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HR Software: The benefits of an Applicant Tracking System

The automated recruitment/HR software is in place, the data analytics algorithms have been programmed in and HR has pressed 'search' on its Applicant Tracking System. In no time at all it has come back with the one perfect candidate. Congratulations, it's a robot. 

As far-fetched and futuristic as that sounds, it's not totally beyond the bounds of possibility with the pace of technology and the existing level of digital automation already in existence. In the industrial revolution, machines took over the heavy lifting across almost every aspect of industry and manufacturing just as automated digitisation has replaced many human functions today.

Recruitment already benefits from automation, specifically HR software, in many ways that have been proven to save time and money by shortening the process and whittling vast amounts of information down to a shortlist of preferred candidates.

There are literally scores of different automated software systems being used in recruitment today. Like most things there are pros and cons, with some recruiters preferring to stick with the human touch in hiring, whilst others are excited by the technology advancements.

Perhaps the perfect solution lies somewhere in the middle. Certain recruitment processes absolutely need to be automated for the sake of speed of hiring, cost-cutting, resource-saving, and so as not to fall behind competitors in the war for talent. Other parts of the process should perhaps not be left to technology to decide, and that will probably never change. Technology or even advanced AI - which will no doubt eventually outpace humans when it comes to predictive probabilities - is however never going to possess human intuition or that 'gut feeling' about another person when it comes to decision-making.

What automation can and should be doing for you: key benefits

  • It speeds up the initial screening process significantly, saving time for recruiters.
  • Accurate keywording can filter down vast numbers of candidates that recruiters can then look at in-depth before moving on to the next step.
  • Automation can take the recruitment process right up to interview level, i.e. from sifting through applications to responding to candidates, to screening and background checks, and even first-round interviews if video chats are included.
  • Time-to-hire can often be reduced by as much as 40 per cent, which is a plus for recruiters and candidates alike. Today's talent likes speedy results.
  • Automation reduces cost-per-hire.
  • It boosts diversity as it relies on pure data, thus eliminating human conscious or unconscious biases.
  • It can improve the candidate experience as recruiters will have more time to engage with the 'human aspect' of the process as it moves forward.
  • Systems can be adjusted to incorporate internet and social media searches, which helps build profiles outside of resumes. AI and algorithms will eventually be able to add predictions and probabilities based on a candidate's past job history etc.
  • It allows recruiters to stay in touch with candidates all the way through the process with the push of a button, again enhancing the candidate experience, which also adds value to the employer brand. Candidates do not think highly of organisations that are slow to respond.
  • Automation keeps an organisation up to speed with technologies and with the competition.

The flip side

  • Keywords are key. A lot of candidates can be eliminated if their CVs do not have the keywords the system is searching for, meaning possible talent could be overlooked in automation when compared to human judgement which may spot immediately if a candidate appears to have that X-factor.
  • Automated systems cannot take 'the measure of a man/woman'. Many smart and capable people do not have a university degrees. In fact some of the biggest names in tech are college dropouts. Systems eliminate such candidates from the get go.
  • Some believe automation is geared more towards discarding applications recruiters don't want to look at rather than focusing on finding those they should be looking at. In the words of Adler CEO, Lou Adler it's "still about weeding out the weak rather than finding the best."
    If an automated website applications system for candidates is time consuming or cumbersome they will simply not bother to apply.
  • Systems could also reject applicants based on the technical layout of their resumes if they do not recognise certain formats.
    In-the-know candidates could manipulate the system with all the 'right' keywords, easily found on the internet. Recruiters are then presented with a list of candidates who are simply good at using buzz words.
  • Not everyone uses social media so upgraded ATS systems with the capability of tapping into an online profile for additional information, could disqualify some candidates.
  • Social media too can be manipulated.
  • Automation cannot tell who would be a good culture fit, though this could change as AI develops.

The middle ground: a juggling act

Recruiters need to make automation work for them and for candidates andnot let the technology dictate the outcomes. Just like human beings, tech systems are not infallible... not yet anyway, and should be treated as such. A combination of both recruitment methods, which can be a bit of a juggling act, can produce the very best results for recruiters and candidates in a way that all of the advantages of automation can be realised. Cons can be minimised, especially as technology advances. When the right functions are automated, more time can be spent by recruiters on the human factor. Not only that, but there also are ways to 'humanise' the automation itself to add value to the process.

To start with, as the technologies are only as good as those who programme them, it might be good to review what the systems are being told to look for. Best case scenario for any organisation is to have an automated system tailored to their specific needs and what they want to see in a candidate in terms of skills and abilities.

The next big step for the automated part of the process will be contacting the candidates, those who will move forward, and those who have been rejected. In the case of the latter being contacted, even with a rejection, always reflects well on an organisation. A personalised email would be best. It should go without saying that the first contact from the company should be automated acknowledgment of receipt of their application in a speedy fashion.

In continuing to engage with prospective candidates, well-timed follow ups can be sent out with more information for them about the process and what they should expect. A value-added move could involve sending a video file or an attachment with career advice to keep them engaged until it's time to call them for an interview.

Today's candidates expect things to move fast and to hear from prospective employers in a timely and personalised manner.

An automated message does not have to sound automated either. It can be more 'humanised' with a little thought. As it is effectively a 'virtual assistant' of sorts, it could even be given a name much like Apple's Siri, or the latest, 'Amy Ingram', though she is a real AI programme. Making automation a little fun in this way can add a sense of uniqueness to the process and can make candidates feel they matter if an organisation is going the extra mile to make them feel wanted.

Organisations could also run feedback surveys where candidates can let them know what was good or bad about their experience. Was there too much automation? Would they have preferred more human contact at a particular stage? This will help gauge where automation should be rolled back and where it is most effective.

Not being an AI, it is hard to predict for certain how technology will shape recruitment in the next five years but big changes should be anticipated. More sophisticated systems and the adoption of AI can only help enhance current automation and will probably refine the process to the point where fallibility can be diminished to a negligible level but it is unlikely to ever replace the human factor in hiring.