Twice in the last two weeks, on two separate occasions, I heard the following from directors of staffing:

“I’ve sat in a few conferences about recruiting technology, and no one is happy with their ATS.”

I’m here to tell you why this is. I actually was at one of these conferences a couple of years ago, where everyone went around the room and complained that their ATSes weren’t working the way they wanted it to. What’s funny is that I knew which systems each company in the room used and how severe their problems were from a management, a recruiter/hiring manager user and candidate perspective because I had worked closely with each of them.

Even though they said the same exact thing – “I hate my ATS” – their problems were actually much different and on a very big range of scales. The range of problems included:

Company 1: “Feature-creep,” or the company requiring so much of a system in their RFP that one that met their requirements just didn’t exist. This tends to happen in a lot of tech companies. The end result: a custom system built by a company with little to no knowledge of the ATS market that didn’t do 1/10th of what the off-the-shelf systems that others in the room used, and a lot of the basic functions (resume search, reporting) just plain didn’t work.
Company 2: Misaligned expectations about what the off-the-shelf system actually did.
Company 3: Recruiters had never embraced or adopted the system because they never went through proper change management processes – recruiters are people too, and people just don’t want to change their behavior if they can avoid it – leaving 90% of the system untouched and unused.
Company 4: There was no actual plan or strategy in place to realize the value that had been promised by the ATS vendor in the sales pitch.
Company 5: There were technical problems on the vendor side, but they didn’t come close to comparing in scale or scope to the first problem.
Company 6: Implemented their stripped down HRIS’s ATS module (what I like to call the red-headed stepchild module), and were left unable to automate or scale critical staffing processes (like employee referral submissions)
I suggest that you cover your ears the next time you get in one of these discussions – or at least take everything with a large grain of salt. Compared to the other companies, the Company 1 had the most severe problems. Yet the fact that other companies were not pleased with their systems left them feeling like there “was no silver bullet” or anything that could solve their problems, when in reality, the majority of their problems were solvable.

Selecting an Applicant Tracking System is a big decision with many pitfalls. I do recommend benchmarking with other employers, but at the end of the day, the fact that someone else is not happy has no bearing on whether you need to move quickly and decisively to solve your own (sometimes much bigger) business problems. You also don’t have to settle on something vanilla or mediocre in an attempt to make it fool-proof – you’ll quickly learn that nothing in the technology world is.

With the right technologies, processes and people (and not necessarily in that order) in place, a significant competitive advantage for talent can be realized.


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