Why Can’t My ATS Do What I Want It To Do? A Recruiter’s Perspective

While visiting with numerous applicant tracking system vendors at the recent HR Technology Expo in Chicago, a common theme began to emerge that left me very uncomfortable. It seemed that none of the ATS representatives could explain what they actually deliver. They apparently knew a great deal more about what they were “soon” to implement (in version than what they already had, and insisted on describing these visionary features and benefits in great detail. Maybe I completely missed the point, but last time I checked, I thought recruiters were the potential clients in this relationship. I always thought that when a prospective client asks, “Can you do X?” the vendor should simply reply, “Yes” or “No.” Instead, what I heard was, “You’re the only one that has ever asked for X,” or “That feature is in version,” or lately, the dreaded: “Don’t you remember the 80/20 rule?” The 80/20 Rule Revisited The first time I remember applying the 80/20 rule was when I was baking a cake (really). I was young, learning to cook, short of several ingredients and, most importantly, in a hurry. I interpreted the rule to mean that 80% of the ingredients were sufficient to bake the cake. So which ones do you think I left out? Flour? Water? Sugar? Eggs? Milk? Nah, all of these ingredients make up the backbone of a good cake. I couldn’t leave any one out, because they are all equally important. I ended up using 80% of each ingredient ó and then burned the cake because I failed to understand how the ingredients would interact in the oven. Assuming that an employer knows which processes (ingredients) are essential for hiring, then what functionality do you leave out of your ATS? What can you do without? Maybe it depends on what you and your organization need from your ATS. Are you trying to gain efficiencies or streamline processes? What reporting functionality do you need? Do you require EEO/AAP reporting, or recruiting metrics such as Total Compensation Recruited or Sourcing Efficiency? If I followed the 80/20 rule, I might not be able to get all of the reporting tools that I need and be forced to use other sources for reporting. Just about all of the ATS systems I’ve seen can dump data into an Excel spreadsheet, but why should I have to go out to another software package for reporting? Why can’t my ATS provide me the meaningful reports that I need? And, more importantly, why should I have to pay for functionality that I, and my organization, don’t need or use? To me, that’s like paying for a car with a Global Positioning System (GPS), Roadside Assistance, All Wheel Drive and more ó when all I plan to do is commute across town. Why Recruiters Don’t Use All of the Functionality Available How many of us use all of the capabilities of our cell phones? I heard one presenter at this most recent conference state that “recruiters only use 30% of the functionality of an ATS”. Okay, so now I’m settling for 80% of the functionality I want, and then I only use 30% of what I get? Why? A unique experience I had at a former employer, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, offers one answer. The recruiting team (then just Ernst & Young) had decided to move away from a process in which each regional office did its own thing in terms of applicant tracking to a more standardized, client/server-based system that was organization wide. It sounded like a good thing to do. The company included recruiters from several different practice areas to become part of the Ernst & Young Recruiting Information System (EYRIS) team. This team was responsible for determining the requirements of the system and passing those on to the IS project team. They then assisted with the training of the remaining 100+ recruiters on the new EYRIS system. What they didn’t do ó and I think this was the fatal flaw in the system ó was help the recruiters understand why this type of a system was important to the organization. They were good at mandating that recruiters update every milestone in the system, but I don’t recall them ever explaining why these milestones and pieces of data were important. So what happened? Recruiters only updated the milestones when required. They updated contact information and made notes about the candidate in the system, since that was useful to them. But getting them to update a candidate from Interview 1 to Interview 2 to Office Interview to Offer Extended to Hired was like pulling teeth! Why? Because to do this took the recruiters away from what was important to them: sourcing, screening, interviewing candidates, and getting “butts in seats.” As a result, when I would run “management reports” from EYRIS, the data looked like this: Phone Interview 2/01/2000, INT1 2/01/2000, INT2 2/01/2000, Offer Ext. 2/01/2000…you get the picture. The date field self-populated; the recruiters couldn’t change it. Whenever you updated the milestone, the date was captured automatically. Going back to the cell phone analogy, most of us don’t understand all of the inherent functionality or how to use it because we haven’t been trained properly AND motivated. Have you read your owner’s manual cover to cover? So, once again, we’re paying for 80% of what we really want/need, and using 30%. Everything You Need? “Don’t recruiters realize that this is an awesome system and can do everything they need?” This seems to be the standard question that most ATS vendors ask themselves. Naturally, each vendor thinks theirs is the best product. They are also quick to tell you about all of the functionality. What very few of them do, however, is find out what is important to you and your organization. In fairness, some do attempt to do this. They send out a very complicated questionnaire in advance of the demo to ensure that they are on the right track and are not wasting the recruiter’s time. Unfortunately, the questionnaire is so complex that, in my own experience, I immediately tossed it in the trash and promptly called to cancel the demo. I’m happy to tell a vendor what I need from a system, but a five-minute conversation should be able to highlight my hot buttons ó versus a questionnaire that takes an hour and three other people from my IS group to complete. As for the system being able to do everything recruiters need, few do it all. This brings me to the question of modularity. Why aren’t more vendors configuring their systems in such a way that you can pick and choose pieces that you like, and put them all together into one system? For example, I’ve been looking at various vendors who include a skills database as part of their system. I really don’t want to purchase a new ATS; I like the one I have. Instead, I want to be able to add on a module that allows for my internal employees to update their skills, create an internal resume, and indicate to our organization what kind of positions they would be interested in applying for in the future. I want this to run on our intranet, but allow our employees to click a button from the intranet and apply through my current ATS to any open positions. This must be too much to ask. I’ve only found two vendors that allow for this kind of functionality: Monster and Kenexa. Yes, I did say Monster. Not normally known as an ATS vendor, Monster does have this functionality embedded in its Office HQ product. And it’s a modular system. I don’t need to purchase all of Office HQ to get this feature. Another item of interest to me is metrics. I want my ATS to incorporate the four core metrics advocated by Staffing.org. (For those of you not familiar with Staffing.org, they are a non-profit organization providing human capital performance metrics, benchmarks and resources.) However, I’ve only found one vendor so far, NuView, that has the capability to incorporate Staffing.org’s metrics into their system. This vendor even goes so far as to be able to compare your internal recruiting metrics with the benchmarks from Staffing.org’s annual benchmark report. The result is immediate results, right there, on your desktop. No need to download anything to Excel, and then plug in the numbers from Staffing.org ó it does it for you. Talk about efficiency! So, ATS vendors, hopefully you’ve paid attention ó and when I visit next year’s HR Technology Expo in Philadelphia, I’ll be blown away by the following:

  • Systems will be modular, which will then encourage me to use 100% of the system rather than settling for 80% functionality.
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  • You’ll have surveyed the recruiters in a very simple manner to find out what their needs are, and incorporate those into your systems.
  • You will have provided training on all aspects of the system and helped me to understand why each feature is important, as well as how to use it.

It seems pretty simple, really. Each organization is unique, so why would we expect our ATS to be any different?

Heather Hartmann (hhartmann@staffing.org) is manager of the Human Capital Metrics Consortium, an independent nonprofit hosted by Staffing.org. Founded to establish standard, universally comparable human capital metrics, the Metrics Consortium also conducts year round standard benchmark surveys. These are the largest surveys of their kind and provide the basis for highly quantitative quarterly reports. Heather has over fifteen years of staffing experience including key positions at Accenture, Cap Gemini Ernst and Young and Peabody Energy. She is an Advisor to Staffing.org and has served as a Director and Vice President of SHRM/Employment Management Association.


1 Comment on “Why Can’t My ATS Do What I Want It To Do? A Recruiter’s Perspective

  1. A Vendor?s Response

    In my opinion, both as a vendor and someone who has done recruiting, her article came across as too generic and lacked specifics. Here are the main issues to which I take exception:

    ? Unlike the ERE?s ATS Report that used specific vendor-selection criteria, bracketed companies based on number of employees, and used common questions amongst all respondents, how many vendors did she totally compare and what comparison criteria did she use?

    ? One problem the author noted was the fact that no one would give her a direct answer to ?Can you do X?? From a needs analysis viewpoint, this type of question more than likely needs further refinement as to specific processes of her company and to the specific requirements of her and her staff.

    ? In another issue, she continues with criticism of the 80/20 rule. Apparently, she blames the vendors for this issue. After all, this is a free-market economy and if you don?t like it, don?t buy it. In real life, it?s called trade-offs, as not everything you ever find is 100% perfect. Companies, whether large or small, have to evaluate cost, available resources, functionality, ROI, immediate impact on productivity, ease of implementation, etc. and then balance accordingly.

    ? In another area of concern, she questions the value of training and assigns all the blame onto the vendor. The company detailed the system requirements. Most certainly, the company has an obligation to ensure the training parallels the very requirements they detailed. So, if possible, negotiate in the purchase contract certain specifics for training satisfaction, using an escrow fund for holdback.

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