Blog Candidate Quality Why Don’t ATS Systems Work as an Effective Recruitment Tool ?
ats systems don't work

If you operate in or around in-house recruitment and have already acquired or you are looking to acquire or upgrade an ATS, HR System, CRM (or let’s call them all recruitment management systems or RMS from here on in), then you should find what I am about to share with you quite interesting and potentially eye-opening.


Over 70% of in house recruiters consistently, and across multiple surveys, indicate that their RMS doesn’t solve their biggest recruitment challenges. In-fact it may shock you to know that in many cases the recruitment system in use is actually counter-productive to a direct hiring strategy.


Applicant Tracking is fundamentally the most very basic aspect of any RMS and should be considered as a standard feature allowing the user to collaborate with their team, run recruitment campaigns, adapt custom workflows, manage interviews and track candidates through each stage of the selection process. And of course, report on any activity taking place.


Screening tools that are or can be integrated into the RMS (often offered as add-ons in a market-place suite of features) such as forms, tests, video tech, behavioural assessments and background checking should always be available in any system and the flexibility to change them quickly and at relatively low cost is critical in a rapidly and constantly evolving technical ecosystem.


Onboarding and HR functionality that supports the candidate or employee ‘post-offer’, should always be considered as a separate suite of technology as they perform a very different function to the RMS that should focus entirely on Talent Attraction and Selection functionality. Quality technology vendors can integrate to create a seamless journey that acts as a single system anyway, so looking for an All In One end to end service that does absolutely everything will never provide you with ‘best in class’ for everything.


And that brings us nicely onto the main reason why ATS / RMS don’t deliver what the recruiter wants: Talent Attraction.


Talent Attraction Strategy

Your Talent Attraction strategy pretty much determines the outcome of each recruitment campaign, because, without enough suitable talent at the start of the process and in your talent pipeline, it doesn’t really matter what RMS you use, or what features you have or processes that you follow. Unless you have a magic wand that can turn bad applicants into good ones, getting your talent attraction strategy right is absolutely key.


So it may surprise you to hear that over 90% of ATS/RMS do not do Talent Attraction. Yes, that’s right, they don’t provide the most important aspect of recruitment for you. Most RMS will be able to integrate with a quality multi-Poster technology like Broadbean for example, and a few provide media buying services; but not intelligent media selection services, data and market insights, job advert creation and optimisation, CV parsing and auto ranking and it is very unlikely that there will be any human support to assist you on a job by job basis.


The reality is, that every HR & Recruitment vendor out there is going to tell you that they are the best and that their solution is going to satisfy all your requirements. And if they didn’t, then no one would buy their kit. But, in the majority of cases, it’s the systems inability to do talent attraction well, that frustrates users most.


What I have discovered in the last 10 years, is that the majority of recruitment technology acquisitions are not really fit for purpose and do not deliver half of what the client was told it would.



I want to use this article to explain to you why most in house recruiters are at the very least disappointed by their recruitment technology acquisition (or in many cases, the tech that they have inherited from their predecessor) and to look at what a modern recruitment technology solution should look like.


If you are unsure whether this topic is relevant to yourself and your organisation, start by asking yourself the following questions:



  • Does my current RMS / ATS come pre-integrated with the latest software algorithms, parsing, and AI to automate the majority of the recruitment process, so that I can focus my efforts on screening, selection and the candidate experience?


  • Does my current vendor provide any meaningful ongoing customer support that aids the recruitment process (not just technical support)?


  • Does my vendor support, provide or contribute to delivering a range of alternative solutions such as social media marketing, programmatic PPC marketing, Data Mining and email marketing, Referral programmes to complement traditional job board advertising etc



  • Does my vendor work with me to evaluate the data generated by the system to understand it and to actively contribute, with ways to make improvements to my recruitment processes, in the future?


So let’s start with the statistics. I have searched and reviewed lots of satisfaction surveys over the last few years, as well as personally conducting more than 500 recruitment technology surveys on users in the UK myself and it’s fairly clear to me that the % of people that are dissatisfied with their recruitment technology provider is well over 70%.


Think about that, ¾ of all acquisitions in this space have under-delivered on their promises and many technology platforms I would go as far to say are not fit for purpose. Now if that isn’t a wake -up call for anyone looking for a solution, then I don’t know what is. It’s a four to one chance that you will get something that you are happy with?


One of the primary reasons that so many of us are dissatisfied with our vendor provider, is because the vendors sell their product, with a massive emphasis on how their technology will solve problems and deliver solutions that are recruitment related. So expectations in this area are set pretty high from the get-go.


This isn’t a cheap acquisition either, with typical ATS/HR System set up costs and license fees in the region of £20-£50k p/a and for larger corps considerably more than that. So it’s hardly surprising that recruiters are frustrated to find that the system that they fought for or inherited doesn’t aid the attraction of talent as well as expected.


In fact, many ATS systems are even counter-productive to direct hiring strategy. Yes, you did read that correctly. Application numbers have been known to go down significantly after introducing an ATS, especially if you introduce a career page as the entry point to your application process. i.e. where you are capturing and pre-screening all applicants that are redirected from third party media channels, job boards, there is typically a 50-80% drop off rate.


This is because 91% of all online applications are made by people who are already in employment. And these people don’t want to fill out application forms or complete screening questions at the start of the process. If you haven’t worked out that redirecting candidate traffic from 3rd party advertising channels significantly increases applicant drop out of the best prospective candidates, then watch this webinar that I recorded, that is based on a case study of a major, national insurance company that discovered its true drop off rate was in fact 83%.


99% of RMS/ ATS systems just aren’t designed to do Talent Attraction properly and they don’t want to be measured or judged against any key outcomes or against any obvious metrics that would determine whether they were any good at filling jobs. No one will deny that they are highly effective at storing and tracking applicant data, but that’s not really the difficult bit.


Talent Attraction mostly takes place within the intersection between the technology and the candidate. The components that take place within that intersection are unique to every single sector, job, location and applicant and are so complex that vendors avoid it like the plague. However big data analysis and a better understanding of job hunters from a behavioural science perspective, along with the right technical components mean that it is not impossible to optimise performance and improve the probabilities of success.


There are companies out there that deliver the Talent Attraction piece as a service, but I have only ever heard of one ATS provider in the UK ever, that delivered any meaningful ongoing proactive supports to its users, that went beyond initial training and technology support. And I haven’t seen any evidence that this was any more than a piece of good account management by an individual, rather than company-driven policy.


The reason quality ongoing support is so important is because the effectiveness of a technology solution is as much down to the processes and methods deployed, as it is down to the technology itself.


Let me explain this point because it is really important. Simple improvements to process can have significant impacts on results. Here are two very basic practical examples of what I mean.


A client was struggling to get applicants to complete a screening task. After consulting with the client and advising them on a slightly different approach they were able to improve the completion rate of the task from under 50% to 90% second time around. In another instance, we helped a client optimise their job advert so that it appeared on page 1 in the job board results instead of page three. They subsequently generated 15 times more applications second time around. These are very basic examples just to emphasise my point and I could go on to add simple examples of such practical improvements at every stage in the recruitment life cycle. We call this process Recruitenomics and it is based on a marginal gains theory, to create a compound interest, by improving every stage in the recruitment lifecycle.


Optimising results at every stage in the recruitment process is usually the key to a successful outcome and that often requires the human application of the process to complement the technology, which is only half of the overall solution?


In some technology circles, they call this ‘Human Computation’, which in this case, represents that important blend between the science and the art of recruitment, that is required to deliver an effective recruitment solution. After all, we are dealing with people that respond to emotions as well as to logic and rationale.


Do not underestimate the importance of this in regards to how effective your recruitment strategy or processes are. An effective modern recruitment system should enable you to minimise administrative tasks and avoid duplication of efforts, but it also needs to facilitate and encourage more human engagement.


The level of proactive support that is required in the early stages of a new users experience and the knowledge and expertise required to deliver this effectively simply does not exist right now within the ATS community and is a major differentiator if your primary objectives are to drive improvements to key areas such as, talent attraction, retention of the more passive prospects during the recruitment process, better selection methodology to administration time and ultimately to direct hire fulfilment rates.


For me and for many in house recruitment teams that we work with, the technology alone is not enough, even if it is highly intuitive, flexible and best in class.


ATS and CRM’s tend to provide technology platforms and not processes and solutions.


This may seem like a biased view because I represent the type of technology and service that I am promoting within this article, but surely it makes sense for any business and for every recruiter to want to work with a best in class suite of technology that is complemented by equally intelligent processes that optimise and maximise the outcomes at each and every stage of the recruitment life cycle?


If you have acquired an Applicant Tracking System or Recruitment Management System that delivers all of this, then I congratulate you, as you have selected well, and if you haven’t, then you will be pleased to know that there are systems out there that can work both independently or alongside or even be integrated with your current technology vendor and at surprisingly low cost, but with dramatic improvements to results.



– Don’t be persuaded to believe that you need one single end to end system. Always select best in class.

– Check out key recruitment metrics like fulfilment rates and force your provider to be more accountable

– Find out how far their customer support goes. Will they help you to come up with plan B or C and contribute towards the discussion about where improvement might come from

– Ask to see a selection of testimonials that highlight their customer Satisfaction credentials and ask to check their validity

– Ask about future developments that are included and planned

– Confirm that you can integrate new technologies and systems that come along at little or no cost and within a reasonable time frame.

– Stay focused on your primary objectives and don’t be swayed by tons of features that you will never use

Here are the 10 most common objectives that in house teams want to achieve with help from their selected vendor

– Achieve better value for money from direct advertising budgets

– Improvements to key hiring metrics: volume of quality applications | Time to Offer | direct-hire fill rates | Cost per hire

– Overall cost reduction and remove the need for recruitment agencies

– Improved quantity and quality of direct applications

– Improved campaign management efficiencies, transparency and collaboration

– Introduce Automation of mechanical and administrative processes (i.e. via parsing software, machine learning and AI)

– Improve the candidate experience

– Access to customer support throughout the recruitment lifecycle on each campaign

– Reductions in time to hire and administration time during each campaign

– Allow better use of applicant database

– A flexible and adaptable system that can be tailored to specific needs and process

…I hope that you found this topic helpful or interesting?

There has been a 100% increase in online job-related search activity in the last 10 years and adapting to this, capitalising on it and harnessing this to our advantage is a dedicated passion of mine.

Selecting the right tools and applying the best processes is central to our understanding of how you achieve this.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and I am always open to exploratory calls to discuss any of the topics covered in this article.

Mark Stephens

September 7, 2020

Mark has worked in and researched the HR & Recruitment landscape for over 20 years. His key focuses are how recruitment technology, evidence-based processes, and human behavioural science can be used to optimise recruitment performance. He is a serial entrepreneur, previous winner of the prestigious Chambers of Commerce 'Innovation in Business' award, and founder of Smart Recruit Online Ltd, and Corporate Wellness & Mental Health UK Ltd (Corpwell).

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