Conversational AI
4 min read
May 31, 2023

The past and future of Applicant Tracking Systems: What I've learned as an HR practitioner.

Recruiting has come a long way, but why has technology like the ATS lagged behind? With more than a decade of experience leading global TA teams, Kristen Bailey shares her perspective on the evolution of HR tech and how to discover ways to leverage automation without sacrificing the human touch through mobile-first hiring experiences.

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Recruiting technology has come a long way since I started out as a recruiter back in the early days of online job boards and legacy applicant tracking systems. 

I’ve implemented, replaced, upgraded, and evaluated dozens of systems over the past 15 years — with a lot of learnings along the way on what works (and what doesn’t). Now, in a twist of fate, I’m on the inside leading talent acquisition for a software company that builds products for people just like me — and it’s quickly helped me gain a new perspective on how to think about technology in our space, and what kinds of solutions can really help vs. adding noise and complexity.

There is a ton of exciting innovation going on in our in our industry right now. I’m optimistic about the bright minds who are passionate about trying to make the lives of hiring managers, recruiters, and candidates better and take the pain out of the hiring process. So, here are a few tips from a fellow practitioner (who not only has been in your shoes, but still is) on how to think about HR tech as you evaluate technology options.

Get clear on what problems you’re trying to solve. 

Has someone high-up in your organization asked you why your recruiting team isn’t  using a certain type of technology? Have you been able to go a day without someone asking you how ChatGPT is going to change recruiting as we know it? How about watching a snazzy demo and thinking “we need a tool like this!”? 

Do you know the biggest bottleneck in your hiring process today? If not, I suggest doing simple process mapping and getting some data to identify your choke points and opportunities to simplify. Let me offer an example: If you have a significant drop off in your application process, do you really need a sourcing tool to bring you more candidates? Maybe that tool will only make the problem worse if you can’t actually convert those candidates into your interview process? 

Start with defining your process and the problems you’re trying to solve. Use as much data as you can to quantify what’s going on in your funnel. Be wary of falling into the “technology for technology's sake” trap and be diligent in thinking about the problems that will provide the biggest lift in your hiring process. If you’re struggling with where to start in terms of where automation can help you, I suggest thinking about processes that are simple, repeatable, and don’t require a ton of human judgment as places to experiment. 

Once you understand your process, then I recommend spending some time thinking about people. How is your TA team organized? Do you differentiate the way your team recruits and is structured based on the types of hiring you do? Are your teams organized in a way where you could actually take advantage of the technology you’re considering? 

For example, CRM (candidate relationship management) software came about by looking at how hiring processes are similar to a sales funnel. I think a lot of organizations end up disappointed with CRM investments because they aren’t organized in a way (process and people) to fully leverage the functionality, and as such, they can end up creating more complexity for their recruiting teams.

Sometimes the simplest (mobile-first) solution is best. 

One hard lesson I have learned is to resist “bells and whistles” and focus instead on simplification. This is a common challenge in much of the software I see today. Think about the end user experience — simplicity in UI and design matters — every time a recruiter has to do duplicate data entry or click multiple times, at scale it adds up and slows down your process. 

Think less but better — and look for how technology can actually take steps out of your process versus adding complexity. I love hearing stories of how our clients are streamlining their processes and shortening hiring timelines from weeks to days to minutes with the help of our Conversational ATS. Whether it’s reducing the number of questions for a candidate to apply, removing the need for login / password creation, or scheduling interviews automatically, all of those minutes matter — to your business in terms of speed to delivery, and for the experience of your candidates, recruiters, and hiring teams.

Embracing new ways of working can unlock the potential of what tech can do. 

If I can’t buy it / reserve it / confirm it from my phone, I probably won’t. 

Sound familiar? 

Why aren’t recruiting systems as good as our experiences as consumers? The “one-click” systems to purchase items or quickly order food at a restaurant haven’t seemed to make their way into the way we hire, yet.  If hiring managers or recruiters can’t take action while they’re on the move, then your candidates are waiting and at risk of dropping out of your process. It seems like a no-brainer, but so much technology is not optimized for a mobile-first experience (fortunately, our Conversational ATS is). It’s the new way to work, conversational mobile-first experiences take the modernity that consumers feel everyday and build it into the hiring process. 

And of course, no conversation today about recruiting technology would be complete without a thought or two on the impact of generative AI. I know I have a lot more to learn here, but my early thinking is that this technology will help us with accelerating more of our “boring stuff” in hiring and can give us time back. 

Have I used generative AI to help me build a first draft of a job description? Of course I have, and I think savvy recruiters and hiring managers would be silly not to experiment here. I continue to believe wholeheartedly that our value as recruiting professionals is in applying high judgment to the recruiting process. 

So, while technology can help us, we in TA need to be willing to work differently and figure out how to let go of some of the process steps that truly can be automated or eliminated. And, in turn, leverage technology to help us do what we are really meant to do — which is spend more time with people.

Written by
Kristen Bailey
VP of Talent Acquisition
Kristen Bailey
Written by
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