How Technology Saved Recruiting

This is a rebuttal post to an article on by Liz Ryan titled “How Technology Killed Recruiting“.  For those of you who don’t Liz she is a media personality who use to work in HR back in 1997 for Fortune 500 companies, which might speak to her viewpoints about recruiting and technology.  Liz writes a ton of HR and Recruiting type articles for publications that wouldn’t give me the time of day (Forbes, Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review, etc.), so clearly she is respected.  That is why I decided to react to her article.  She has a huge stage and gets thousands of clicks, so I was perplexed at this attack on corporate recruiting that really has no true basis in 2014.

Liz feels that Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have killed recruiting.  She feels all corporate recruiters do is set a never-ending string of hoops for applicants to jump through, until they are eventually lost in the black hole of a corporate recruiting abyss.  I do think this thought process has merit, 10-15 years ago.  When ATS software first came onto the market they were clearly selling to the corporate HR marketplace.  I can clearly remember sitting in process meetings with ATS vendors and having them show us (corporate HR) how they could make our life easier.  Need more screening of applicants? No problem we can put them through the ropes and only the best will get through!  Then they show you a process flow chart with 67 steps and the rest was history – Liz’s story above.

Today, ATS vendors look at the process completely different (Note: I don’t sell ATS software now, or ever! But I have purchased and implemented 5 systems in my career.).  Now, corporate HR needs the ATS to provide talent fast.  It’s about fewer clicks – how does an applicant let you know they have interest in “1” step, not 67.  Once the talent is ‘sourced’, corporate recruiting can then take them through as many filters as needed to ensure a great hire is made.  This is fairly common practice in the last 10 years of ATS implementations.  Can you still find companies that don’t get this? Yes.  But it’s not the norm in corporate recruiting with today’s ATS. Dare I say ATS vendors asked to set up a 67 step process would probably back out of the deal and refer that customer to their competition, because that will not be a customer you will ever make happy!

Here is why Liz and those who support her argument still carry around this notion of an ATS being a ‘black hole’ for your resume (BTW – I’m wondering when the last time Liz even applied for a job online?).  Candidates make excuses when they are not chosen.  “I applied! And I was perfect for ‘that’ job! But I never heard back.”  I know this because I’ve been the leader of corporate recruiting departments in the last 10 years.  I’ve heard this exact line coming from the cousin of our CEO.  I then had to show our CEO, in fact, three carefully crafted communications that his cousin received from our ATS system as the hiring processes proceeded over two weeks.

Technology hasn’t killed recruiting.  Technology has decreased the time it takes HR to recruit great talent. Technology has increased our retention rates and decreased new hire turnover by giving us better data on which to base our hiring decisions.  Technology has allowed recruiting to be brand ambassadors to our organizations. Technology has allowed most corporate recruiting departments to do ten times more, with the exact same staff it had 10 years ago.  Technology has allowed our employees to be an integral part of our recruiting function by automating employee referral programs. Technology has increased applicant response times by showing us exactly who in our organizations is holding up the process.  Technology has allowed us to fish in candidate pools that, previously, were never possible. Technology moved recruitment out of HR and into one of the most valuable functions an organization can have.

If people are your most important resource.  Your organizations ability to recruit talent, becomes critical to your organizations success. Technology help do that for recruiting. But I don’t write for Forbes, so what do I know.


15 thoughts on “How Technology Saved Recruiting

  1. Kristina – WOW! Liz Ryan is a dinosaur at 54? At 60 I must be some kind of trilobite.

    Your boss may have a reason for sending you those articles. Perhaps you need to read between the lines.

    I don’t want to demonize the ATS or the vendors who provide them. It’s a tool, and like any other tool it’s only as good as the implementation. Unfortunately many of us job seekers have seen way too many that were done poorly.

    I personally don’t believe that Liz Ryan is 100% right about the ATS, or on many other subjects. But there must be some relevance to her position since a lot of folks see it the same way. We can’t all be delusional.

    We need to have both Liz and Tim voicing their thoughts in order to ensure we don’t go over the line in either direction – the happy, shiny human – anything goes approach, or the cold, calculated, cookie cutter that reduces human experience to a set of calculations.

    Interesting observation – 90% (estimated) of the recruiters I encounter are under 35. And in the technology and executive networking groups I’m involved with about 75% of the members are 50 or above.

    Most of us gave up on just using the ATS and relying more on networking for getting our resume’s into the right hands. LinkedIn exists for a reason …..

    But then, I’m a trilobite, so what do I know?

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  4. Tim, great points. I’ve read both articles and there are points that merit both, although I sway to yours more.. (I am biased 🙂 ). I think this is where we have to step back and realize that it is people that control the technology that matter. I’m a HR Tech CEO and can talk to the other side: the vendor. When viewing other departments such as sales, marketing, and IT, their vendors are miles ahead than traditional vendors HR had to choose from. Most HR practitioners don’t push for technology change when they speak to vendors. Some HR practitioners don’t provide enough vision to guide the HR tech vendor to innovate. This constant push-pull between people who build the technology vs the people who use the technology is healthy. This, in my opinion, is what can causes the root cause. Further this that most HR tech vendors are not focusing on the true user (hint: it’s not HR, more likely candidates if it’s recruiting or employees if it’s employee facing) is generally a disservice. Therefore, an ATS can be a blackhole for some, or a great experience for candidates that creates advocates. I discuss why HR needs to become more intrapreneurial here: , and would love to hear your thoughts

  5. I do like some of Liz’s articles and believe some of them do have merit. But some things that bothered me about this one were:
    Liz’s friend doesn’t make sense to me, she types in “Principal” and assumes someone is supposed to know what she did? Wouldn’t what she did be different if she say owned a bakery versus had a consulting business? Her title would mean nothing without some explanation, am I wrong?

    Liz says that an ATS cannot distinguish between a lazy person and a non-lazy person. But if someone doesn’t fill out their profile versus someone who does, doesn’t that show effort or lack thereof? Or like Liz’s friend who just gives up?

    One things that I agree with is:
    As a job seeker I do find “some” ATS to be very tedious and time consuming. I have a full time job so applying in the evening (when my brain might not be at its best after sitting on front of a computer for 8 hours by that time) or on the weekends are really my only options. I do get a little tired of receiving email templates. But online applying is also not my ONLY option. As job seekers it is in our control of how we are found. Networking, volunteering, and other activities should be in the equation too.

    I cannot speak to ATS and their use because I do not use one. But Tim I trust your opinion that they are helpful and have made the recruiter’s job better and the right candidates are chosen because of this. I do think that ATS aren’t exactly the enemy here, but rather there are only so many jobs and A LOT of candidates.

  6. While I agree that technology certainly hasn’t killed recruiting, some of the points that Liz makes in her piece are still salient. The legacy technology, particularly ATS’, that dominate the hiring landscape is simply not up to snuff to meet the expectations of both today’s recruiters and job seekers alike. The UX is years behind where it should be, and top talent absolutely walks away when they’re made to jump through too many non-sensical hoops in applying.

    Within the past six months, I myself was in the midst of a job search and became so frustrated at falling down the ‘black hole’ in the application process of a major financial firm that I simply moved on. More on that story here: (and here:

    Bottom line: Today’s technology can and should be better. It should allow for people — recruiters and job seekers — to take precedence over process in the hiring equation. In that regard, Liz makes some good points, even if technology hasn’t quite signaled the death knell of recruiting. The new wave of solutions will enable a better hiring experience for all.

  7. My boss loves Liz Ryan and he is always forwarding me articles he saw of hers on LinkedIn. I rarely read a full post of hers, but this one I took the time to go read (thanks Tim). Kicking off her article by acknowledging that she is a dinosaur, didn’t do her any favors, but to stay on track let me say this- Bad recruiters kill(it’s not dead yet) recruiting. Maybe it’s just me, but it sure seems that bad recruiters our outnumbering excellent recruiters. Those bad recruiters are giving recruiters in general a bad rep with their terrible “recruiting processes”. How about her principal friend? If a principal is turned off to a job by an ATS then I may venture out and say the ATS did its job (get on board with technology Mrs. Principal because you’re kids are, without a doubt, using it in the classroom). The lack of availability of talent is another product of bad recruiters. These bad recruiters are sitting at their desk looking at resumes that they either found online or received through their ATS and saying “that’s all that’s out there”… as if every good candidate in the world is knocking down your door and if they didn’t show up they must not exist. I happen to believe that there is someone out there to fill your position. Not just someone, a good someone. It’s mostly up to your good recruiter to find them and sometimes the deal doesn’t always work out, but it does not mean that the talent doesn’t exist. And the deal doesn’t always break because that talent isn’t available, sometimes they aren’t INTERESTED in your company? just a thought. Those good someones know they still have to complete an application. This isn’t 1932 where you can walk into a company and get yourself hired with an introduction and a spit filled handshake.
    ATS are a black-hole… dear bearded baby Jesus do I hear people say that a lot!? It’s not a black-hole because of the system, it’s a black-hole because of the user of the system. Those applications don’t magically disappear, they are somewhere. Maybe you’re not getting a call back because someone seeking to fill an RF engineer position thought it went without saying your experience at Target and bachelors degree in Art History is not relevant in any way that you can spin it.
    And the little closing with the top dog complaining about needing to know how much experience he is looking for in a candidate-There are federal laws that dictate what we have to document for certain circumstances and how dare our adorably sweet Applicant Tracking vendors build a tool for us (to choose or choose not to) use to make compliance that much easier to track?
    It irks the daylights out of me that $#@! like this gets on websites like Forbes with high visibility. Thanks Liz for your non-factual interpretation of ATS and recruiting in 2014 and for exposing this non-sense to people who don’t know any better who have probably jumped aboard your crazy train for now… #getagrip #moreTim #lessLiz 🙂

    • Kristina,

      There are always two sides, and I think Liz missed that. You and I are in the trenches, we know the current realities of the marketplace and of the technology.

      Start passing my articles onto your boss every time your receive a Liz article!

      Love the comments –

  8. I completely agree with you Tim! I view every resume that comes in my ATS and I make a determination. Unfortunately, I get a huge number of applicants who don’t even meet the minimum qualifications. If ATSs did anything, it made applicants apply haphazardly and in bulk. It is common to see generic resumes and cover letters as applicants pay little attention to the organization they are submitting their information to.

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