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Is Your Job Search being Short Circuited by an Applicant Tracking System?

Is Your Job Search Being Short Circuited by an Applicant Tracking System?

Do you get a lot of email?  I sure do.  All the notifications from my Linkedin groups, blogs, Google alerts, not to mention unsolicited email I get makes my Inbox more obese everyday.  On average I probably receive 50+ emails daily which is on the low end for most people.  Every morning I download my emails and every morning 30 seconds after I do this I delete nearly 75% of the email I don’t need to see.  I do this because 75% of what I receive in my inbox I can quickly judge as irrelevant to my needs.

If you’re like me maybe you’ve thought about a tool  that could “automagically” filter out all the non-spam, but unimportant emails that would otherwise waste your valuable time and leave only the most valuable.  Sounds great right?

Unfortunately that’s what is automagically happening to a large number of candidates’ job applications..  HR professionals and corporate recruiters apply the same solution to filtering out your job application along with a whole bunch of the  50 or  more other candidates who applied for the same position.  Why do they do this?  Because in addition to the job opening to which you applied they are also recruiting for three other open positions and fifty or more candidates have applied to each one of those positions.  All together they have to analyze the resumes of hundreds of candidates across the four positions.

HR departments start with the premise that most applicants aren’t going to pass muster, much the same way I assume that most of the morning’s email is irrelevant.  But unlike my email, they employ an automated system to eliminate all the “unqualified” applicants.

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS)  is a software solution designed to help recruiting departments weed through hundreds if not thousands of job applicants.  An ATS goes into action the moment you apply to an organization’s online job posting.  In addition to decoding and qualifying the skills on your resume the ATS may ask you a series of screening questions.  If your resume doesn’t have the right keywords, or you do not answer the screening questions with the appropriate answers you could be eliminated from the process.  Thus a perfectly qualified candidate could be removed from the process.  The bad news is the time savings and costs savings benefits are well worth that risk to recruiters inundated with resumes.

Now you have serious problems.  Your car broke down, your kids need braces, your roof is leaking and your anniversary is approaching.  You need a job!  You want to believe that once you submit your resume that a kindly, wise person is on the other end, printing out your resume with passionate glee and feverishly telling all the people in his or her HR department that they need to ignore your mild lack of qualifications and take a chance on you.  The last thing you may want is that an emotionless HAL computer is on the other end removing you from consideration because you provided the wrong answer to a question during the application process.

So why do they use a Hal-like solution to eliminate even qualified candidates?  Here’s a very extreme example of the problem recruiters are experiencing.  In 2011 Procter and Gamble had one million applicants for their 2,000 open job positions.  Seventy-Five percent of them or 1,500,000 were not remotely qualified.  Imagine having to manually sift through all that paper?

So 500 people applied to each position and 499 of them didn’t get the job.  Many of them were eliminated from contention by a computer and not a hiring Yoda..  But what are these hiring professionals supposed to do?  They opened their inbox and in flooded 500 resumes of which 375 were no better than the ads you receive for Rogaine, Enzyte and Maxiderm.  By analogy, they start filtering out any resume containing the words “hair loss” and “erectile dysfunction” to get to the meat of what they really want to see…a good candidate!  Maybe a few good candidates got swept up in the wake of their deletions but what’s a little collateral damage compared to all that time savings?

The flood of all the unqualified resumes have ruined HR’s ability to individually evaluate and take your resume seriously just as all those junk emails have ruined your ability to take each email seriously each morning.  Yes, yes, I know you’re not an ad for male enhancement and maybe what you’re pitching is better than a treatment for hair loss, but HR can’t take that chance of reading for the thousandth time one more resume promising “maximum performance.”

There is a silver lining to all of this however.  ATS systems will keep your resume on file and will search for matching resumes later when a new position becomes available.  Who knows, maybe HAL will email you in the future with a new job opportunity.  I just hope you don’t delete his email!

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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