ATS: Awful Talent System…

Crappy SoftwareIn the closing session of the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Vegas, Jason Averbook told a nice little story that illustrated the difference between perception and reality nicely. He was talking about his time at Peoplesoft, and how, at a certain point in time, Peoplesoft had made their way into the much-coveted top right hand box of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise HCM solutions. In Gartner terminology, this classifies them as a ‘Leader’.

In case you are wondering, the definition of Leader in Gartner language is this:

Leaders provide mature offerings that meet market demand. They have also demonstrated the vision necessary to sustain their market position as requirements evolve.


Leaders typically possess a large, satisfied customer base (relative to the size of the market) and enjoy high visibility within the market. 

So, whilst it’s not a customer satisfaction measure in any real form, the implication is that they have a large number of customers who are happy with the product. All very dandy then? Eer.. no.

Why? Well, because, as Jason pointed out, when he talked to his customer support team, they had a very different message – the customers didn’t like the solution! A magic quadrant leader who’s customer base thought the product lacked good UX and functionality? Shurley shome mishtake!

Sadly not. And at that very moment thoughts of the average enterprise ATS entered my head. Having spent a long time in this industry, on both sides of the fence, I can say that a large proportion of ATS customers are far from happy with their solutions.

“Our candidate experience is a dogs breakfast due to the ATS integration.”

“Our application drop off rates are way too high”

“Candidates get lost in the ‘black hole’ that is our ATS”

I could go on. These are just a few of the comments I’ve heard, even in recent times. It seems that, when you get to a certain size, you start to believe your own marketing bullshit more than the feedback your customers are giving you.  But times are a changing. The strong sense that came to me from the buzz around HRTech was the wider realisation that consumers (aka employees) are driving technology development, not the CTO. Or as Jason put it:

“consumers today have better technology than businesses do for the first time ever”

As consumers we do more with less, we like 10 killer features not 1000 useless ones, we like cool UX, not shitty forms and we like it to work. In fact we almost like to feel that the software isn’t there.

Jason ventured that HR tech is at least 5 years behind the rest of the business technology market and he is probably right, although I’d say more. The challenge is you couldn’t run a retail business without a shit hot supply chain and CRM solution supporting it whereas you can still run the very same business with crappy HCM solutions. In the case of your woeful ATS, no one in the executive suite really gives a toss about the fact that talent is leaking out of your talent supply chain simply because your ATS sucks. Except the talent of course. And the recruiters.

Only time will tell if the existing crop of ATS vendors in particular are nimble enough to change their approach. After visiting HRTech, the jury is still out for me.


  1. It would be real easy for HR types to think that a bad ATS is a software problem created by a lousy vendor. Problem is, it’s not a technology problem for the vendor. It’s a talent loss problem for HR and the company. The ATS is just a tool, but from the candidate’s perspective, the experience the ATS creates is the experience the company is providing. Done right, the ATS enables HR to provide a seamless and fantastic introduction to the company. Done wrong, we’re alienating talent before it even walks it the door.


    1. Spot on Broc – its about the attitude not the tools. BUT, I would say that the tools could help. They are inflexible, over featured and lack good UX! Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Absolutely. I just wonder if HR saw the bad ATS as an HR problem would we push vendors for better solutions? As long as we see it as a tech problem that we can’t solve it’ll always be bad. Shrugging our shoulders and lamenting “What are you going to do, it’s just technology…” is much different than proclaiming loudly at vendors, “The technology sucks. It’s hurting our business. We need better!” I know you’re doing the latter, but I suspect quite a bit of HR is doing the former.


  3. Gareth. Another great piece. I’ve been schmoozed by the very same market over the last two years telling me that their ATS plumbing (as they call it) is ready for adding a whole range of new and funky recruitment apps (to drive referral, experience, etc). I want to believe the hype and want to get to that moment when we build integrated talent systems worth their name. God knows they cost enough !


    1. You got that right! The amount of investment is eye watering and so far, I see little value being returned. Even the most basic of functionality is not being realised in many cases. Thanks for the comments sir! When we getting that coffee?!


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