Recruitment Software: Why It Doesn’t Pick the Top Candidates


Recruitment software and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are must-haves in today’s recruitment world. We rely on technology to increase efficiency in nearly all other aspects of our lives, so it only makes sense that we now have software to automate recruitment tracking by handling job applications and resumes electronically.

Using an online recruitment system or ATS allows companies to better organize and streamline the hiring process. But while recruitment software is designed to help save time, reduce errors and ensure proper tracking, it is still unable to perform the single most critical part of the hiring process — picking the top candidate. Technology can only take us so far. In the end, the hiring process will always require a human element to pull the most qualified candidate from a stack of applications.

Email applications still carry an advantage over recruitment software and ATS. They require personal interaction from both sides throughout the entire hiring process. While accepting email applications requires additional time and organization from the employer, in the end, it helps you to more easily pick the top candidate for the job. Employers and candidates alike should take note of the following limitations of recruitment software and ATS:

They act as a funnel

Each new job posting will trigger an average of 1,000 resumes submitted. That is a staggering amount of paperwork, especially if you’re hiring for multiple positions at any particular time.

Recruitment software and ATS act like a funnel, taking in a large amount of applications in the beginning, but quickly narrowing them down to a mere few. This may sound great, but the limitation lies in the software’s ability to accurately determine what qualities and soft skills would make a candidate the best suited for the job. As a result, you end up eliminating qualified applicants who may not have used the exact words or descriptions the system was looking for, sending good talent right out the door.

They force candidates into boxes

People aren’t made to fit inside boxes, and their resumes don’t translate well into such rigid form fields, either. An online recruitment system breaks down the information on an application and organizes it into different “buckets.” If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t get recorded, and it is never seen by the employer for consideration.

Sometimes the most unexpected information on a resume is the hidden gem that really makes a candidate stand out. For example, maybe a candidate is a certified yoga instructor or holds a national title in chess, but they’re applying for a marketing job. Holding a title in chess displays critical thinking skills, and being a yoga instructor shows the candidate works well with others. But if ATS don’t know to look for these words and identify them as valuable skill sets, they’re sure to be overlooked. One of the most important components to bring to the hiring process is an open mind. ATS do quite the opposite. They use a set of blinders to only focus on the exact keywords that have been pre-established.

They lack the human element

Many of the limitations of online recruitment system is is lack of human interaction. Nearly three-quarters of resumes will never be seen by human eyes.

In order to choose the best person for the job, candidates need to be evaluated much more personally. This is yet another reason why recruitment technology will never be able to fully replace the human element within the hiring process. A computer will tell you who looks best on paper, but only you can decide who possesses the interpersonal skills and personality that makes them the right fit for your company.

They encourage candidates to play the system

When it comes to applying for a new position, the emphasis has shifted. Candidates now want to know how to carefully craft an application that avoids recruitment software and ATS pitfalls. Learning how to “play the system” has taken precedence over simply submitting the most positive, honest representation of yourself.

Worse yet, ATS reward such tactics by bumping candidates with phony, keyword-laden resumes to the top of the stack, regardless of whether they are truly the most qualified. This is yet one more reason why recruitment software doesn’t pick the top candidate.

They discourage great candidates from applying

We can’t overlook the limitations of recruitment software and ATS that so many companies rely on for their hiring process. Sure, they make accepting and sorting applications a breeze, but
picking the top candidate is a subjective decision that no amount of technology can accurately automate. This will always remain up to the employer. Hopeful applicants should also be concerned with these limitations, as they affect whether their resume ever makes it before human eyes.

In the HR world, the hands-on approach still proves to be the most accurate. Stay involved in the hiring process and don’t rely on recruitment software to make one of the most critical decisions for your company!

What do you think? What limitations have you experienced using an online recruitment system as either an employer or a candidate?

About the Author:
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the instructor of Find Me A Job: How To Score A Job Before Your Friends, author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010), and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.


  1. Kevin Briggs says

    As a candidate I have run into these applicant tracking programs and they have done nothing but derail me from applying for other opportunities. The whole process of candidate selection via these programs has gotten ridiculous. Frustrated, derailed and confused is how I feel today given the human free process that seems to be employed at every major/large firm nowadays. Too often I have not been selected as a candidate for opportunities that I’m a sure fit for. I have applied to 205 opportunities since mid-March 2013 and for a high percentage of those opportunities I had/have the hard and soft skills for based on the job requirements but these programs have eliminated me (and others) from contention, this the hiring manager never gets a chance to know that as he/she doesn’t get the chance to ever see my résumé. On the odd chances that I’ve gotten through it was because the hiring manager intercepted the résumé before it was eliminated by the tracking systems. I am a 20 year veteran of the Banking/Financial Services industry who has been dealing with unemployment since 2010. My industry in particular makes great use of these programs, which has caused them to miss out on a significant number of unique and qualified applicants. In most cases if you do get an interview you end up losing out to an internal hire (at least in my case).

    Given the economic crisis and there being so many qualified people on the street today, employers have the pick of the litter. They have become extremely picky and what I call “requirement hungry” when selecting applicants to hire. Prior to the crisis if a candidate had 7 out of the 10 job requirements they would get hired. Post crisis if you have 10 out of 10, sometimes that isn’t enough, because Applicant B or C has several more intangibles than applicant A and they get the nod over “A”…

    As a former bank VP who has managed people, nothing beats a hands on approach when it comes to hiring candidates and it starts off with the hiring manager poring over the resumes first as only they know what they really need in a candidate to do the job. I embrace technology, but in some cases the human element is more important to the hiring process than a tracking program can be.

    Thank you for writing this article and giving me a platform to speak on regarding this misguided new applicant hiring program.

    Gainfully unemployed!

  2. Sally says

    I’ve simply stopped sending job applications through web forms. Unless a job includes an e-mail where I can send the cover letter and resume, I don’t bother. I’ve definitely noticed better results from the e-mailed applications, where a human is reading the attachments.

  3. says

    I completely agree and identify with Kevin Briggs’ comments! Having held managerial positions of increasing responsibility in pharma/biotech for the past 20 years, I find myself undergoing the same frustrations with today’s electronic recruitment/ATS systems. My resume is consistently disregarded/overlooked even for similar positions appearing in my experience history and successfully held with other major pharma corporations. Bottom line…network. Put your resume in the hands of colleagues and business acquaintances that can best pass it along to the appropriate hiring manager.

  4. Barbara says

    Heather, Excellent article stating what we job hunters have been experiencing for a long time. It is so different than even ten years ago. My questions are:
    1. what can we job hunters with multiple skillsets and intangibles DO to counteract this. Companies have also made it very difficult, if not impossible to find out who the hiring manager or HR staff person is and then get their email.

    2. What is your take on what Senior HR people at companies will do about this, since they too, know how the software works. Do you see any trends where companies are moving back to having the hiring manager accept emails, or make their word searches on software much more general, minimalist.

    3. For those of us who are somewhat Generalists–who have the training to do multiple things in the mid-upper management realm, the job listing companies (Execnet, Indeed,, CareerBuilder, etc.) have very rigid search engines, forcing you to pic only one category or one state or one skillset. Vary cumbersome and slow. Are there any such search engines that allow the applicant to put the word choices in. Example: As a trained Mediator, Arbitrator, Facilitator, Trainer I can’t get all of these in one “Category” Alternative Dispute Resolution” And each company is different–some put that under HR, others under Legal Counsel, others under Compliance etc. And that is only ONE of the careers I have that are still current .
    Thank you.

  5. Allen Wolfenbarger says

    I see this as a travesty from both sides of the hiring table. As a hiring official I see great resumes but the person is a joke, and then horrible resumes where the individual turns into a valued employee. As a candidate, I know my skills, have honed my resume to show my years of management, accounting, and technical experience and I get very few acknowledgements. The human interaction is the only way that people can become the missing spokes in the wheel to roll the company in the right direction. Software like this will never put the right person in the position.

    Going forward I will play the word game to get my name at the top of the list. Sad but true.

  6. Jamie says

    I firmly believe that although it certainly makes running an HR department easier, the current use of bots and evaluation scripts rather than humans is making the process of seeking employment almost impossible for people like me with 20 years of IT experience. I have applied for hundreds of jobs for which I met the qualifications, only to be rejected mostly because I didn’t fit in “the box” HR had constructed for the robots to fill.

  7. Patrick says

    The implementation of the use of ATS has created a situation in the recruiting world very much akin to what search rankings have done to websites in terms of SEO rankings.

    In order to get through an ATS a candidate is required to keyword pack his resume, whether it is appropriate or not. This is just like the “best searched” websites out there today that are jam packed with all the “just right” keywords that follow the most recent rules for Search Engine Optimization. People are not building websites for people to use anymore, they are building them to be optimized for the search engines. This is the same thing happening in recruitment. People are not building a resume to be read or used by anyone but the ATS.

    Now there is a new industry for resume tweaking just like there is an entire industry of web site tweaking.

    Every time I submit a resume via email, I get a call. Every time I submit it via ATS… Crickets!

  8. Thomas Knight says

    After 13+ months of looking, I lined up two interviews this weeks. One has resulted in a job offer, the second, I haven’t done the initial interview.
    In the case of the first one, I replied to an e-mail. The second one was via a web site, but I obtained the interview the old school way, by going down there and ASKING for one.
    Ironically, I applied to the company that laid me off via their web site. I received a stock e-mail rejection reply today. Did they even NOTICE that my last employer was THEM? Somehow, I don’t think so.
    Web sites may save time, but I find it very difficult to believe that they are worth what they are losing out on.

  9. gkb says

    “Recruitment software and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are must-haves in today’s recruitment world” Whenever you use the word must you are setting up yourself for failure. Key word is not must have but effectiveness. Recruitment must be measured by effectiveness. It also need to respect candidate’s time, efforts. I generally prefer the old way of ads through news paper, walk-in interviews. They are effective and a win-win for both the candidate and the recruiters.

  10. Damona Sain says

    If you haven’t heard of or read “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs,” by Wharton professor Peter Cappelli, please read it. He places a lot of the blame for high unemployment on employers. They are “searching for the unicorn,” which doesn’t exist. He also mentions ATS and how that has been a game changer in a negative way. Also, a more recent book is “Flawed System, Flawed Self” by Ofer Sharone, an MIT assistant prof in the Management Dept, doing research on the long-term unemployed. He compared the Israeli system of how employers hire vs the American way. Israel is more transparent in the process–here are the skills you must have, and here are a lot of tests you must take before we can hire you. American employers rely on the amorphous “chemistry” factor. If you are rejected in Israel, you don’t take it personally and you know why you didn’t measure up. In America, when you are rejected by an employer, it’s taken as a rejection of YOU personally. This takes it toll in dreadful ways for the long term unemployed. One reviewer made this analogy: “One approaches a job interview as he might a first date, and the other, as he would an oral exam. The first offers who he is, the second, what he has.” The first is the American, the second the Israeli. It’s SO important to have a strong support system, people who know you and and can validate who you are when buffeted by our system. Context is important. See MIT’s Institute for Career Transitions to learn more.

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