HomeFuture of WorkDigital HRHR TechnologyDecoding HR Tech: Time to abandon the ATS to perfect the hiring process?

Decoding HR Tech: Time to abandon the ATS to perfect the hiring process?

  • 7 Min Read

“ATS software is sold, not bought. You might hear or see great salesmanship that a tool promises to fix all your problems. The ATS are oversold as solutions. If your organization is not set up to do hiring well, it’s not going to fix everything.”

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As the job market evolves and the gig economy continues to expand, HR leaders are faced with new challenges in managing their recruitment process. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) have become an essential tool for HR professionals attempting to streamline their recruitment process. But many of these systems are not able to address the changing needs of the industry.

From ethical concerns to the business cost of missing hidden talent pools, there are several common problems with ATS software that HR leaders must be aware of to ensure they are making the most out of their technology investment. In the second Decoding HR Tech Q&A, we speak with William Tincup about overcoming these difficulties, and whether it’s time to strip back the ATS to a tool solely HR leaders solely use for data compliance.

1) HR leaders report difficulties getting their team to use their ATS. How can they encourage greater uptake of this software?

William Tincup: Is it time to abandon the ATS to perfect the hiring process?

William Tincup: The last time I checked, there were over 1200 different ATS platforms in the world, from free tools to enterprise software. Think of the buying decision as buying a car, for a group of people that are going to drive it. The car you pick will define their experience.

So, first things first, have them involved in the purchasing decision. Whether you’re the Senior HR Director or VP of Talent Acquisition, it’s going to be recruiters and resources that are going to be in the application day in and day out. So, you want to buy the technology that they feel the most comfortable with and that gets the job done. Bring them into the buying process, ask them to look at the demos with you, and establish some sort of vote to find out which they like the best.

2) Why is relying on an ATS as a ‘quick-fix’ harmful to candidate experience and the recruitment process?

William Tincup: Firstly, it’s sold that way. HR Tech and ATS software is sold, not bought. You might hear or see great salesmanship that a tool promises to fix all your problems. The ATS are oversold as solutions. If your organization is not set up to do hiring well, it’s not going to fix everything. It might fix some areas, but it’s not going to make everything better.

It’s a triangle of three Ps that will make it work. People, products, and process. A new ATS might only solve one of those. An inferior product on a superior process is always preferable to a superior product on an inferior process.

You need to configure your process around the candidate’s desire to have a quick response. If they apply for a job, they expect a response. Immediately. This is equally as true for contracted or part-time applicants as it is for salaried. It is now the expectation and the minimum for a good candidate experience. Focus on reorganizing your process. From looking at the careers page to the job description to visiting your website, make sure the applicant can quickly access the information they need to make a quality decision. When you’ve addressed issues with your hiring process, then go and find the best technology for your team.

3) A common frustration with software is ineffective search capabilities. Do you have any tips for HR leaders on dealing with this?

William Tincup: Plenty of third-party products have come about in the last couple of years that can refine the data in your ATS. They’ll make sure your data is healthy and up to date. This software can make sure your ATS interface is completely searchable.

But, if a given tool doesn’t have the search capabilities you need, this influences the product purchase decision. It’s a great question to ask in the buying process. Test whether you can do an advanced Boolean search or create the script you need. Again, this is why it’s useful to have your recruiters or sources in the buying process, as they can understand whether the tool has the search capabilities they need.

4) What methods can HR and People leaders use to augment their ATS and avoid missing hidden talent pools?

William Tincup: You can’t make you can’t force a technology company to then make their search better. So, if you’re having difficulties, consider what third-party software you could use. Ideally, you want to look to use a tool that’s integrated with the ATS you’re using. Each ATS will have a marketplace of tools that it has already integrated. You will, of course, have to pay extra, but you get an added layer of refinement.

Whether it’s a specific skill, demographic, or both, within your database is a pool of talent. You need a more sophisticated approach to draw them out of the database, and to encourage them to apply or reapply for a job. Every ATS on the market is spending on R&D to figure out how to solve this issue, but right now, I would consider those third-party tools.

5) Can you share any best practices for can HR and People leaders for crafting ATS-suited job descriptions?

William Tincup: Hiring managers and recruiters fail when they cut and copy a job description that already exists and try to personalize it. Instead, build a job description from a blank document. And do it with the hiring manager to understand what the must-haves are. Ask for ten deal-breakers and ask them to prioritize and rank the list. Cut them down to the top five and write the job description based on this.

But also, keep in mind that a job description isn’t just for an ATS. It’s a marketing document. You want to make it goes back to the core values, the job itself, the team, and the hiring manager. No one else should be able to put their name on your job description. Even if someone doesn’t have each requirement and doesn’t apply, it develops your employer brand. When we write an inauthentic job description, we create failure when we onboard employees, and the role is completely different.

6) How will this software need to evolve to suit an increasingly ‘non-traditional’ or ‘gig’ job market?

William Tincup: It’s all about looking at skills in a different way than we do currently. Each job description is a catalog of skills. It’s now important to unlock talent by matching jobs to people who wouldn’t have even considered applying.

So, really think about the transferable or tangential skills people have and how they might apply. Someone who’s a master of Excel might normally apply to a data job. But now, we could match them to a job in HR operations that needs someone adept in Excel. With so much fluidity between jobs, we can now look at skills differently. So, if you’re moving to skills-based hiring, add this to your buying questions. Tell the vendor you want everything to be skills-based, and you want to see how the technology will help that.

7) Or, with these issues in mind, is it time to just move away from relying on ATS?

I would love to say yes. But the problem is, you must retain certain pieces of data to be compliant when you’re hiring. We know that the ATS is not going to solve everything, but we can’t completely get rid of it. And nor should we from a compliance perspective. So, perhaps you could strip the ATS down to just focus on compliance. But you still need to use another application like a CRM, because you need to connect recruitment, marketing, and onboarding.


Decoding HR Tech is an exclusive HRD Q&A series with William Tincup. William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. 

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