Do You Love Your ATS? Your Candidates Probably Hate It

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email


According to research from Capterra, which offers software-buying advice for businesses, roughly 75 percent of recruiters and hiring professionals use some sort of ATS or similar recruiting software.

For the most part, recruiters and hiring pros are happy with their software: Capterra also found that 94 percent of them say their hiring software has been a net benefit for the hiring process.

But here’s the problem: Hiring managers and recruiters may be happy with their software, but candidates are definitely not.

“[Candidates] have the polar opposite view of these systems,” explains J.P. Medved, content director at Capterra. “Research has found that up to 80 percent of candidates are saying that these online applications and ATSs are stressful, difficult, and not a good experience.”

It doesn’t really matter, then, how much recruiters and hiring managers like their software: If candidates aren’t into it, there will be some very negative repercussions.

In the age of Glassdoor, candidates who have bad experiences during the application process can share their thoughts with others very easily. That can cause employers to miss out on some excellent talent, all because their ATSs are not candidate-friendly.

“You stand to lose a lot of quality applicants if your hiring process is terrible,” Medved says. “Everyone is going to Glassdoor these days to check out a company before they apply.”

There is a big disconnect between hiring pros and candidates when it comes to the ATS – but that’s not the only way in which the software you love might be harming your hiring process.

Medved points out that ATSs filter as much as 75 percent of candidates from a given job posting. This may sound like a good thing – fewer irrelevant resumes for the hiring manager to read, right? – but in reality, many of these rejected candidates were knocked out of the running for bad reasons.

“An automated system, like an ATS, will sometimes reject people for very minor reasons, like incorrect resume formatting,” Medved says. “If you had an actual flesh-and-blood human overseeing the process, a lot of these candidates wouldn’t necessarily get rejected.”

CodingThis is not to say that you should give up on your ATS; rather, you just need to make sure that your ATS is actually as awesome as you think it is.

“ATSs get a lot of grief, but they are very helpful,” Medved says. “You just have to be very careful about how you implement and use [your ATS].”

Assess the Candidate Experience Before You Buy

According to Medved, the process of making sure your ATS is truly beneficial to the hiring process begins before you even purchase the software.

“When you’re doing demos or putting together a requirements list, make sure you focus on good candidate experiences,” Medved explains.

Pay attention to small details. How, exactly, does the software filter out applicants? What criteria does it use? Do candidates have to re-enter the same information multiple times? Can the ATS be customized to create the kind of candidate experience the company wants? The answers to questions like these will help steer you toward the right ATS choice.

Test the ATS as if You Were the Candidate

If you already have an ATS, Medved suggests you walk through it as if you were a candidate. Get a firsthand look at exactly what the process is like for the average applicant.

“Log onto your career site yourself and actually go through the whole process of filling out an application and sending in an resume,” Medved says.

While doing this, pay attention to how long the process takes and how difficult it is for the candidate. The shorter and more efficient you can make the process, the better.

Make Sure the Right People Are Getting Through

In 2013, Bersin tested the filtering capabilities  of a popular ATS by sending an ideal candidate’s resume through the system. The result was quite shocking: The “candidate” – whose resume was specifically designed to be perfect for the role – was only ranked “43 percent relevant” by the ATS.

The takeaway? This could be happening to you, and you might not even know it.

Medved suggests conducting the same sort of test on your own ATS (or an ATS you may want to purchase).

River Walk“Verify that the system you have is not throwing out the types of people you want to hire,” Medved says. “For example, if you are a tech firm looking for a programmer, and you already have a great programmer, try putting their resume through. Make sure they are not getting rejected.”

It bears repeating that ATSs are not all bad. They can, in fact, be incredibly powerful tools for hiring professionals, recruiters, and employers overall.

That being said, you can’t just assume your ATS is working the way it should. Put your software through the ringer – if it holds up, then you’re in a good spot. If not, you have some adjustments to make – pronto, before you lose anymore top candidates.

By Matthew Kosinski