Job Seekers Need to Understand: “ATS is a Reductionist System”

I’m pretty sure that is a quote from Nick Corcodilos, during an Ask The Expert call this year (watch it here).

ATS (applicant tracking system) is the software a recruiter uses to organize and keep track of candidates.  It is like JibberJobber, but for the recruiter.

A recruiter uses the ATS is to REDUCE the number of candidates they are interested in.  If there are a lot of candidates they have the luxury of REDUCING the list of candidates because of trivial things, like typos in a resume, or some mismatch between qualifications and job description requirements.  If you have 200 candidates for a job, it’s easy to skim a lot of almost-matches right off the top and get to the 20 seemingly perfect ones.

This is where those trivial things, like typos (or what you wear, what you say, your cover letter, etc.) come in.  Immaculate.  Perfect. Flawless.

Is this stressful?  It is to me.

This month’s Ask The Expert touched on the same topic.  Jack Chapman was talking about interviewers using past salary, or your salary requirements, as a way to weed people out.  If the job pays $45k/year, and you made (or want) $100k/year, it is probably not going to be a good match and it is a waste of your time and theirs to continue. It’s like going shopping for a new house… you can afford a $150k house but you are looking at 750k houses.  That is a waste of your time and the Realtor’s time.

Salary history/requirements can be used to reduce the total pool of qualified candidates. (watch the ATE with Jack Chapman to see how he got around some of the common salary negotiation issues)

See a theme here?

What if, instead of being part of a pool that was being REDUCED, you could be one of a few that really stand out.  How do you do that?

I have some ideas, but I need YOU to think about it this week.  How do you go from someone that could be cut from the pool to someone who no way should be cut?

Think about it… leave a comment if you want… but THIS is the million dollar question in your job search.


3 thoughts on “Job Seekers Need to Understand: “ATS is a Reductionist System””

  1. I think obtaining an employee referral is golden–its probably the single most impactful thing a candidate can do to enhance his/her candidacy.

    The point missed by many job seekers is they think they can secure the referral AFTER they’ve already been screened out by an ATS. That’s a huge mistake.

    Think of it this way: if the candidate applies first, and the ATS screens him/her out, the referring employee is essentially walking into HR to tell them that their algorithm for moving a candidate to the reject pile was flawed.

    The employee referral needs to be secured BEFORE entering anything into an ATS–and if the company insists that all applications come through an ATS, the “How did you hear about us” question needs to be answered with “Employee Referral”.


    First, the referring employee has a chance to coach the candidate on how to apply. Second, most companies will give additional consideration to employee referrals–sometimes even a special track within the ATS. And thrid, the employee is more willing to help becuase they’re eligible for a referral bonus (something not generally offered if the candidate is already in the ATS).

  2. I have to agree with you but, as I am one ATS vendor, it hurts to do so. ATS softwares have now a bad reputation amongst candidates.

    But it does not have to be like that!

    The Recruitment Software I am building will open the communication between the recruiter and the applicants. Imagine that you could inform the candidate that his application has successfully pass one step in the recruitment process. Or that you could give a chance to a candidate to improve his application, explain his side, or whatever you want to ask him. Would not that be great for both parties involved?

  3. By the time you’re relying on ATS to serve you up for a position, it’s too late, in my view. The only way in this market to get serious attention in an organization is to network into that organization, as Steve says. A formal employee referral isn’t the only goal; you can ask your networked contact for info on someone else closer to the department or role for a quick phone interview or get their email.

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