Importance Of Applicant Tracking Systems: An Interview With Talent Tech Labs
Applicant Tracking Systems play an outsized role in the hiring process but remain largely overlooked or misunderstood, particularly by first-time job seekers like college seniors and recent graduates. Brian Delle Donne and Jon Kestenbaum are President and Managing Director of Talent Tech Labs, a research firm and incubator focused on Talent Acquisition Technology. I asked them a few questions about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS): their history, their current role and where ATS is going.
Ryan Craig: Brian and Jon, where did Applicant Tracking Systems come from?
Brian Delle Donne: Applicant Tracking Systems arose as a system of compliance or record keeping for companies. Companies used them to keep track of who was applying to their jobs, as well as to manage scheduling and interviewing and candidate contact management. I say compliance because companies need to demonstrate they are equal opportunity employers, so Applicant Tracking Systems are used to keep tabs on applicants in terms of gender and race and demonstrate that no discrimination is occurring. So Applicant Tracking Systems quickly became the system of record for hiring. Early systems also had rudimentary capabilities around matching keywords in the job description to keywords in the resume.
Jon Kestenbaum: Keep in mind that candidates’ applications used to sit in filing cabinets. So Applicant Tracking Systems were a big step forward. But Brian’s right: the matching technologies were very rudimentary. And file types and formats really mattered. For example, the PDF was not a good document to submit because some ATS didn’t know how to open them up and actually run keyword searches. Also, some text formats were easier to search than others.
Craig: How would you characterize the role of the ATS today?
Delle Donne: Think about this: When you applied to college 20 years ago, you had to fill out three, four or five separate applications and they’d all be unique. Today, with the common app, students can apply to 20 schools with just one application. This means that on the receiving end, there are vastly more applications that need to be reviewed, but not necessarily more qualified applicants. And this is exactly where employers are. They receive so many resumes for each open position that it’s gotten past the point where humans can do it without assistance. That’s what’s driven reliance on the ATS as a filter and software vendors to come up with filtering techniques that allow hiring managers to apply the limited bandwidth they have to a shortlist of candidates. But many, many candidates don’t make it through the ATS filter before a person sees their resume.
Craig: How have candidates responded?
Delle Donne: It’s become common practice to pack in the right words that are characteristic of the role you’re applying for — that is, from the job description. I think it’s generally recognized that your chances of making it through the ATS filter may depend on how many times these words appear and how closely tied they are. We call this “keyword packing.”
Kestenbaum: Kind of like how Web sites used to load up on keywords to appear higher in search results. I’ll throw in another fun fact: In emerging markets like India and Africa, in response to this “resume spam,” employers are now requiring that candidates take assessments before being allowed to submit a resume.
Craig: If you were giving advice to graduating seniors, what would you tell them?
Kestenbaum: Understand that your resume will be filtered through an Applicant Tracking System. Then customize your resume for the job you’re applying for. It’s important to focus on the most relevant skills for that job. So definitely make sure you submit a customized resume for every job.
Delle Donne: ATS filters and searches are done on skills. Be sure to include every relevant skill in your resume — whether they’re industry certifications or obvious skills like proficiency in Word or Excel. It’s very important to include all these skills, because even though matching technologies have improved — for example, if you’re a Java developer, contextual and natural language search tools also know that you know Object Oriented Programming — in general matching technologies aren’t yet able to infer that you have skills if you don’t explicitly state them.
Kestenbaum: We have a company in our incubator called Avrio that has a chatbot named Rio. You plug your resume into Rio and it matches you to jobs and tells you what you should do to fix your resume so you’ll be a better match and make it through the ATS filter.
Craig: How is ATS technology evolving?
Kestenbaum: The ATS was originally about compliance, and then it was about filtering and searching. It’s increasingly about identifying passive talent. This is now possible as CRM — Candidate Relationship Management — technology gets built into ATS. As a result, everything that can be tracked is now being tracked. Employers track how many times you come to the job site, how many times you read blogs, which postings you’ve read. My brother used to apply to eight jobs at one company. But he can’t do that anymore. Companies know that you’ve applied to eight jobs there and don’t take you seriously anymore.
The upshot is, if you’re a college student, you should express your interest in a company or profession or career in everything you put online. Everything you’re putting out there is being read and used to determine if you might be a fit. So engage with employers’ Facebook pages and other social media. Demonstrate an interest in the employer and use their technologies to do so. Then they’ll start reaching out to you, and maybe even targeting ads to you — solely as a result of your activity, or what you’ve put out there on the public Web. So the ATS goes from being a gate to being a tool of engagement.
We had a company here today that actually uses customer data to match candidates to jobs in order to get a better culture fit. For example, for Uber, candidates who used Uber 100 times in a month will be ranked more highly than candidates who used Uber 20 times.
Craig: Today CRM-powered Applicant Tracking Systems might be matching against publicly available information. Tomorrow, might they be matching against more proprietary data like digital badges, ePortfolios, transcripts or even assessments?
Kestenbaum: Absolutely. For example, DevScore is already scraping the GitHub accounts of tech candidates and creating a score based on how many comments were made on the candidates’ code and how well its structured. Overall, we’re not there yet. But there’s no question about where we’re going. Employers want to match against all available data. The more predictive the data, the more valuable it will be.
Craig: Any final words of wisdom to graduating seniors?
Delle Donne: Be thoughtful about how you use technology to interact with employers you’re interested in. Assume your entire social exhaust is being tracked.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.