Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have recently gained a reputation for being a helpful workflow-oriented tool that helps organizations manage and track applicants in the recruiting process. Such software has been utilized by many companies around the world to help streamline the application and hiring process, so that organizations can more easily leverage the right talent they are looking for. However, a recent study by Harvard revealed the system has been mistakenly rejecting millions of viable candidates.

The report has sent alarm bells ringing among many recruiters in the US since 75 percent of them are actively using the system; and approaching 99 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. There is great irony to be found here as many of these same recruiters have been airing their grievances regarding the difficulty in finding the right candidate to fill positions.

The issue seems to stem from ATS’ overly-simplistic criteria of what makes a candidate viable or not. Candidates with noticeable gaps in their employment history (usually 6 months) are most likely to be labelled as “bad” candidates by the system. While employment gaps may raise some eyebrows, such situations are rarely so cut and dry. Such gaps could be due to a pregnancy, taking care of an ill family member, or even a recovery from an injury. Considering how difficult it has been to land a job during the pandemic, it should not come as a surprise to find candidates with plenty of empty time between jobs. The “mismatched” keywords has also become the biggest factor behind the rejection of so many viable applicants.

According to the report, about 9 of 10 executives are well aware of the issue. However, none have yet to come up with an adequate and long-term solution, as doing so would mean a fundamental change to their hiring process. To that end, the Harvard Business School recommends two approaches to solve this crisis. First, employers are expected to reform their approach to talent acquisition. This means refreshing job descriptions by shifting from “negative” to “affirmative” filters in an ATS or RMS.

Second is to develop a customized approach to hiring hidden talents. The approach involves shifting the justification for hiring these hidden talents from CSR to ROI and adopting a customer-experience mindset in designing recruitment and onboarding processes under the the purview of a senior leader.


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