Why Do So Many ATS Vendors Offer Poor Search Capability?

JIT Talent IdentificationThis question has been burning in my mind for quite some time – why is it that so many ATS/recruiting CRM vendors offer poor or limited candidate search functionality? I’m not talking about ATS vendors you’ve never heard of – I’m talking about some of the biggest names in Applicant Tracking/Candidate Relationship Management applications.

I’m well aware that ATS’s serve many critical functions beyond searching for the candidates contained within them, but let’s pull no punches here – you can’t hire someone, or begin to automate candidate relationship management with someone you haven’t FOUND in the first place. And just because a candidate is buried somewhere in your database, it doesn’t mean you’ve actually found them (or can find them when you want or need to).

The bottom line is that data is of little to no value if you can’t retrieve the information you want, when you need it. What is the point of storing human capital data if you can’t precisely retrieve exactly what you want, when you want it? 

Deficiencies Defined

I won’t get into automated/system-side semantic search and match in this post – I’m going to focus on the ability to manually enter search strings to find candidates.

When I say “poor/limited” candidate search capability, I mean at least one or more of the following:

  • Unnecessarily short search fields (e.g., 100 characters, including spaces!)
  • Lack of full Boolean search (e.g., inability to use AND, OR, and NOT, nesting, etc.)
  • Lack of stemming/root word search (e.g., admin* yeilds administrator, administration, etc.)
  • Lack of field-based search (e.g., most recent experience, most recent title, education, etc.)
  • Lack of searching by zip code radius

Critical Candidate Pool

A company’s internal candidate database is made up of people who have responded to that company’s job postings, people who went to the company’s website and entered their resume and information (not in response to a specific job), and people who were identified elsewhere (employee referral, LinkedIn, Twitter, Monster, niche job board, the Internet, etc.) and entered into the database by an employee. 

One could easily argue that this pool of candidates should be the first place sourcers, recruiters and hiring managers look when they need to find candidates. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

ATS = Candidate Source of Last Resort

A relatively common observation/complaint I hear from recruiting managers in corporate and agency staffing environments is that when it comes to running searches to find potential candidates, their sourcers and recruiters tend to search LinkedIn and the job board resume databases they have access to first, or at least before they search their internal ATS/CRM application. In many cases, recruiters with access to job board resume databases will only use their own ATS as a “source of last resort.”

recent survey conducted by TalentDrive, which polled over 8,000 companies and staffing firms, confirms this to a shocking degree. They found that “98% of the companies surveyed did not find Talent from within the existing Company ATS.” In other words, candidates can check in, but they don’t check out.

Not quite as shocking, but equally disturbing is that an Online Sourcing Survey conducted by TalentDrive found that almost two-thirds (64%) of the employers represented by the survey’s participants did not know how many qualified candidates were in their own ATS databases.

I think I know one of the major contributing factors to both statistics – most ATS’s aren’t very searchable!

Strong Candidate Search Capability is Out There

I believe the reason why Applicant Tracking Systems are often used as the “source of last resort” is because most ATS’s have candidate search functionality that is far inferior to what sourcers and recruiters have available to them in LinkedIn, any of the major job board resume databases, and even Google. Can we blame recruiters for going first to sources they have access to that actually ENABLE them with the power and control to quickly find the people they need?

If you take a look at large repositories of deep human capital data, such as those offered by LinkedIn and the “big 4” job board resume databases (Monster, Careerbuilder, Hotjobs, and Dice), you’ll find robust search capability. All accept full Boolean logic, accept relatively long/complex/precise search strings, feature zip code radius search, and offer field-specific searching. Monster takes Boolean search one step further by offering proximity search with the NEAR operator, and Careerbuilder offers advanced AI matching with their R2 functionality(which I think it powered by Sovren – can anyone confirm this?). 

Regardless of how many excellent candidates may be buried in a company’s ATS/CRM, if recruiters can’t run appropriately precise searches to quickly and easily retrieve highly relevant results, they are actually incentivized to use other sources to identify candidates. Sourcers and recruiters will naturally gravitate to what works for them, and unfortunately, in many cases, it isn’t their ATS.

The Customer is Always Right?

When I recently challenged a major ATS vendor regarding their extremely short candidate search field (100 characters, including spaces), their response included this interesting and unanticipated angle – they claimed that 99% of their clients are statisfied with their short search field. In other words, very few prospective or current customers of their ATS asked about, commented on, or asked for improvement of the short search field.

A representative of another well-known ATS chimed in on Twitter and said they also don’t come across many clients asking for more than 100 characters in the candidate search field.

I can only assume that their customers either aren’t very proficient at talent mining, don’t understand the value of human capital data, or worse – both. Regardless, we’ve already seen the statistics from TalentDrive’s surveys – most companies don’t even use their ATS to identify candidates. If they’re not using their ATS to find talent, why would they care about the length of the search field, or even if it supports basic Boolean logic? 

So what we have here is ATS vendors who are not developing and offering robust candidate search capability because their customers aren’t asking for it. Okay, I understand “the customer is always right,” but it’s a sad state of affairs when companies who create talent/human capital solutions are not incorporating strong/advanced candidate search capability into their products because their customers don’t understand the value and full potential of human capital data.

Whatever happened to educating and informing your customers, providing training, and offering a product that exceeds your customers’ expectations and provides them with a true competitive advantage?

100 Characters is Not Enough

I conducted a very informal poll on Twitter and Facebook, asking sourcers and recruiters what they thought of a 100 character candidate search field limit, and 100% of those who responded all felt that it would handicap their ability to find the right candidates. By comparison, Monster’s resume database has a keyword search field that accepts up to 500 characters, LinkedIn’s search field is bottomless (I just crammed 6003 characters in the keword field and LinkedIn laughed and asked, “Is that all you got?”), and even Google accepts up to 32 search terms (at an average term length of a little as 5 letters, that’s still 160 characters, NOT including spaces or operators). 

The TalentDrive survey discovered that the number one sourcing challenge facing companies currently is filtering through the mass of resumes and increased number of applicants. In other words, the candidate “haystack” is getting HUGE, and it’s becoming more challenging to sort through it to find the needles.

Ultimately, short and basic candidate searches are imprecise and yield a high volume of imprecise results, riddled w/false positives. Without more room to create search strings that are appropriately precise, relevance will suffer, and with more resumes to search through – the issue is exacerbated.

The Future of Staffing and Recruiting

I firmly believe that the one aspect of recruiting that has the most potential to improve the speed of talent identification (the time to find metric) and increase the quality and quantity of candidates identified is electronic talent discovery and identification. With each passing day, there is more data available on more people somewhere – on a social network, in a resume database, or in your ATS – and it will only increase and accelerate. The ability to slice and dice human capital data will afford companies a HUGE competitive advantage.

I will never get tired of quoting this passage from Google’s blog: “When every business has free and ubiquitous data, the ability to understand it and extract value from it becomes the complimentary scarce factor. It leads to intelligence, and the intelligent business is the successful business, regardless of its size. Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it well, the Samurai.”

The ability to extract value out of human capital data is already, and will continue to be, THE complimentary scarce in recruiting and staffing – but most people just don’t know it yet. ATS/Recruiting CRM vendors need to step up, recognize this, and offer their clients solutions that enable them to truly capitalize on their human capital data and offer them a competitive advantage.

If anything, I feel that employers and staffing firms should provide their recruiters access to MORE powerful and capable candidate search functionality than publicly and widely available resume databases or social networks. If they don’t, their ATS will continue to be the candidate source of last resort.

I believe that ATS/CRM apps should essentially serve as talent intelligence solutions, not unlike business intelligence solutions and decision support systems. The power lies primarily in the the human capital data/information stored within, and the ability to retrieve and analyze that information for talent identification and to make hiring decisions. 

One Thing has Changed

I don’t believe that the majority of the recruiting life cycle has changed over the past 20 years, or will change all that much in the future. Building relationships with current and potential candidates will always be at the heart of the recruiting process.

However, the one step in the recruiting process that has changed dramatically is sourcing, or talent discovery/identification. Information systems and applications have evolved rapidly over the past 20 years, and will likely continue to do so. With more information available about more people growing with each passing day, information retrieval becomes absolutely critical.

The ability to instantly retrieve information about the right people at the right time can accelerate a company’s ability to build relationships with more of the right people more quickly, leading to faster and higher quality hires with less effort.

If you find that concept interesting, I suggest you read these two posts about Lean/Just-in-Time recruiting.

A Call to All ATS/Recruiting CRM Vendors

If you work for or use an ATS that has strong candidate search functionality – Congratulations, you are among the fortunate few! Vendors – make sure your customers fully understand and leverage that power. Users – take full advantage of the candidate search capability, and be sure to not use your ATS as a source of last resort. Those candidates in your ATS are there for a reason – either they expressed interest in joining your company, or someone in your company expressed interest in them! 

If you work for an ATS vendor with poor/limited candidate search functionality – Why do you offer sub-par candidate search capability? Recognize that the future of human capital information systems lies primarily in talent discovery and identification. Either build in your own robust candidate search capability, or simply integrate any one of a number of excellent 3rd party text search and/or resume parse/search/match applications that are available. Educate your current and potential customers and explain to them the value and potential of human capital data. CRM functionality is great, but is of little value without the ability to find the right people to begin to manage relationships with in the first place!

If you currently use an ATS with poor/limited candidate search capability – Send this article to your vendor. Let me know how they respond, and if/how they can answer the question of why they offer such poor/limited candidate search functionality. They’re essentially putting you at a competitive disadvantage!

  • I LOVE this post!!! Thank you for speaking so candidly about an issue that rarely gets discussed in our space!

    As someone who has been around ATS world for a number of years I have seen the neglect given by (almost) all vendors on the database search side…When I came on board w/HRMDirect earlier this year it was one of my top priorities and am thrilled to say we have a new (great!) search function launching later this year.

    Hopefully for recruiters & companies, the rest of the vendors read this post and think to themselves – what we have needs to be better and they improve.

    Hopefully for me, they don’t. ;-)

  • Glen – excellent post. Do you think that another reason internal recruiters look to their own ATS last in a candidate search is that ATS data tends to be more stale and out of date than what you might find on LinkedIn? I have had the feeling for a long time that most candidates don’t make it a habit of periodically returning to various company ATS to update their profiles over time.

  • Hi Glen,
    Great post. As an ATS/ applicant tracking software provider, I can attest to the fact that the vast majority of clients tend to NOT take advantage of the database of candidates they build up. We work with them on this, but a lot of it is habit: “gotta have fresh candidates.”
    I say this, even though our SonicRecruit recruiting software offers one of the most robust (and easy to use) Boolean search features on the market. While we do limit the key word search to 100 characters, we have twenty easily accessible standard search fields to narrow the search. Once parsed, much of the resume gets structured into searchable fields. Add to that full booolean, wildcards and stemming, zip radius and SonicRecruit provides a ton of fire power. To those who use it, it’s powerful. But I would agree that too few take advantage of it.

  • Steve,
    Thank you. You raise an excellent question, and I am happy to respond with my take on “stale” data.

    To me, human capital data may get outdated, but it never loses its value – in fact, I believe it increases over time. Candidate records are like fine wine – they only get better with age.

    If I find a resume of a 2 year unix systems administrator today and permanently capture them into my ATS, in 5 years I will have a 7 year unix admin, a unix systems engineer, perhaps a project manager – who knows? No matter their career path and and progression, I will stay in touch with them and routinely update their information.

    A candidate record can only truly go “stale” if no one ever makes contact and updates the record with more current information from time to time – and it need not be every 6 months.

    What’s great about aging data is that the 2 year unix admin who pulls their resume from Monster (or wherever) may never be found by anyone else again. However, I’ve permanently captured their data, and may reach out to them in a year or two’s time – when they are passively looking or not looking at all – with a position that is well aligned with the next step in their career. I may literally be one of the few people who has quick and easy access to that candidate as their career progresses, regardless of their job search status.

    In fact, I believe a well stocked ATS candidate database is likely to be 60-70% “passive” candidates in total, and that percentage is probably even higher when you consider only candidate records that have been entered over 3 months ago. What you essentially end up with is a coveted private “passive” candidate database. :-)

    Now, if an ATS is coupled with strong CRM functionality, a combination of automated and personal outreach to candidates can help with ensuring that most candidate data stays up to date.

    However, in my opinion, having updated information on all candidates isn’t really necessary. I’ve called and made easy, frictionless placements with candidates who had records that had not been updated in 4 years. A seasoned sourcer or recruiter can make an educated guess at “career trajectory,” and when you make a call to someone whose resume is not on the Internet, not on LinkedIn, not in an online resume database – you essentially have a candidate no one else has practical, targeted access to – and closing/control is a non issue when you call with the right opportunity, by design.

    Give me a well stocked ATS candidate database that is at least 5 years old, with strong search functionality, and I literally don’t need job board resume databases, LinkedIn, Twitter – you name it – those resources are just icing on the cake.

  • Glen,
    Just last week a recruiter told me not “to bother” searching our internal database for a candidate because the resumes would be “too old.” Part of the problem is that phone numbers change, but another part is, as Ian mentioned, habit. In our office, the cumbersome search mechanism is to be blamed as well. Thanks for another great post!

  • Great article Glen!

    We ARE paying customers, paying for a service to house talent that should be accessible at the snap of a finger. Thank you for bringing issues such as this to light.

  • 3 things:

    a.) love your new layout.
    b.) your article is very topical (read: timely) to corporate work we are engaging our vendors on; POST is not the full answer — Attention ATS AND JOB BOARDS, we DO like to Search as well. (believe it or not)
    c.) Glen is a rockstar.

  • Steve


    Wonderful topic. And very timely. With the economy (at least the IT arena) flourishing again, our ATS’s are of vital importance. I am often asked by internal recruiters and HR folks for a way to better use their ATS. After 23 years in recruiting and using many different ATS vendors, I think the answer lies more in defining ones market than the ATS itself. That is, working a smaller niche/specialization is key. For instance, we work ONLY certain markets within the IT space and don’t take assignments outside of our specialty. This affords us ample opportunity to continually update and add to our database of qualified candidates. We rely heavily on the speed at which our ATS can retrieve qualified candidates; and yet, the major part of our success comes from our constant focus on our specialty. If you are working in too many areas (as most internal and HR types seem to) it is almost impossible to keep the ATS fresh. You can only effectively call a certain number of people each day and when you are looking for totally different skill sets each week, it is unrealistic to expect your ATS to be up to date. I shudder to think of how difficult it would be to find the best Network Engineer one day, then turn around and have to find a qualified Plant Manager the next! Totally different skill sets, buzz words, acronyms, accreditation, and pay levels.

  • Hi Glen,
    Definitely agree, for many ATS’s, searching capabilities aren’t too sharp. However, many are quite robust, including the one I work for, which has full Boolean, wildcard, fielded (over 50 options) and unfielded searching, including geographic radius, time frame, speculative applicants, and more. In fact, most high-end ATSs can create saved searches and automatically run them for you.
    The simple fact of the matter is that many recruiters either try once, don’t get the results they need, and give up. I try to stress that searching is “half art, half science”, and that it’s an acquired skill… something that many in-house recruiters (who often double up as HR generalists) don’t have as finely tuned as recruitment consultants.

  • Hi Glen,

    You and I have already exchanged ideas on this topic behind closed doors but I wanted to make the same points here to provide a different perspective and get others’ feedback.

    As I said before, you are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about the issue and your dedication shows. This is a great post, extremely thorough, and raises a really interesting question.

    You covered a lot of different angles, except for one of the most basic: complex/lengthier searches= longer/slower loading times for users. There needs to be some limits imposed to help keep systems running faster.

    As for your point that, if clients are satisfied with 100 characters, indicating they’re not proficient at talent mining, it’s the ATS vendor’s responsibility to train them—this assumes they’re NOT training clients. However, iCIMS provides complimentary weekly trainings for clients, as well as extensive training during implementation on best practices to optimize their use of the iCIMS Talent Platform. One such training that every client receives is an “Advanced Searching Session” that not only goes over Boolean search tips, but also provides clients with documentation on how to better Boolean search. If after informing, training and providing clients with documents, they are still satisfied with 100 characters, you begin to think, If it ain’t broke…

    This being said, our search is currently limited to 100 characters. (Official announcement: iCIMS Talent Platform v. 10.1 will make the keyword search field limit configurable [100, 250, or 500] by admin.) But having robust searching capabilities is more than just the # of characters in the search field. iCIMS users can filter on virtually anything, with the ability to add, arrange and remove groupings and columns with just the click of a button.

    You also noted the importance of being able to run full Boolean searches, stemming/root word searches, field-based searches and zip code radius searches. The iCIMS Talent Platform does all of this. With all these additional & powerful search features, the importance of sheer character amount is diminished. Perhaps this is why users so very seldom complain and are still able to efficiently mine their human capital data.

    But like Sarah said, vendors should read this post and improve, and that’s exactly what we’re doing– so thanks for getting the dialogue going and making us all step up our game.

    Looking forward to others’ thoughts on the matter!


  • Thanks Glen. Excellent Article on Search in Recruitment Industry.

    We are developing HirePlug.com – an on-line service which will involve following capabilities.

    Posting Candidates by recruiters, professionals and employers.

    ATS – Based on the Archived Candidates.

    Powerful search with all Deficiencies Above addressed.

    Ability to follow other recruiters’ candidates, requirements, comments and blog posts!

    This will be a kind of social job board.

    Any recommendations will help us a lot.


  • Excellent post Glen and very true. Most ATS vendors dont have sufficient search capabilities, but I would have to not that those that make the effort to develop extensive search & match capabilities often find that the recruiters still ignore these in favour of more “in trend” sourcing methods and simple search methods.

    For example, our recruitment software, Arithon offers users a proprietary match algorithm based on weighted field, parsed & keyword data which includes the ability to run a boolean search simultaneously, along with other search features that allow field based search combined with boolean document search.

    Despite these the most common search method used is still two or three keywords with no boolean operators in a straight document keyword search.

    We’ve recently beta launched features that use a proprietary match algorithm to match on multiple sources (including Monster & LinkedIn) . Users with access to these features appear to have forgotten that they have a database of several thousand resumes and rely almost exclusively on these external sources.

    I’m really glad you brought up the point on passive candidates as its been something I’ve harped on about for years to our clients – very well articulated.

    As we continue to improve our search and match capabilities I’ll definitely keep in mind the points you and other posters have raised here!

  • Caitrin,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

    Regarding the issue you raised regarding the longer/more complex the search, the longer/slower search execution…it is a very valid point. However, I will say that those potential issues can be addressed on the back end/database side with regard to indexing, partitioning, and database performance tuning, as well as server resources. There are ATS databases with over 1,000,000 resumes in them that can handle long and complex Boolean queries of 400 characters in less than 5 seconds. So it isn’t always search string length/complexity – sometimes the issue lies on the back end (speaking from experience).

    I also see your point – as someone who does quite a bit of training in the area of sourcing, I am well aware that even with the best training, some people don’t walk away with the desire or ability to run more precise searches, and are 100% happy sticking to the relatively simple searches they know. Having an on-site mentor/coach/trainer would likely work wonders for these individuals, as learning the art and science of electronic talent discovery isn’t something that is learned through 1 or a handful of training sessions. In my experience, consistent, daily mentoring and coaching is what really makes it stick. It also helps to have people who have an interest and a propensity to learn talent mining.

    I hold you in high regard for your willingness to take constructive criticism and commit to improving your product – that’s what being customer-centric is all about. I am glad to hear that the search field will be configurable in the future, as then you will be able to satisfy not only the basic users, but also the power users, and everyone in between. Kudos!

    I also want to give you special recognition for supporting the NEAR operator in your search capability. Any plans on making it configurable (specifying the maximum proximity)?

    Thanks again for your response!

  • Jane,
    Thank you for responding!

    I’ve never had the chance to work with Peopleclick, but I am glad to hear your ATS supports full Boolean, wildcard, and fielded search. I’d love a demo!

    We agree on the fact that many people don’t commit to learning the art and science of talent mining – and it is a commitment, not unlike learning a new sport or language – it won’t and can’t be learned overnight, or through a few training sessions. Here are my thoughts on how people can become talent mining gurus.

    I’ve often wondered if any ATS vendors offer a Boolean help desk/support for their clients?

  • Jer,
    Thank you for commenting and the feedback on the new site look and feel. My next post should also be timely, as it will focus on job posting vs. candidate search. :-)

    Appreciate your readership!

  • Dava,
    I recently spoke with a corporate recruiter working for a very large and well respected company who told me that her ATS (BIG name that I won’t name – not going there) is well nigh unsearchable beyond searching by candidate name. So she searches Monster first the cross references her ATS to find the candidate by their name. Scary!

    I say again, what is the point of storing data that cannot be precisely retrieved?

    As to your point of aging resumes – I LOVE older resumes! See my response to Steve for more detail as to why.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • I’m going to agree with my esteemed ATS competitors’ comments about searching fields on the candidate records is often better than any Boolean string regardless of the length. While keyword searches of the web and resume banks may be fine, the whole point of having an ATS DB is to store BETTER and MORE information as it gets collected during the screening & interviewing process.

    Resume keyword search (of any kind or length) only searches whatever is on the document. The good ATS providers offer a lot of ways to add validated information to the candidate record, such as prescreening questions or assessment test data, as well as parsing/storing data that is more likely true (ie, hard to lie about what country or city you’re in).

    Some ATS pull keywords off resumes and offer that as a skillset search option, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since a keword search will get you the same result. Skillset searching is better if the recruiter validates (prescreens) candidates against desired skills. Skills searching also allows recruiters to “read between the lines” of candidate resume and make value judgements on the relative merits of qualifications for a particular position.

    While the SmartSearch solution has a very powerful, unlimited text-search of the resume doc; the Candidate Profile & Skills search is more accurate when the database is used properly to build relationships and store validated information. These searches may be used in tandem with a keyword search as well.

  • ARivas


    Great article! I think you’re right on- there is much room for improvement in this area.

    My company dropped a pretty penny on a well known ATS system in 2008. And I have to say as an end user- I am not impressed. Between the 80 or so recruiters in my organization (working corporate, client and RPO) – our own data base is the last place we search (if we even go there). When you are working against the clock the last thing I want to do is sit around waiting for each page to load and once it finally does- the resume somehow has nothing to do with the simple search (no boolean capability here).

    I also agree with the statement about a candidate’s record only getting better with age.. which is why it is so frustrating to have a system that will make it difficult to ever find that candidate again. I am all for a good hunt with tactics that have a good ROTI (I love looking for the purple squirrels and studying the art behind finding that top/rare talent) but searching in my internal system should not be a needle in a hay stack experience.

    Thanks again for the post!

  • Michael Patrick


    Interesting discussion and lots of excellent comments. For years, I have been amazed that most recruiters choose to “find” new talent from job boards and guess at appropriate skills, fit and hope there is enough of a relationship to influence any outcome (read: hope is NOT a strategy).

    Regarding information mining-too many sourcing and recruiting teams are moving to quickly to fill jobs and service clients and cannot or do not take enough time to learn how to mine data. Their compensation and activity metrics are skewed to other things.

    From a functional perspective, many companies try do a good job of mining raw data outside their firewall from Job Boards and the internet at large (sourcing) then try to pass it over to a recruiting team for data verification, storage and relationship building.

    The comments about field level searches providing better, accurate search results is true….if and only if the data is maintained and refreshed. There’s the rub….we just do not do a good job of that because we are too busy getting “new” data even if it is already in a DB somewhere.

    I believe that data mining is such an art that requires technical skill, patience and lots of training and desire.

    Additionally, once their is a good relationship built, candidate self service for data entry and updating helps keep data fresh. However, mining data to develop and leverage great relationships in our ATS systems must become a priority and really generate economies of scale in the talent economy.


  • Great post, very thorough. I like you bringing very important aspects of ATS functionality into an open discussion. Also, challenging ATS vendors to provide critical functionality to our community.

    As an ATS provider, cBizSoft, we provide a very extensive set of search capabilites in our ATS application cBizOne.

    We have a live search bar, whereby a user can search on any combination of fields, and results are displayed while a user is entering the search keywords.

    In our advanced find, we have both the keyword search and full boolean search. Our boolean search has no limits (i.e. unlimited boolean string size) and allows unlimited nesting. We also allow stemming and NEAR operator.

    We also have Zip distance search.

    To put it simply, we do not have a single deficiency mentioned at the beginning of the post.

  • I think you have to consider how ATS software came to be to understand why they are the way they are.

    I’m a talent management consultant that specializes in recruiting, assessing and developing top performers. I also happen to specialize in the high tech industry and have worked with a number of enterprise software companies. Many of the major ATS software companies began as a way to automate and standardize work processes, just like ERP and SCM software. Some of the main benefits being the ability to integrate processes, improve hand offs, ensure compliance, reduce headcount associated with process administration, etc. In some cases these expensive software systems failed to add their projected ROI because they automated poorly designed processes (not the software companies fault, but the fault of those in charge of the process). As these technologies matured the makers realized that they often times needed to re-engineer a companies processes before they installed software.

    In the case of ATS software I think they are at this turning point. The first round of the software was simply to automate process, not improve the process. The problem is that the process was flawed in the first place. Frankly, most companies still think that sourcing = advertising a job opening to collect resumes, and recruiting = screening resumes and conducting job interviews. Numerous surveys have shown that this approach accesses only 30-40% of the market at any one time (the active job seekers plus a few passive).

    For those who are really cutting edge, they know that the real value add in recruiting comes from relationships. Strong relationships will allow you to access 80-100% of the market whenever you want to. These companies know that to get as close to having “the right people, in the right place, at the right time” you must have a view into all the talent in a given industry, geography, etc., both inside and outside the company, and be able to reach them in a way that gets them to seriously consider your career opportunity. This can’t happen without a trusted relationship or leveraging a trusted relationship. In my opinion ATS software does not help a recruiter maintain nor leverage trusted relationships. Now, LinkedIn does a great job of helping to leverage trusted relationships, but in and of itself does little to develop trusted relationships.

    CRM software does a good job of helping build trusted relationships, but only when the user already knows how to build a trusted relationship, because this is what software was built for. No system by itself builds trust, but CRM software automates many things that aid the process. Most can be customized to capture and record the data you want to use to segment customers (or in this case candidates), and support Boolean, wildcard, and other searches. Most allow you to schedule follow up calls, or even automate communications in a way that make you maintain some form of contact on a regular basis (this is a must for the best external talent). When these, along with the other things CRM software offers, are combined with someone who really understands how to develop and maintain trusted relationships WATCH OUT! This is a recipe for an exceptional talent acquisition professional.

    I switched to a CRM system, Salesforce.com, a long time ago. I’ve customized it to capture the information I need to be able to search for talent in a very targeted way (including being able to identify people who worked in a specific function in a specific company during a specific time frame). While this platform is still not my ideal solution, it is way better than anything I have ever seen from an ATS vendor. When companies start using CRM type systems to develop and maintain candidate relationships, or ATS vendors realize the recruiting process is only as good as the relationships utilized to execute it, resume/data mining will no longer be a problem it will be another part of every recruiters process.

    If you questions or wish to contact me you can email me at cordell DOT larkin AT cordellandcompany DOT com. For more about me see my LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/cordelllarkin, and to follow me on twitter go to http://twitter.com/cordellco.

  • The previous comment about “where ATS came from” is interesting to me. However, the points noted relate to the corporate environment; there are ATS solutions built for the staffing world (with much more of a sales/CRM focus) that feature stronger search capabilities.

    SmartSearch is one of the few products that serve both corporate employers as well as third-party recruiters. It never ceases to amaze me how many corporate products are what I call “process oriented” rather than a true sourcing tool with the end goal being to fill the job. Corporate employers serious about recruiting are those that take an executive search/research & passive candidate sourcing approach to talent acquisition — and make the focal point of building a resume database rather than simply using it as a repository for applicants that bothered to apply on the website.

    The other comment that resonated with me is that any tool is only as good as the skill of the user. I had one recruiter ask me if an ATS would put him out of a job. My reply was “only if you’re a bad recruiter” in which case an ATS simply helps do more of the wrong things faster.

    I agree 100% about the relationship building aspect; finding candidates regardless of search power is not what actually engages the candidate or gets somebody hired. Also, since referrals are and will always remain the best source of candidates, the best search engine in the world won’t deliver a warm referral if the relationship isn’t there.

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  • Pointwing recruiting software adds Boolean search — giving recruiters FIVE ways to search for data: http://www.pointwing.com/press-Pointwing_Recruiting_Software_Boolean_Search_Added.asp

  • SmartSearch now has TEN ways to search, including:

    * Full text Boolean search of resumes (that’s been available for ages)
    * Fuzzy logic/semantic search
    * SmartMatch automated skills search
    * Natural Language Search (NLS) off a job description
    * NLS “more like this” from a selected resume
    * Notes search
    * Profile search w dozens of field selections
    * Quick find lookups
    * Subsearches within user created folders
    * Integrated search of major third-party job boards including Monster, CareerBuilder, DICE, SecurityClearanceJobs, HotJobs, more.

    All the above are lightning FAST except for the Notes search that can slow down if a user elects to search the entire body of unlimited notes text and selects a wide date range.

    Guess I don’t understand “why so many ATS vendors have poor search capability” — isn’t that the heart of any system?

  • Bob

    Thoughtful post. Is this a reflection on Kforce’s replacement of Wizard with RecruitMax?

  • Recruitmax was definitely an improvement over Wizard, but hardly an ideal solution. Thankfully we’ve recently integrated an off-the-shelf parsing and matching application into Recruitmax that we’ve been able to heavily customize on both the back end (taxonomy) and front end (search interface and functionality). I’m a hard man to please when it comes to candidate search, but I can tell you this: although it took longer than I would like, we’ve developed a world-class sourcing solution!

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  • Great Post Glenn – I think recruitment software developer should read your article to have an idea on how to improve more their system. That’s why some recruitment business stop their subscription on their recruitment software because they experience these problems that you mentioned. Keep posting.

  • All the problems written in this article can be solve by a reliable and efficient recruitment software. Recruitment software is evolving and if you’re a member in a recruitment software community you have the advantage of getting solutions for all of the problems you have since members of the recruitment software community are expert.