The Much Maligned ATS: The Secret Weapon to Screening for Dedicated Talent?

Years ago, in those grim days after the .com bubble imploded, I worked with an insanely talented and dedicated head of engineering. One day the fire alarm in our building went off. While most people scurried to grab their phones and wallets, Greg ran into the server room, grabbed two servers, and walked down nine flights of stairs with one server under each arm.

That’s awesome. Sure, the official response is to follow procedure–evacuate before worrying about equipment. But, if I’m choosing my team I’ll take the guy who’s thinking about how quickly he can get the business up and running if the office burns down.

Similarly, last year in the Northeast we had a series of bad winter storms, and our office was without power for a few days. Our Art Director drove to the dark and closed office in her jeep so that she could grab a computer tower to take home to be more productive.

Recently I’ve been wondering, how do you screen for that dedication? Then it hit me. Maybe we already do.

The application process has been much maligned. The legacy Applicant Tracking System (ATS) puts roadblocks between job seekers and the recruiters, forcing potential new hires to jump through hoops to apply. Perhaps we have the ATS all wrong. It isn’t a barrier to hiring. It’s our first line of defense receptionist, ensuring that only the most dedicated people can properly apply.

For instance, most job seekers have experienced an ATS “hiccup,” which caused them to reenter their data. Let’s build this into a feature! The first time someone submits their information, delete it–and pop an error message that they have to re-submit. Maybe do this two or three times. Less serious job seekers will give up after being forced to enter the same information multiple times. Let them apply somewhere else. As employees, they’ll have frustrating days when things don’t go right. Let’s make sure they are cut out for that reality by giving them a taste of it when they apply.

And, don’t make it easy to upload a formatted resume. Only accept a Microsoft Word document, then parse it poorly, losing all formatting and providing a preview of a document with lots of strange characters and no line breaks that they have to edit. Better yet, force them to edit the gobbledygook in HTML. Anyone who will go through this process, AND learn HTML to apply must be a great candidate! Put them on the fast track.

Of course, the naysayers will argue that the best candidates might never apply. But, in reality will you ever convince the sought after “passive” candidate to apply? Or, the ridiculously qualified “purple squirrel?”  To get them to apply, you’d have to make the process so delightful and engaging that it almost didn’t feel like applying.

That would mean changing more than the ATS. We’d have to reinvent the entire process of attracting and interacting with talent! Job descriptions would be incredibly well-crafted, or better yet, replaced by compelling stories about the company, the people in it, and how this job plays a role in achieving the company vision. Instead of getting people to go through our application process, we’d inspire them and find ways for them to share the unique talents they bring to the table.

Phew. But in the meantime, we’ve got people to hire, and a bunch of job descriptions. So let’s make this easy. In the list of qualifications on the job description, add one more: “Must be able to successfully apply through the online Applicant Tracking System.” That takes dedication, grit, and patience. What more could we ask for in an applicant?

Nexxt is a recruitment media company that uses today’s most effective marketing tactics to reach the full spectrum of talent – from active to passive, and everything in between. Learn more about hiring with Nexxt.

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