The problem with Applicant Tracking Systems

I have ranted in quiet and “between these four walls” for too long on this topic and now feel that it is my responsibility to make my concerns known to the entire world (or to the 2 people that actually read my blog). I have worked for 12 years in the world of Recruitment Marketing and have specifically been in the world of interactive recruitment for 10 1/2 of those years. (Check my linkedin profile to find out more about my background). Over the years, I’ve watched interactive recruiting change from being a simple “posting” on “The Monster Board

TheMonsterBoard.gif to full-fledged interactive games that span Google Earth, mobile phones and more. It’s gotten really exciting, as people have begun tracking the success of their advertising and using different media such as video.

One of the greatest advancements in the industry was the move from “client server” application tracking software to web-based applicant tracking systems, or candidate management systems. These systems make a recruiter’s life easy, they allow you to receive your application forms online, pre-screen candidates using “knock-out” questions, report to your government on your Equal Opportunity policies, attach notes to candidates applications, schedule interviews with candidates automatically and much more! They are a fantastic tool for automating a process that has long been the bain of the HR director’s life… and they have probably saved a forest worth of trees.

But somewhere along the line, the people that run these systems took their eye off the ball (in my opinion) and stopped innovating. So now, in a world where anyone advertising anything is under pressure to spend less money and to prove that the money they do have to spend is spent effectively, there are loads of new approaches and new tools to the way that advertising works. Many of them involve tagging advertising in ways that allow you to report back on the success of your endeavours… and the more popular that this has become and the greater the demand for it, the more complicated and intricate the tagging and tracking systems have become.

In a consumer advertising sense, if I was selling Alarm Clocks (for example) I could tell if I was selling more alarm clocks through Google Search than I was via the ad I was running on (not a real site as far as I know) and if I were smart in my use of tags, I could also tell if the 1/4 page ad in Clock Lovers Monthly was helping me to sell alarm clocks. I could, again if I were clever, also tell which one of my advertising headlines was making a difference in my sales… and whether the messages I was putting in my advertising were impacting the conversations about my product… and whether that was impacting sales as well.

This is all because of the sophistication of the systems being developed for eCommerce, both as back-office systems for managing inventory, but also in the ways in which they integrate with ad tracking and communications measurement tools.

Then enter recruitment… and to be fair, recruitment is always a bit behind the consumer market in terms of innovation. This is partly down to the fact that HR departments don’t get the budgets that their counterparts in marketing get, and to the fact that the metrics that are used to measure a successful HR department can vary by industry, location or by the preferences of the board or HR Director, but ultimately results in the the industry being a bit behind.

This, has its advantages, however, in that we are able to learn from the progress and innovation of our consumer advertising cousins who are constantly under pressure to drive sales…. and use these learnings to develop new services and products that simplify success for the recruitment market (you like what I did there, eh? integrating my agency’s proposition into my personal blog post… at least one of my two readers will smile when they see this…).

A great example of this is the notion of the “Employer Brand”, which helped employers start to position themselves in unique ways when the internet made it possible for people to have access to more career opportunities and made it easier for them to compare things like salaries and benefits to make an informed choice about where to work.

Another great example is the growth of the careers website, which has become such a significant part of the communications sphere that you’ve seen consumer agencies developing recruitment expertise, or going in and pitching for recruitment business and you’ve seen IT directors wake up when they realize that as much as 40% of their corporate website traffic is made up of people looking for jobs.

Some very significant advances to our industry in the 12 years since I started…

Now it’s time for the next major movement… the integration of analysis across the whole of the recruitment lifecycle (how’s that for a string of buzzwords???).

Applicant Tracking Systems need to open up their technology to allow 3rd party tracking tags. I keep running into this situation where I’ve advised a client on a brilliant website strategy that will help them appeal to both their core audience and to the influencers of this audience, that will help increase their findability across the ever-changing web, and that will be set up in such a way that they will have actionable insights about where, when and how to optimize their site without wasting money on “redesigns” every 18 months… and other elements of online marketing as I see it… only to find myself or my team at the end of an uncomfortable phone call from the client.

“We’ve just spoken to our rep at (Insert name of major ATS supplier here) and they’ve said that ….

a) they can’t accept our tags because their system doesn’t have the capability
b) to add the ability to use our tags, the client is going to have to spend thousands of pounds
c) the ATS’ reporting function tells them everything they really need to know already

Most of the time, this person is an Account Manager who doesn’t understand the technology well enough to really answer the question… but on occassion, even when you get the right person, you find that they can’t or won’t accomodate this simple request.

I say, “Why not?!!!?!?!?!”

Do you really have such a limited viewpoint of the needs of an HR director in today’s market that you don’t see the value of having this capability? Have you not looked around at the rest of the technology world and noticed that everything is opening up and systems that hold data are providing API keys that allow other developers to make use of their data in new and exciting ways? Did you not learn anything from your ancestors, who didn’t adopt the idea of being web-based fast enough and lost market-share overnight?

As I see more and more marketing and communications departments taking notice of the world of recruitment marketing and more HR directors that know what they want to be tracking and how, I think that we’re going to see a little shakedown in the world of Applicant Tracking Systems that will separate the boys from the men.

If you’re reading this and you represent an ATS system that gets what I’m talking about and has the capability… respond to this blog, get in touch with me, do something to raise your hand and show me (and the world) that I’m wrong.

Rant over for now… thanks (both of you) for listening.

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