Shhh! Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet. I’m Huntin’ Wabbits!

By now, we are all painfully familiar with the term ATS (Applicant Tracking System).  I say painfully, because there is a lot of pain involved with these systems.  I am not talking about the pain of selecting and then implementing them – I am referring to the pain of actually using them and have them add benefit to your recruiting organization. 

Remember Elmer Fudd?  The great bard of cartoon hunting lore who incessantly chased that "wascally Elmer_fudd2wabbit"?  Fudd was a tracker.  And thus my point.  You track animals and you have relationships with people.  No talented person in their right mind wants to be tracked.  By their very name, ATS systems tell us all we need to know about their usefulness when it comes to recruiting.  I commonly refer to these so called systems as Animal Tracking Systems.  I think it is more accurate of what they are.

Let’s face it.  The ATS was built to manage process and track information for the purpose of compliance, EEOC, OFCCP, the corporate legal counsel and HR weenies in the house.  Sure, occasionally they kick out some tired, worn out and meaningless metric about time to fill, or number of positions filled in a quarter, but all the ATS really does is take the recruiting process on paper and put it on a server.  No value add whatsoever to actual recruiting. 

Recruiting isn’t about process or tracking.  Great recruiting is about useful information, relationships, networking, needs-based consulting and exceptional communication.  No ATS made yet has been able to do these things well.  Nope, it comes down to a skilled recruiter being able to execute exceptionally well in all of these areas.  Sure, a system can house the information necessary to help a recruiter make better decisions, but in the end, it really all comes down to how effectively the recruiter can execute when they get to the right talent.  Sadly, ATS systems are ill equipped to add any value to this endeavor.

Any recruiting organization that seeks to add value to their company or client has to build and/or manipulate their current system into a TRMS (Talent Relationship Management System), so that the activities of real recruiting are enhanced by the system.  The list of functionality necessary to do this properly is quite extensive, but it can be done, and has been done, in many right-thinking, recruiting organizations. 

That said, the ATS providers continue to feed the recruiting masses the same old Elmer Fudd "tracking" approach, which only further erodes the value of recruiting to the organization they serve.  The blame for this doesn’t lie with the ATS providers.  Nope, it lies with the recruiting masses that keep accepting it and implementing it. 

Wake up people!   Did Fudd ever kill the wabbit?

FOT Background Check

Michael Homula is the founder of Bearing Fruit Consulting, a national recruiting consulting firm based out of Michigan. Prior to founding BFC, Michael served as a Director of Recruiting/Talent Management for multiple companies in the Financial Services industry. Like children in Sparta, Michael was cast out into the wilderness at age 7, and was only allowed to return after he had made his first 100 fills as a full life-cycle recruiter..


  1. kelly dingee says:

    Wow – I’m surprised by this. I have had the experience of working for employers with no ATS- so I welcome them always as a sourcer – they’re a treasure trove of data. What’s the line from the Rolling Stones song? “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need?”
    That may be the case here. I always advise sourcers and recruiters to check their ATS. You may find your ideal candidate applied two weeks ago, two months ago, two years ago and all you have to do is PeerSearch them for current info, give ’em a call and you are good to go.
    Granted, I have also been known to be fairly numbers focused as well and frustrated when I can’t pull the data I want, but that’s a customer service issue, you have to push your ATS to deliver the functionality you need.
    Love your post—great way to drive attention to this issue.

  2. Hey Michael – couldn’t agree more…
    In a previous company we moved from an internal tool to an external one through BrassRing. It turned out to be the most cumbersome tool that I have ever tried to use – basically it was like what you said, all about compliance and nothing about ease of functionality. I hated it and it took me forever to go through and review/document updates regarding a candidate (or do we call them applicants).
    The result was that it sucked the “relationship” part of my job completely out of me because we had to document and update and comment and etc…everything.
    The “relationship” side of me was my success…this new ATS focus was achieveing the exact opposite.

  3. Jessica Lee says:

    i think the other thing to consider is the size of the organization… in orgs i’ve worked for that have 10,000+ employees, recruiting and candidate volume is obviously much higher and an ATS is wonderful for managing data and easing administrative burden. but in an organization that’s less that 1,000, you can actually do without a taleo or recruitmax or whatnot. i’m working right now with a small home-grown app and it’s doing just fine… everything i need to know is tracked in my head or on a post-it note. let’s just hope my memory doesn’t start to fail me anytime soon though…

  4. Hey Jessica – great point…the size or your organization/volume directly impacts the tools that you’ll need…
    For me…so glad I’m on the small company side…Taleo is great…

  5. ATS or CRMS – isn’t that really semantics? Some systems are certainly better than others and easier to use that others, but an ATS system used properly can still be a tool for Candidate Relationship Management – in addition to the reporting needs that are required for legal and corporate compliance.
    Our search firm is VERY relationship focused (with both our candidate and client relationships), and I can safely say that I have great relationships with a wide variety of clients and a number of talented potential candidates in several disciplines. But I’m also meeting and building relationships with new people every day, so at some point it becomes impossible to remember every conversation, commitment and nuance of those various relationships. Having an ATS/central location where all of their contact info, history, documents, etc. are housed, along with a place to set reminders to follow up is critical for me. Trying to track that information in a separate system such as Outlook becomes double entry, and eventually one or both systems will be out of date.
    I strongly agree that great recruiting is about building and maintaining relationships and trust with talented professionals. But once I build more than a handful (or fistful) of those great relationships, I need to track those activities and have a system for follow up to ensure that I remain effective at that.
    On another note, I’ll be watching the comments section to see who the first person is that takes the bait and engages you on the “HR weenie” tag. En Garde!

  6. HR Wench says:

    That Jennifer is a smarty. I like her kung fu.

  7. Elmer Fudd here…just kidding.
    Kelly – The Animal Tracking System can be a great source of data. That is, if the right data is being collected in the first place. Garbage in, garbage out my momma always said. The problem with most companies who have an ATS is that the data they collect on candidates/applicants who are active and flow in from postings is insignificant and lacking as to make it almost worthless. Most collect resumes which, as we have learned from research and experience, are full of falsehoods and downright terrible for assessing whether or not someone is actually any good. Sure, you can find people with experience and possibly skills in your ATS but you won’t find out whether or not they are actually any good and can get results. Now, if the ATS were to be more robust, collect meaningful data and recruiters could input the right information on passive talent into the system and then manage relationships. Now your cooking with gas!
    Jennifer – Is it semantics? I don’t think so. In fact, and this a post in development, the term CRMS (and using an ATS as a CRM tool) is quite flawed as well. You can’t possibly have relationships with all your candidates. You can create meaningful, valuable and powerful candidate experiences but you can’t possibly have relationships with all candidats. I contend that a properly designed systems becomes a Talent Relationships Management System in which recruiters have important information (decision making criteria, performance information, career wound, career trajectory etc.) that allows them to engage, build and maintain relationships only with talented people who get results. Relationship management activities should be confined to those talented prospects/candidates who will one day make a decision to join your organization/client or, by virtue of their networks (winners hang out with winners and losers hang out with losers) will refer other great talent to you. Great recruiters prioritize who they have relationships with and contribute to those relationships as much as they take. Your comments tell me you are using your ATS properly and probably a bit outside its actually intended purpose. Good for you because that is what you should do. But your comments also reveal the flaw in that it is difficult to prioritize your relationships and spend moree time with those that are more likely to produce the right results. Sadly, ATS and CRM tools don’t even come close to helping recruiters to do any of this. In my business I work with and see many companies and ATS providers and they are all sorely lacking in this area.
    Sorry for droning on and on here but 1. I am passionate about this, 2. I was onsite with a client all day and just had a chance to jump into the discussion and, 3. everyone had such insightfula and smart things to say it really got my juices flowing.

  8. KD says:

    First things first…..
    I’m taking the bait…Homula’s fired for calling the HR function “weenies”. Can’t have intimidators creating a hostile work environment….
    Since that’s out of the way…
    Homula’s got another post brewing on career wounds…
    MH – if the ATS doesn’t normaly capture the right info, give me the top five things I should configure my Taleo system to capture. The most useful tweak I made was current/goal salary just so I could cut through the BS. Give me more items, and maybe, just maybe, you can come back on under probation.
    Ari Gold…

  9. Fired? Fired! After one post. Man, I must suck.
    Looks like I have some kissing up to do. Nah, one thing I can’t do is kiss up. I just need to earn my way back…cue the Rocky music “getting strong now”.
    I didn’t call the HR function “weenies” rather I referenced “HR Weenies”. They are a whole breed in and of themselves. Not all in HR are weenies. In fact, some are down right exceptional business leaders. Sadly, those who are exceptional are uncommon and get lumped in with the “weenies” of the HR world. Ok, that point now made…
    Look for a post in the next week or so on the 5 things you can configure into your ATS to make it a TRMS. Kris asked for it so I suppose I can oblige the FOT Master of Ceremonies…err…puppetmaster!

  10. Ditch the Animal Tracking System – How to Move from ATS to TRMS…

    A few weeks back I wrote about how the ATS (Animal Tracking System) adds no value to recruiting. There was a pretty robust set of comments around some of my assertions and the esteemed Kris Dunn of FOT tried to

  11. it is quite funny how the hunt turns over with that bunny. but how he can let Elmer to hunt him down. At first with orchestral music.

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