Friday Rant: ATS Providers, You Stink.

So here’s an idea I’m stuck on these days – creating solutions with the user in mind first and foremost, not technology. User first. Always. And in our case, that means job seekers.

Case in point – a lot of applicant tracking systems stink. And frankly, I’m tired of trying to re-engineer process(es) just to work within the confines of what my ATS can or can’t do. Let’s get detailed, yeah?

For example, a certain-you-shall-remain-unnamed-ATS-that-so-many-large-companies-are-beholden-to… your drop down fields to drill down and find jobs in a particular location/category/fill-in-the-blank-with-a-search-criteria and only sometimes-functioning-keyword search? NO ONE LIKES navigating to find jobs that way. It’s frustrating. And beyond your tough to use search and filtering capabilities, the application user experience you have? It’s resulted in you having a pretty bad rap on the street. Not among HR and recruiting folks. We’ve somehow come to accept you. Your bad rap is among job seekers. That’s right. To the point that I’ve actually heard from talent who say that they choose to not apply for jobs at companies when they realize that this mammoth ATS is the technology provider for those companies. That’s bad. And as a result, we’re having to create work arounds to solve for the ugliness of your search/filter options.

Or that we should have to create a massive “instructions” documents, cheat sheets, quick tips or aids to help people understand how to navigate an ATS as a job seeker. That ain’t right. But it’s not just that ATS. It’s a lot of them.

The job search and application experience should be so intuitive, and simple, and straight forward, that when handed over from a technology provider to a company, the solution as is should make sense. It shouldn’t need supplemental technology to make it effective. And instructions shouldn’t be needed. You buy it as company, and it should work for your end users. Intuitively.

Like an iPad.

Think about that. Really. Look at how kids have picked them up and based on intuition alone, they are masters of Angry Birds. And at age 3 or 4, they are watching their favorite shows on their iPads, streaming on Netflix. Without your help. Right? Which is the awe-inspiring and amazing thing about iPads and a lot of other new technology. Which is an analogy that came up recently among teammates as we were discussing how simple and intuitive the job search and application experience should be.

But it isn’t. And funny enough, that whole conversation prompted me to go to Apple’s website to take a look at how their job search and application process is. You would think that they – of anyone – should have a streamlined, simple user experience for job seekers. Yet they don’t. They’re just as impacted by a challenging ATS and recruiting technology that does nothing for the job seeking end user. Nothing.

Searching and applying for jobs isn’t easy. In this economic climate it isn’t easy. And it’s a pity our technology makes the whole process even worse. And I know – absolutely, there are things we all could be doing, technology aside, to make the candidate experience better. It’s in the communication, it’s in the follow up, it’s in a lot of different factors… but I can’t help but to wonder when some of our recruiting technology providers are going to start designing with the job seeking user in mind first.

Is anyone listening?

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. Kelly O says:

    I will definitely add a job seeker +infinity to this. There have been more times than I care to think about that I simply gave up on an ATS after the application got too cumbersome, or acted up more than three times. (I’ll give you a couple of buggy days, or heavy traffic days, but after that third time, I have a hard time diving back in.)

    • Jessica Lee
      Jessica Lee says:

      It’s ridiculous. It shouldn’t be that hard to apply. You’re great to even give it a second and third chance!

  2. JG says:

    Agreed. PeopleSoft (I’m assuming you meant them as you mentioned being ‘detailed’ but I supposed not too ‘detailed’) fails horribly in the UI department in every aspect, not just ATS. performance mgmt, time tracking, etc. Maybe 9.2/9.3 or Fusion will save the day..

    • Jessica Lee
      Jessica Lee says:

      Eh, I didn’t mean PeopleSoft but they are just as bad. Performance reviews, goal tracking, application systems, benefits enrollment, you name it. Part of me wonders if it’s that these technology providers aren’t attracting the best and brightest in the UX space so that’s why we all suffer? I mean if I’m a top notch UX guy or gal… I’m gonna want to work on big splashy consumer facing projects right? Who wants to work on HR tech? Hmmm.

  3. drew says:

    Check out – founder was a ux guy. Love them! Oracle/Taleo is gross.

  4. Liz Ryan says:

    All true, and/but it goes much further — the ATS mindset itself is insane, and destructive to people and organizations. Can you imagine a marketer placing an ad on TV or a billboard and saying “But most of you guys won’t qualify to buy our product, in which case we’ll ignore you?” Marketing VPs should be outraged by the way their organizations’ HR staffs systematically turn off and anger potential customers, potential employees and potential partners. It’s absolutely immoral and bad business, too.

    It’s not just Taleo, the thinly veiled example in your story. Taleo technology is so old and non-functional you can practically hear your PC creaking as it moves from page to page. It’s worse than that. The Taleo ATS mindset and the overall ATS mindset is “Fill out these pages, knave, and crawl over whatever piles of broken glass we design for you, to see whether we’ll stoop to notice your sorry ass.” It’s anti-talent. The best people won’t trifle with any ATS, and I don’t blame them. I coach them not to, and I’m not the only one sharing that advice. ATS systems are badly conceived, badly executed monuments to the egos of corporate HR people — hiring managers hate ’em as much as the job-seekers do. If we valued talent, we wouldn’t tell people “Come and apply for a job with us! It’ll take you about 45 minutes to complete the application form, and then most likely you’ll never hear from us again.” This is why the larger corporations get the lamest people. The smarter and more capable the candidate, the less likely he or she is to grovel through a big-company ATS-powered job search. And employers ask “Where is the talent hiding?”

    • Jessica Lee
      Jessica Lee says:

      Oh Liz. You said a lot there and I’m digesting.

      It’s a really tough spot though, as a larger corporation. We need something robust to handle our volume and also all the different facets of our business and business units… but yes, the big ATS’ aren’t working and the model is broken.

      I don’t have a ton of solutions at this moment. I’m totally on a rant streak… but I hear ya.

      Complex problem. I’m hoping it gets fixed eventually though.

  5. We’re listening here at Agile Product Solutions. Great article and I couldn’t agree more. That’s why we believe we’ve developed the most intuitve ATS for user and applicant whlle providing every function needed for the user. And for Candidates we offer a short application (won’t time them out) OR even shorter for passive candidates just a first, last name, email and upload resume, it’s a choice the applicant makes. He or she can decide to fill out the short, regular app or just the 3 liner and resume load. Candidate Choice. Done and in!
    Again, great article, it’s what we’ve been preaching here for some time now, we’re just new, real new so the message isn’t out. Yet!

  6. Lisa Scales says:

    Hi Jessica

    TribePad is next generation recruiting software and companies like mine would not even exist if the ATS vendors thought about delivery a service that makes you, the client, love them forever.

    Our technology has now won candidate experience and innovation awards – we’ve built with the iphone concept in minds and have a core platform but have apps all around it depending on what YOU as a business need and all the other anomalies ALL companies have. I look at it this way – I like cars and I like a certain type of car that suits my families needs, my needs are very different to my brother in law who is a young single guy with a need for speed – this is the same the world over so why would a piece of software just work one way and not be mercurial to the client? (I don’t know but as I said in my opening statement if the ATS vendors built systems with the customer in mind I wouldn’t have a business)

    Our once middleware tech has morphed into a whole service system and to be honest the “applicant tracking” module isn’t rocket science….it doesn’t have to be but what it does have to be is “fit for purpose” and you, (remember this bit!) THE CLIENT is not having to re engineer processes to fit the technology – an asinine problem if I ever heard one.

    Good luck

    Lisa Scales
    Co-Founder TribePad

  7. Steve says:

    I suppose you are talking about the industry-leading ATS that doesn’t work in the #1 browser (Google Chome). Yes Taleo is tres horrible. But everyone out there is horrible, they are just the horriblest.

    And don’t forget the Recruiter side too. Taleo is designed to put management control into recruiting – “Workflow”, process, approvals, etc. ATS’s need to drop all of that and take a CRM focus – enable engagement and interaction. Make it easy for me to manage my sourcing from a variety of channels, track and enable interaction. (Skype integration anyone?).

    And I think all the “intelligent” matching software has got to go. I don’t buy that it helps or saves time. LinkedIn’s is funniest. I recruit niche IT skillsets, and while looking for a data center sales consultant, Linkedin told me a 9.9/10 match was, literally, a used car salesman. Maybe that’s just Linkedin’s view point on IT sales people.

    That was fun!

    • Jessica Lee
      Jessica Lee says:

      Hey Steve – I hear ya on all of this. And I agree on “intelligent” matching software having to go. It makes the job search process a “game” and for the job seeker… it becomes how do I game the system so that my resume is right and gets flagged as a match. I get it – volume is an issue for a lot of organizations and something to whittle it down would be wonderful… but that’s not it either.

      Broken, broken, broken. Easy enough for me to say as a non-recruiting vendor gal and non-technical gal… but there have got to be some super smart developers and techie types out there who can figure this out. I hope.

  8. Andy Porter says:

    Amen sista’

  9. Terryl Bronson says:

    In the words of the group Cameo, “Word Up!” I agree with you 100%.

  10. I smell a business opportunity…

  11. Sharon C says:

    Speaking of the Job Seeker Experience – what about “upload your resume in any of these formats” and then the parsing is off, the formatting is destroyed and the systems jam you up – an unpleasant experience at best.

  12. Steve Gifford


    What you say is all true, and I’m amazed more companies haven’t entered this space; the biggest players are all terrible. I’ve *been* the candidate who gave up applying because it was a longshot job anyway, and it was going to be too much of a pain. Why do I have to have a username and password to apply for a job? Or sometimes, two of them! Don’t make me spend half an hour applying for a job, when I know that you’ll spend less than ten seconds looking at!


  13. Joel says:

    We are listening. The industry is changing. There is hope and light in some areas of the dusty corner that is The ATS space.

  14. Christopher says:

    This article is all too true. Not only can an ATS be difficult to navigate for all involved in the hiring process, but it also has the tendencies to lose talent. Great candidates are often lost in key word searches, keeping them from the eyes of hiring managers. In addition, because there are so many variations on terms used, those searching the database have to become a human thesaurus.

    This is why I believe the social media job search is gaining speed. Job seekers and hiring managers alike can dialogue in real time to exchange information. An ATS needs to work more like a social media platform. It should be intuitive, easy to navigate, and make connections with job seekers simple and effective. But I suppose so far, the ATS has lived up to its name. It sure does track applicants. What we need is an Applicant Tracking and Interaction System.

  15. We hear you, loud and clear. As a former product manager for the type of ATS of which you speak, I would highly encourage you to check out SmartRecruiters. A lot of us here have stepped into the light after spending years on the dark side of recruiting technology and truly want to make a difference for employers and employees alike by making hiring easy, free, intuitive and simply smart. Unbelievable, right? Check it out for yourself. Get started by just posting a job. And once you do, give us a call to share your story. Or get involved in our Zero Unemployment movement at Or come to our next SmartUp social event at our SoMa office in the bay. Or just drop by for coffee any day. We’d love to meet you!

  16. Max says:

    There’s little reason to expect the ATS companies to care. After all, candidate experience isn’t really their problem, since candidates aren’t the ones buying their software and/or services. The only people who matter to them are the HR departments who buy their software and services, but as you point out, HR has “come to accept [their] ineffectiveness as the norm”. A bad candidate experience hurts YOUR company, not the ATS vendor, and you won’t get any changes unless you’re ready to hold them responsible and willing to take your business elsewhere.

    After all, the top ATS vendors offer such terrible candidate experiences precisely BECA– USE they manage to remain the top ATS vendors despite offering a bad candidate experience. There’s no particular reason they have to change it, so they won’t. At least, not until HR departments force them to by dumping them in favor of competitors.

  17. L Davis says:

    agree agree agree – as a user from each side, Taleo is the worst, in my opinion. However, I try to only apply with those companies that make the process simplest. The negative message companies send when they provide a cumbersome process is an indication, I fear, of other negatives.

  18. I would like to add two big pet peeves of mine to contribute to how ATS providers suck:

    1. Hour long or longer to apply for a job. It should take 10 minutes or less to apply for a job.

    2. Out-dated model that all jobs have a business location. Every tried to post a 100% telecommute job on an ATS…you will find it impossible. Every ATS I have used demands a “primary location” and “secondary locations”. This is work from home…it is any location. Such telecommuting jobs should also show up regardless of the location parameters entered during searches…because any location entered is acceptable in a 100% telecommute situation.

    Todays ATS seem very out of touch and out of date.

  19. CATS is definitely listening. We’re gearing up to release a big update to our ATS, scheduled for this July. We have a new customer feedback tool where our users can submit ideas and read other ideas. The ones that others like will be voted up and we can focus our developers time on those parts.

    Our career portal is easy to setup and use and is focused on providing an easy interface for the candidate to use. We do realize that there are many systems out there that are clunky and focus more on the HR or recruiter experience and put the candidate experience to the wayside. We don’t want to offer a solution that hurts our customer if they decide to use it and that is why we have designed our career portal the way it is.

    Another commenter mentioned that ATSs don’t allow you to post 100% telecommute positions. A large part of this is because of how the job boards the systems post to want the jobs formatted. Many job boards out there require each job to contain a specific location, the ATSs need to follow this format. There does need to be a change in the industry to have an even greater focus on the candidate experience as well as posting telecommute jobs and I think the change has begun.

  20. Ghazenfer says:

    No doubt most of these old big ATS are horrible for both employers as well as job seekers. However, some of the blame for the nightmarish application process belongs to the employers, not the ATS. Almost all ATS provide customizable applications, and the employer decides what questions to add to application on the website. As an ATS provider, we have to support all types of customers, from those who want only name and email to some that want a big list.

  21. jessica lee says:

    wow – lots of great commentary here. thank you everyone for the discussion. funny to see all the tech providers jumping in. i knew that would happen. 🙂

    it’s probably somewhere inbetween that it’s employers and it’s the technology providers both to blame. at the end of the day, a combined effort and combined momentum is what it’s going to take to drive improvements to the job seeker/candidate experience. and beyond tech, there are definitely other things that are broken about the job search process… resumes, how we interview… it’s HR folks being risk averse and scared of lawsuits that cause us to do the things we do.

    what a mess. le sigh…

  22. Definitely check out The Resumator ( – great UI, and has reporting capabilities by channel. More user-friendly than any other ATS I looked at.

  23. Jessica, excellent article. ATS is broken from both the candidate and employer side. Rather than take the path of trying to improve a broken system (as some commenters above have mentioned), we here at created a software program that completely eliminates the resume from the hiring process. The benefit to the candidate is that it helps them stand out from the crowd by creating an interactive profile highlighting their career history (as well as making sure they don’t fall into the ATS black hole). And for the employer, they can then find their best candidates literally within minutes instead of spending hours reviewing bad resumes.

  24. DIck Jefferson says:

    Over the years I have looked at several different systems and they all promise to be amazing, which they are not. It seems that no matter what you choose you work for it. They claim to be customizable which ends up not being really true or it cost a fortune to make changes. I really think that less is more with ATS. The reality of the situation is that we all need a way to connect applicants with the open jobs and keep track of them along the way..

    Just last Friday I was on the line with Send Outs tech support explaining why they should have a scheduling function built into their system. The rep told me they have a suggestion board where i could see if others were requesting the same type of functionality. Well when I searched for similar request all I saw was a bunch of recruiters wanting a notification for birthdays built into the system WTF. This is a product being marketed and sold to contract staffing firms, a basic calendar function to track shifts seems logical and a basic requirement. It seems like a pretty basic concept to me.

  25. Cheryl says:

    While I am not defending big job boards by any means (they are way too clunky!), I also think a problem lies within the companies that use them. Let’s take Taleo for example – I have seen it used by some companies that keep the candidate application process down to the minimum and max application time is 10 minutes (including creating profile). I’ve also see companies use Taleo that ask the candidates for every bit of informaiton possible taking 30 minutes to apply. A lot of it has to do with the way the company choose to configure the software. It can be done in a more candidate friendly way, often it is not. I do look forward to the day where we can apply for jobs with uploading a resume and maybe answering a few multiple choice questions (for us OFCCP compliant companies!). I HATE having to create a profile to apply for a job, there must be a better way.

  26. Tom says:

    In 16+ years of recruiting I’ve used pretty much every major ATS around, as well as some low-profile ones, as both a recruiter and as a candidate. I’ve never found one that would call good; they’ve all just been very degrees of bad. Some are simply less bad than others.

    That said, it’s not always the ATS that’s the problem. As others here have noted, how an ATS is implemented plays just as big a role in its usability as the design and underlying technology. What modules are implemented or not, and how; the workflow and candidate activity flow; and the operating environment are all contributing factors (I’m told that one major ATS doesn’t work very well under Safari). The nature and needs of the company itself can also tie the hands of those implementing it, as well. A 20-person, privately-held start-up can easily get by with a very bare-bones “click here to submit a resume” approach, while a multi-billion-dollar global enterprise that has to comply with everything for OFCCP regulations in the US to entirely different posting protocols in another country may force that company to implement a more cumbersome process to get to the right sections.

  27. Amir Ali says:

    This is the obvious understatement of how the ignorance is man is being played; Unless you’re a human Thesaurus you aren’t going to see the light at the end of the dark hole that is the ATS – developed by idiots for HR idiots.

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