled with interview notes from those same candidates.

With the invention of the ATS, companies could avoid interfacing directly with the candidate. We, as recruiters, personnel and business leaders effectively hid behind our technology. Apply at our kiosk we told them. “We will call you once we look over your application and resume. “ We’d brushed them off and suggest they apply online. We began treating them as “candidate number 27” instead of John, your brother’s neighbor from down the street.

Even still today in the increased world of connectedness and information, fifty percent of candidates don’t receive even a peep from a company. The ATS has dehumanized the hiring process. Because we don’t personally know John we aren’t personally invested. We are not accountable for our inactions and lack of communication. We justify our inaction and the inability to communicate because we are too busy sorting candidates. The ATS has became our scapegoat and the crutch to blame for our ineffective and inability to hire properly.

In truth, we don’t like delivering bad news. We don’t like telling John he didn’t get the job. We hide behind our technology and congratulate ourselves for mediocrity. We celebrate communicating to the candidate with an automated email half of the time.

Yes, hiring became an established process. And the tech removed the human element. Personnel, hiring managers and business leaders began hiding behind because it made it less uncomfortable to interact with those pesky unqualified job seekers and candidates. 

I Blame the ATS

The applicant tracking system forced us to accept a technology that was just simply an online storage facility. It’s essentially an candidate storage systems like a DropBox. Every single job opening you’ve ever had is a folder filled with candidates who have applied. It’s not easy to search, leave notes or pull a list of candidates for future job openings.

The current ATS is the end destination. Problem is that hiring and human capital needs are fluid. Hiring is dynamic. It’s ever evolving, changing and go beyond just an online storage facility. They need to be dynamic, custom and easy to use for every single person involved in the hiring process from candidate to HR to recruiter and those who are interviewing prospective employees.

In 2015, sourcing, engaging and attracting the best candidates for your job openings is a business differentiator that could propel your company. This differentiator, this game changer is called the quality of hire. Quality of hire is nearly unattainable to measure because of our existing HR technologies.

As the keepers of the hiring process and the talent within our organization, we need to demand more from our ATS. We need not ask for more from our hiring technology.

What I Want

A system that is custom to suit my needs. It’s specific yet its interface is not complex making it user friendly for all parties who are involved in the hiring process from the recruiting coordinator, to the candidate and especially the hiring manager. If recruiting is going to change, the technology needs to suit all their needs.

A simple yet robust reporting dashboard. Data, metrics and information are the key to great hiring and yet only a small percentage of ATS technology users actually interface with the reporting dashboards of our software in favor of Excel spreadsheets.

Easy search. Whether it’s searching for a specific candidate or a group of candidates in order to determine our organization’s speed to scalability. I want a technology that can provide me with the information and resources so I can be a part of business leader conversations. I want to be able to not just discuss things like our time to hire but the anticipated speed at which based on our current candidate database we will be expected to hire for a new location, facility or a new division of employees.

Designed for productivity and efficiency. I want an ATS that doesn’t require pushing candidates through 17 steps before I make a hire in the system. I want an ATS that allows me to see the complete hiring process so I don’t waste time fumbling through piles of interview notes and spreadsheets. I want an ATS that automatically adds ical’s into my busy work schedule. I want a technology that knows intuitively how to make the most of my time for maximum productivity.

Is designed for a team and not a single recruiter or individual to manage. Best in class hiring for organization takes a team, a village and your entire company. An ATS needs to incorporate all team members who are involved in the hiring process providing them with customized access, unique information and reporting. I want a technology that allows for my entire organization to claim ownership for the hiring and talent attraction process.

A system focused on cultivating candidate and prospect relationships. It’s a system that allows for ease of information, communication and the candidate experience. It’s a hybrid ATS/CRM that helps to build a talent pipeline of prospects to fill those new and yet to be forecasted roles with my organization. It’s a technology that makes the hiring process more fluid and flexible to our organization growth needs.

I’m not alone in wanting something new. There are scores of blogs on how to get the most of the ATS (Here, here and here) What do you want from your ATS, HRTech and recruiting technology? Maybe it’s time that recruiters and candidates collaborate together to build a system where everyone gets what they need.


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Chris Foley says

    But the problems with ATS go much deeper than this. I am not in HR, I am someone applying for these positions. Does anyone realize how fundamentally broken the user interface is for these systems? Command buttons missing, “edit” functions with no editing ability. I am in one now that all my applications are literally blank…and no way to contact someone and ask “why”. At this point, I am avoiding and all ATS based recruitment…it is literally a waste of my time.

  2. MAGNETITE says

    dECIDING WHETHER SOMEONE GETS IN THE FRONT DOOR OR NOT, DEPENDING ON WHETHER THEY HAVE THE RIGHT KEYWORDS IN THEIR RESUME IS NOT HOW RECRUITING SHOULD WORK. yES, YOU WANT TO FILTER OUT CANDIDATES, BUT WHEN YOU FORCE PEOPLE TO APPLY ONLINE, THEY ARE NOT ONLY COMPETING AGAINST THEIR OWN CITY OR QUADRANT OF THEIR CITY, BUT THE ENTIRE FREAKING PLANET. on top of that, even people who apply in person or want to even talk to someone at the company needs to apply online. wHOEVER THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA NEEDS TO BE FIRED. This has destroyed my faith in the job search process and i have considered leaving the workforce permanently, because i don’t want to deal with such bS.


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