Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How to Strike a Balance Between ATS and the Human Eye in Recruitment

According to a well-known Ladders eye-tracking study, most hiring managers spend only six seconds looking at an applicant’s resume before deciding whether to investigate them further or move on to the next candidate.

But due to the use of computerized applicant tracking systems (ATS), some applicants don’t even get those six seconds. Many resumes are “thrown out” before they reach human hands, while a few are flagged for further review.

If you are involved in hiring, how can you strike the proper balance between using ATS and relying on human judgment? What are the pros and cons of each approach? We will consider the answers to these questions below.

Why ATS Are Efficient

Applicant tracking systems increase efficiency by filtering through high resume volumes and pinpointing the most likely candidates. How do they work?

The ATS is programmed with resume keywords listed by industry. These can include specific skills, degrees, certifications, or lengths of experience. For example, imagine you need a candidate who has a minimum of five years of experience with C++. The ATS would “read” all the resumes you receive, flagging those that have the needed experience.

Most companies advertise job listings online, and they may receive hundreds or even thousands of applications. Using an ATS speeds up the search for a qualified candidate and frees up the hiring manager and their team for other tasks.

Some research indicates that the use of ATS in hiring helps minimize implicit bias and the resultant discrimination by looking only at the needed skills and experience rather than “reading between the lines” as a human might—perhaps discriminating due to age or gender. But ATS also have their limitations, as we will discuss in the next section.

Why Human Hiring Mangers Are Needed

As mentioned above, the ATS looks for pre-programmed keywords. The problem with this is that they can miss qualified individuals who are near but imperfect matches.

For example, one company might call an employee responsible for selling the company’s services the Chief of Sales, while another might use the title Account Executive. If the ATS is not pre-programmed to look for these variations, a viable applicant might be overlooked because the keywords don’t match.

Human hiring managers, however, can consider easily remedied skill gaps and transferable skills that ATS miss. They can also reason on soft skills that might prepare a candidate for a role. For example, they may demonstrate unconventional work experiences that qualify them nonetheless.

Human hiring managers can also evaluate a candidate’s fit with the company culture and potential for growth. Finally, “the human touch” involves creating relationships and impressions that last beyond the hiring process—even for candidates who are not selected. The hiring manager can show appropriate personal interest so that the process is not bland and impersonal, and the applicant walks away with a positive impression of the company.

Balancing Humanity and Automation

Both efficient ATS and discerning human hiring managers are important. How can your company achieve the ideal balance?

First, optimize your use of ATS. Program it to search for a broad range of experience beyond generic job descriptions. Keep the system up-to-date. Those operating it should stay abreast of industry trends and regularly refine the search parameters based on previous data. Consider using an ATS that integrates artificial intelligence and machine learning so that it can get better at successfully locating ideal candidates over time.

Next, lean into the benefits that human hiring managers bring to the table. For example, don’t look only at the resumes flagged as “perfect matches.” Expand your search to those that are close—you might be surprised at the wealth of talent you find just beyond the bounds of perfection.

Don’t limit yourself to applicants’ self-reported resume skills. Make skills testing an early part of the hiring process. You may find applicants that possess vital skills that are not included on their resumes—or that did not perfectly match the ATS keywords.

Communicate early, and ask questions designed to address applicants’ soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and willingness to learn. You may find eager candidates who can quickly become qualified for the role with just a bit of on-the-job training or a course of study.

Don’t forget to consider the applicant’s adaptability to the company culture. Establish communication between the ATS and HR teams, implementing feedback suggestions and establishing a consistent interview scoring system that considers cultural fit as well as technical expertise. Employ in-person or video interviews whenever possible to better evaluate the candidate’s soft skills.

Key Takeaways

Six seconds is not a long time to form an opinion of a candidate, but it is important that all potentially qualified candidates receive that chance. Companies can foster a healthy blend of ATS and human hiring processes to ensure a fair, diverse, efficient, and personable job search for every applicant. This will result in a stronger and more effective workforce.