Is Your ATS System Weeding Out Qualified Candidates? - American Society of Employers - Heather Nezich

Is Your ATS System Weeding Out Qualified Candidates?

While applicant tracking systems (ATS) no doubt help large employers keep track of many applicants, they also lack the human touch.  They don’t have the ability to read between the lines and see potential in candidates like a human can.  They can also make the application process too tedious for highly qualified, time-savvy applicants.  What can employers do to ensure they are getting the most out of their applicant tracking system?

Garbage in Equals Garbage Out
The problems with ATS systems often stem from the data that is entered.  “Garbage in equals garbage out.” Too often the programs weed out perfectly qualified candidates because the requirements entered into the system for the position are unrealistic.  If filters are too restrictive, the system will miss good candidates.  For example, if you input “MBA” as an education requirement, but a candidate has another master’s degree, they may be filtered out.  Perhaps their work experience along with their graduate education makes them more qualified than someone with the actual MBA, but less experience.  75% of resumes are weeded out because they contain the wrong words.  Wharton School Management Professor Peter Capelli recalls a story in his book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It, about a “company that had 25,000 applicants for a standard engineering position of whom the staffing people said not one was qualified.” Capelli himself experimented with applying anonymously for a job at his own company and failed to pass the screening process.  Another large firm disguised the resumes of their top five engineers and put them through their own ATS screening process.  Two of the five were actually screened out.

The Human Touch
What’s missing often times is the human touch.  Many recruiters are not even ever looking at resumes.  They solely rely on the ATS to find keywords in resumes.  If the applicant is missing those key words, or the resume isn’t formatted correctly, they get an automated “thanks, but not thanks” letter.   “You need a human touch at all levels,” says Eric Bleiweis, CPC, director of recruitment and employee engagement at Liberty Lutheran.  “An ATS should make the process smoother and not prevent companies from looking at the best prospective employees.”  An ATS system might toss out an ideal candidate that a good HR Manager would have spotted.  Although Bleisweis receives hundreds of email weekly, he says, “I look at each resume because an ATS is not the end-all that HR generally thinks it is.  Remember we have been trained and mentored to find the right candidates, and that requires the human touch.”

The Applicant Experience
From a job-seekers perspective applicant tracking systems can be very frustrating.  They often feel like their resumes are going into a black hole.  Many state that although they’ve applied to hundreds of positions, they’ve never been contacted despite meeting all the qualifications listed.  Are these applicants truly meeting the job requirements but are among the 75% of resumes being cut by the ATS?  Job seekers can spend hours filling out tedious online applications, only to never hear anything back from the potential employer.  If an applicant takes the time to fill out your long application, don’t they at least deserve a response?  In addition, to be helpful that response should include why they were turned away.  “As a job seeker, the ATS would be more useful if it were to provide point-by-point feedback to the screen-out candidate as to which data points need how much improvement in which ways to qualify,” says Joseph Oehler, Jr., career advisor.  Also keep in mind that how you respond to and treat job applicants reflects on your employer brand.  If an applicant has a bad experience they can go straight to social sites, such as, and report it.

In summary, don’t rely solely on your ATS to filter resumes.  Utilize your valuable HR training and skills to identify potentially ideal candidates.  Be sure the criteria being entered into the ATS system is not too rigid.  You just might find that the talent pool is suddenly a bit bigger.



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