Written by
June 6, 2017

The house of the rising sun may have been the ruin of many a poor boy, but the ATS (applicant tracking system) has ruined even more promising careers not to mention being the bane of hiring managers and HR officers everywhere.



Beginning back in the 1980s with IBM and Oracle, (some of these are still in place, btw) and continuing to today, ATS vendors have tried to help companies manage their hiring processes. These systems store and filter job applicants and of late sync with calendar and email programs to smooth the interview setup process.

The 1980s called. They want their awesome back.

Capturing and storing applications is pretty easy – put a series of information gathering questions on a web page with fields where someone can type the answers, and store it in a database. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the gist of it. Besides calculating numbers, this is about as basic a software program as can be imagined. The problems started when ranking and filtering came into the equation.

The hiring manager didn’t just want a print out or screen of a candidate’s information – that was only marginally better than handing her a resume (which most ATS systems still can’t process, but that’s for another post) – she wanted to compare the candidate’s qualifications against the role’s requirements, and then rank the candidates against one another to find the best so she could concentrate her and her team’s valuable time on interviewing the best prospects.



That hasn’t gone so well. Turns out it’s REALLY difficult for a computer to understand language – like ‘let’s work on this problem for 70 years’ kind of difficult. The computer isn’t self-aware so it can’t understand whether what’s written is relevant or not. It’s at this point when language becomes so important that the ATS turns on its users and hurts both the hiring manager and the applicant.

Its bite is worse than its bark

ATS systems often apply a simple keyword filter. This is a list of schools, company names, certifications, etc, that the system attempts to find on a resume or in the data taken from the company’s application form page. Turns out, this is VERY problematic, which is why most ATS systems are called ‘black holes’.

If the ATS can’t read everything on the resume it will often flag and remove the resume from evaluation. Ironically, all those websites and coaches that tell people to ‘jazz up your resume to make it stand out!’ are doing real harm to the applicant’s chances of getting hired since it just increases the likelihood the ATS will reject the resume.

Most ATS systems do little to rank and sort candidates. The newest systems from Silicon Valley vendors offer a field for the interviewing team to give the applicant a score and let the hiring manager use that for their decision-making or sometimes do keyword ranking, which leads to the same problems discussed above.

Also, as previously shown, hiring managers and interviewers aren’t subject matter experts in everything under the sun. They’re also human, so they are inconsistent in the quality and execution of screening and interviewing. This means a lot of inappropriate people are brought into the process. That raises the chance for a bad hire. A bad hire results in high levels of turnover, which often proves quite expensive in time, lost productivity, and money or just as expensive – a disengaged employee.


If you’re reviewing ATS systems, ask your vendors about how they account for these issues. Most of the time the platform will be a shiny version of spreadsheets and calendars. Useful to a point, but not ideal given today’s pressing needs for talent and constrained budgets.

If you’re looking for a system that identifies the best candidate for any role and ranks them all according to the role’s requirements, the team’s needs, and the applicants overall capabilities – then start here.

It’s about time technology helps organizations identify and hire the right people. Your team is too important (and too busy) to risk otherwise.