From the time I started my full time resume writing and career coaching business in 1999, scanning systems – called ATS (applicant tracking systems) have been the “elephant in the room” for jobseekers. Yes, you do see some posts from people frustrated with them, but to understand why the systems are harmful despite their convenience for the organizations that use them is rarely discussed. Let’s face it, jobseekers struggle enough writing a resume for themselves, as objectivity and generalized resumes are huge issues, and now we also ask the jobseeker to understand the following:
- Keyword search systems (ATS)
- Keyword (industry and job specific, of course)
- Why a Microsoft Word or PDF resume version doesn’t work in all systems correctly and can turn the resume text into gibberish?
- Why plain-text resumes are frequently better for use in the ATS?
- What plain-text resumes are and how to create them?
- How the systems are used to discriminate (i.e., salary history, salary requirements, date of education, employment status, addresses outside metropolitan area, etc.)?
- How an applicant can possibly fill out all the extraneous information the scanning system requires (endless questions, personality and behavior assessments, skills tests, etc.) without spending inordinate amounts of time per application?
- Why companies can’t respond as to whether the application is received, and why there is no response in regard to the job being filled.
And we question why people might be having trouble finding work!
Unfortunately, most online applications take the jobseeker an hour or more to complete, often “timing” them out of the system (sometimes losing the information they just spent an entire hour inputting) and frequently don’t confirm receipt of the resume. Gee, I wonder why jobseekers might find this impersonal and infuriating. In an article (link located below) by CBS MarketWatch’s Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas, she writes about a comment regarding a particular ATS system commented on by Peter Cappelli, a Wharton School/University of Pennsylvania management professor. He describes how a company’s system recently determined that none of the 29,000 applicants for an engineering job had the right qualifications. Really, not one applicant was qualified. Hmmmmmm.
If there are at least 14,200,000 jobseekers and 3,200,000 unfilled jobs (according to the article Nick Corcodilos link below), and people area applying for jobs right and left, then the problem isn’t just with the jobseekers. I understand that the days of reading each resume are gone due to the number of candidates, but quite frankly, the online systems have created a good part of this problem. Instead of a jobseeker sending a resume and cover letter via “snail mail” and having to pay for the stationery, envelope and stamp(s) which typically makes them consider carefully what they are sending out, the only cost is time, and for some people that means sending resumes to jobs they have absolutely no qualifications for on a daily basis and filling a company’s scanning system with thousands of unqualified candidates. The human touch is gone! Having personally seen these systems in action, I know what they do to the resumes, which includes deleting a lot of the information if sections aren’t titled and formatted correctly, and then scrunching everything up into a giant plain text paragraph.
I believe that the ATS systems could be used more effectively to help HR but still allow for qualified candidates to make it through the system for a potential phone screening. I will let programmers at the ATS companies and HR collaborate on how to best fix the issue, but would like to make a few suggestions to help both HR and the jobseeker.
1) Stop asking for information to discriminate – frame it how you want, but that is what is being done: a) No more leaving the unemployed out of the mix (this is discrimination at its worst) as you don’t get to complain about a talent shortage when you disqualify an entire group of potentially qualified candidates. b) You don’t need to know the candidate’s salary history, that’s for their tax returns and isn’t anyone else’s business, and in this era of salary chaos is only used for one purpose. c) Salary requirements are fine but don’t ask for an arbitrary number, leave them enough space to give you a range (again, the salary chaos), and perhaps you should consider the federal government model of giving people a range of what you will pay so everything is up front and this silly game doesn’t have to be played. d) Save the personality and behavior assessments for the qualified candidates, why are you wasting them on the mass of people applying? e) Skills test are fine (adding a column of numbers, where does the comma go in the sentence, and find the misspelled word or words in the paragraph), but remember, someone else could take those for the candidate.
2) Limit the questions. Questions you ask to see the candidate’s writing/communication style are fine in a very small amount, but let’s not go overboard; some of you make the old federal KSA system look sleek and refined. Besides, the feds changed this system because it was an unreasonable request for initial candidacy requirements.
3) Put information on the site about using a plain text document and what that type of document is specifically. Instructions abound on the Internet and it would be a nice gesture to offer some instructions to the jobseeker. Also, let them know (depending on the sophistication of your scanning system) their Microsoft Word document might not scan correctly and their PDF document almost certainly will not scan correctly.
Here’s my main recommendation to make the process a bit less laborious for jobseekers and perhaps even more beneficial for your company: Have two application process tiers!
First Tier: Utilizes four to five initial questions and submission of a resume and cover letter – that’s it!
Second Tier: For those who make it past the first application tier, a more detailed set of questions and an assessment if you desire. This would make the application process shorter for the applicant on the front end, and help you on the backend by having the most qualified candidates on paper answering the additional detail.
I do feel for the Human Resources Department (after all I used to be in your shoes as a former HR Director) as you are consistently short-handed and ask to perform a multitude of organizational tasks that the people you hire never realize. Please don’t allow this fact to be a reason for shortchanging jobseekers. When the economy does improve, the blog, Twitter and Facebook posts, online gossip columns about companies, and general talk among those seeking a new job will harm your candidate pool. People won’t be desperate for jobs anymore and the axiom of “the grass is always greener” won’t include you!