How Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can hinder your hiring process


Managers and HR departments are always looking for ways to improve their hiring processes. If you want your business to be successful, you need to bring the best people in, and to do this you should have a good method for hiring people. However, a business also needs to balance spending too much time looking for candidates and not spending enough time to thoroughly vet a candidate. Striking the right balance is key to not wasting time and money while also ensuring you interview the strongest candidates.

The rise of online screening

To get this balance, many companies have turned to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) – a resource that aims to sift through all the applications they receive and only allow the best to move onto the next phase of the hiring process. The idea is that by having applicants answer some pre-interview questions and upload their resumes, companies can find which candidates are more likely to be a good fit, and only spend their time interviewing them rather than every applicant. This saves managers time from having to interview too many candidates, and it saves staff time from having to comb through resumes themselves.

For example, during an interview process, the candidate may be asked questions like:

  • Do you have a college degree?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
  • Do you have at least __ years of experience working with (a specific tool/technology)?
  • How would you react to a certain workplace situation?

Applicant Tracking Systems have become quite common, especially among larger companies. With so many applications to sift through, there is simply no time to properly analyze them all. However, while the idea behind the system is a good one – using technology to only show your business the best candidates – there are usually a few flaws in the system.

What really happens

One of the biggest drawbacks of these systems is simply that they are not perfect. While they will help your business to find some of the best candidates, they won’t catch them all. Inevitably, some great candidates are going to slip through the cracks – possibly, some who are even better than the ones who do make it through. By allowing some great candidates through, and missing out on others, yo’re not truly optimizing your hiring process.

Besides missing out on good candidates, applicant tracking systems often allow candidates who know how to game the system through. People who are familiar with ATS when applying for jobs may know what the employer is looking for and purposely tailor their answers or resumes to try and beat the system. If the system you are using is not elevating the best candidates to the top, it’s not serving its purpose and you’re back to square one. You want the best candidates for the job to get through, not the best at filling out the application.


The third flaw with these systems is that it adds a burden onto the applicants. Many candidates wonder why they should spend so much time and energy filling out questionnaires if they might not even get the opportunity to interview. Not only that, but often the candidate isn’t informed as to why they were not put through, leaving them no wiser for their next application. Applicant tracking systems add a level of impersonality to the hiring process, which can discourage people from applying.

While these drawbacks may not be a deal breaker when it comes to deciding if your business should use an ATS, they do lessen the value you will receive from them. And since your whole reason for considering an ATS is to more efficiently screen candidates, you may want to consider another way – one that will allow you the same efficiency without sacrificing the human element.

A better solution

The main problem with using an ATS is that it lets technology do all the thinking for you. Rather than weighing all of the pros and cons of a specific candidate, this technology indiscriminately weeds out candidates based on strict criteria. So, if a qualified candidate answers a couple of behavioral assessment questions incorrectly, it could invalidate their entire application, and your company misses out on a good candidate.

On the other hand, not using an ATS usually means a business is searching through all the applications by hand, placing a large burden on the HR department which now has to sift through potentially thousands of applications and try to pick out the best ones. HR departments need technology to lessen their workload, but the human element cannot be removed altogether.

To get the best of both worlds, consider hiring a recruiting firm that will use technology to source the best candidates while real life recruiters manually vets and screens applicants. Since staffing and recruiting agencies are focused solely on finding qualified candidates for companies, they know how to best utilize technology to streamline the process without abandoning the personal touch the hiring process requires.

While using an ATS may sound great in theory, sometimes they are not the best solution. Take a look at how your company is currently handling the hiring process, and see if there is a better way to do things. You may notice, upon inspection, that using an ATS is not the answer.

No matter how you look at it, your company is going to need to spend money in order to hire the best candidates. You could either spend it in the form of man-hours, as your HR department attempts to deal with the numerous applications flooding in; or spend it on an ATS with so many features you simply don’t know how to use it; or you could hire a recruiting firm that can handle everything for you.

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