Applicant tracking systems (ATS) automate the recruitment, interview, and hiring process. They provide a tremendous benefit to companies, but at what cost?

Do they improve the process for job seekers or actually make it more cumbersome? And to what degree could an ATS hinder companies from finding the best applicants?

The candidate experience

Gene Mal, CTO at Static Jobs, has been on both sides of the table, and he’s not a fan of using an ATS. “Employers are starting to realize that applicant tracking systems don't work,” he says.

He says his disdain is based on the various hoops that applicants have to jump through. “Many employers direct job seekers to various ATS or third-party websites, where applicants have to provide such information as their email address, password, confirm password, first and last names, home address, phone number, social network profiles, education, availability, work authorization, how they heard about the company, and even previous employment history,” Mal explains.

Some job seekers apply for numerous positions, so imagine having to do this for every job that looks like a good fit. “And, they might not even hear back from the company — resumes often disappear into a black hole even if you're a perfect match for the role.” Under these circumstances, he says job seekers aren’t willing to keep going through such an extensive process, especially since they don’t know if the company will even respond.

The process is convenient for employers, but not for applicants. “There are lots of job seekers who want to apply but just can't physically register or answer a million questions on every employer's website.” Mal says they shouldn’t have to.

“That's what a resume is for — you write it once and then you use it everywhere, but now many employers ask job seekers to duplicate information readily available in their resumes on various websites on the internet,” he says. “This is this boring, tedious and inefficient for job seekers.”

However, a lot may depend on what type of ATS a company chooses. “Leveraging an ATS that promotes a candidate-centric approach provides many benefits to the candidate that places them at the center and heart of the recruiting process,” says Aman Brar, CEO of Jobvite. In fact, Brar believes that the right ATS makes the application process quick, intuitive, and seamless.

“It also allows candidates to more efficiently communicate and engage with recruiters through their preferred channel, whether that's email, social, phone, text, or AI-driven bots.” In addition, he says a candidate-centric ATS speeds up the hiring process.

The internal stakeholders

Another concern with using an ATS is that it won’t necessarily result in the best candidates, which can be a grave concern for companies. Again, this may depend on the system. “Unfortunately, there are hiring solutions out there that are driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence that are offered with ATS platforms, and they often find relationships between new hires and performance that are tentative at best and often propel bias,” says Jennifer Yugo, owner and managing director at Corvirtus.

“For example, if a company largely hires males for a technical role — and is trying to increase diversity — AI may lock onto largely male activities and experiences (like sports, hobbies, if they were in the Boy Scouts, etc.) and start screening based on those activities and experiences.”

Ultimately, Yugo says an ATS is no different than a hammer or other type of tool: you need to know what type of tool you’re purchasing and how to use it. “You wouldn’t buy a sledgehammer to hang pictures, especially if you’ve never used one before; the same is true for ATS platforms.”

Her company provides an ATS and integrates its products with other ATS providers. She says it’s important to know how you want the candidate experience to look before you decide on a specific ATS. “There are platforms out there that don’t have an overbearing registration process, and there are some that do,” Yugo says.

Also, the nature of your applicants might be the deciding factor when determining what an ideal registration and application process should look like. “Entry-level applicants are looking for a very different experience than executives,” she says.

Also, the ATS industry is constantly changing. According to Sameer Penakalapti, CEO of CEIPAL, the legacy systems were only designed to create a candidate resume database, handle basic workflow for approvals, and provide basic keyword search functionality.

“However, the current ATS systems are version 2.0 — which are much more sophisticated, and the newest and best ATS systems are built with enhanced functionality and features that eliminate concerns about redundant candidate tasks and data storage.” For example, by measuring the frequency and relevance of keywords to a candidate, Penakalapti says recruiters can sift through massive databases to find the right candidate within a fraction of a minute. This allows them to spend more time actually engaging with the right candidates.

“Also, current generation ATS systems are equipped with sophisticated communication channels that enable hiring managers and recruiters to communicate with candidates more fluidly and naturally during every step of the hiring process.”

They can also create one large ecosystem. “The newest systems are equipped with a vast array of integrations that can connect with any enterprise business system,” he says. “This eliminates redundancies and allows recruiters to work on a single platform, increasing efficiencies and improving organizational productivity across every HR function.”

The advantages aren’t just limited to recruiters. “Leadership gains visibility into the hiring process, specifically, where candidates are at in the hiring workflow,” explains Brar. He says the right ATS can help companies better understand the analytics of hiring and know what works and what doesn’t. “Ultimately, it saves money for companies by offering a centralized database of applicants as well as real-time analytics that mean organizations spend recruiting dollars more wisely.”