Today’s post has a little back story. I hope you’ll indulge me.
Several weeks ago I received a comment here at HR Bartender. It was a long, frustrating remark about applicant tracking systems (ATS) and how these online systems are preventing applicants from a fair chance to get a job.
After reading the remark, I thought it would be a good idea to share with readers why companies use applicant tracking systems. That way if you’re looking for a job, or know someone who is, you’ll understand what human resources is doing with the information you’re sending them. So I reached out to recruiting pro Jessica Miller-Merrell at Xceptional HR and asked if she would collaborate with me on this post.
Of course, I’m completely embarrassed that I asked Jessica to help me write a post based on a spammy comment. Jessica was very gracious about the whole thing. And in laughing about my faux pas, we realized that there are probably plenty of job applicants who are frustrated with applying for jobs online. They feel their resume is shipped off to some sort of black hole never to be heard from again. And that HR pros are being labeled lazy for not responding to online applications.
So we decided to proceed with our original plan and share with you the inside scoop on applicant tracking systems and their role in the recruitment process. I hope you find it valuable.
Lots of companies have transitioned to having people apply for positions online. Why do companies accept online applications (versus walk-in applicants)?
(Jessica) Accepting applications online helps HR to organize and sort through the application process. Online allows for keyword search, data storage, and aids in compliance for companies who have government contracts and those that have hiring managers and employees who manage and hire teams in different places.
We’ve both heard the downside of applying online is applicants feel the process lacks the human touch which can in turn comes across as “Lazy HR.” Is there a plus for candidates to apply online (that might make up for the lack of human interaction upfront)?
(Jessica) The application process is built to store and sort resume databases. Sometimes HR is lazy but most often HR is responsible for so much within the organization, they are working to balance hiring, firing, training, advisement, and employee investigations in addition to the recruiting process. Companies are flooded with calls and emails by employees who are checking in on their application. Applying online ensures that your resume is stored and searchable within the database. It’s important to aid in making your resume and application more searchable by including key words increasing the chances that the hiring manager will review your resume.
It certainly helps to have a personal connection at an organization. This is where personal relationships can come into play to aid or elevate your application. Having a personal relationship or referral inside the company whether it’s a business contact, family member, or someone you’ve recently connected online, can make a difference.
If I’m an applicant and I apply online, why are keywords and phrases important? And aren’t keywords and phrases important even if I’m not applying online?
(Jessica) Recruiters and hiring managers search by keyword to review resumes. It’s important to understand that companies are bombarded by candidates applying online with only a small percentage of them actually being qualified for the position. Unfortunately this takes time and having to sort through a candidate pool for 25 different open positions for recruiters is time consuming, sometimes overwhelming, and a long process.
One trend I’m noticing is that job requirements are changing because the business world is changing. For example, say I was a project engineer 5 years ago and the required skill set was ABC. Today’s project engineer still needs ABC plus they need XYZ. You’re out talking with people every day. Are you seeing the same thing? And if so, what advice would you give to applicants about keeping up their skills?
(Jessica) The average person stays in a single position for 18 months. It’s always important to take a realistic approach when reviewing your skills and qualifications. The economy has changed the hiring process. Companies are expecting their hiring managers to do more with less, and that means that you will need to have more skills to be among those in final consideration.
Understand and know that your peers and friends within your industry are your competition. It’s important to develop a strategy for continued learning and development keeping your competition in mind working towards a mix of essential skills and skills that will differentiate you from your friends. This means asking questions, creating a personal development strategy, and researching the current job openings to look for new skills and qualifications that other companies are looking for. You can better prepare for your exit or to a new position evaluating the trends you see while also working with an experienced mentor to help guide you in the right direction.
Last question. Let’s talk about hiring managers. In your experience, what do hiring managers want from HR in the recruitment process?
(Jessica) Hiring managers want HR to get it right and send them the best qualified candidates for the position. The problem is that HR doesn’t often understand what the hiring manager wants or needs. They haven’t walked a mile in their shoes or even truly understand the industry or the organization. Sometimes that is due to the process and sometimes the hiring manager doesn’t really understand. It’s important for HR to ask lots of questions not only to the hiring manager but employees who currently hold the same position that you are hiring for. I’ve had success taking a more consultant approach to recruiting using a checklist, a position review form to get as complete information about the position as possible.
Hiring managers don’t always want to hear this or take the time in which to do it, but the time upfront spent makes the recruiting process more enjoyable and the process quicker and more efficient.2