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Are You Blaming Your ATS for Your Bad Candidate Experience?

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“It’s a pain.”

This is what you often hear (from both sides of the hiring equation) about applicant tracking software (ATS).


Candidates complain that ATSs are a black hole, and recruiters use ATSs mostly as a mere keyword search engine.

What started out as a solution has become part of the problem.

You know having a good, fast hiring process is crucial in landing top talent. You can’t just input everything in spreadsheets or you’ll wonder why you have so little time at the end of the day.

An ATS can come to the rescue and save you time, yet most mistake their ATS for a silver bullet. It’s easy with software to just step back and forget to add the human touch all together. You can easily approach candidates as just another piece of data to collect. But this is where your candidate experience begins to fail, hard.

The infamous chart above gets so many nods from job applicants because it’s so accurate. A negative candidate experience like the above is common but generally ignored by employers. Its cost may not be straightforward, but by no means should you underestimate it. Candidates with negative experiences are less likely to complete the application or hiring process. They will also tell their competent friends to avoid you at all costs.

And if they’re a customer or potential customer? Forget it, gaining (back) that customer-brand relationship is nearly impossible.


What you need to do to avoid this is keep a balance: use your ATS for productivity gains while also retaining the human side of your hiring process. Below, we’ll look at how to do that by examining what most often damages the candidate experience, and the tools and methods you can use to fix it.

top reasons

1 – Writing detailed job descriptions

Mistakes: Job description lacks detail. No salary info. No benefits info. No info on hiring/interview process. No contact person’s info.

Why you should act: If candidates are unaware of your company, a job description is their very first touchpoint. You don’t want to make a bad first impression. Sadly, most job descriptions are laundry lists of skills that simply don’t work.

Lou Adler suggests a better way of writing job descriptions: make it performance-based. Describe what a candidate has to accomplish during a certain period on the job. Adler gives two examples: “Complete the detailed project plan for the new automated warehouse in 120 days,” versus “Must have 5+ years of logistics and supply chain management experience in high-volume consumer durables, plus 3 years of supervisory experience.” Any candidate would tell you the former is much more helpful in describing the actual job.

Research has consistently shown that regardless of age, candidates care most about benefits and salary. This may not be the first thing on their mind when they browse your job opening, but it could be the last thing they recall when weighing opportunities. If you aren’t sure about the exact number, or want to leave room for negotiation, presenting a salary range is the perfect middle way.

Finally, to ensure candidates don’t feel they are throwing their applications into a black hole, your job description should state clearly what the hiring process looks like. The name and contact details of the person in charge should also be present. This assures candidates that they aren’t just a cog in the system.


– Describe the challenges and goals in the first six months or one year on the job.

– Describe the application process as clearly as possible: how candidates will be evaluated, how many stages there will be. Even better: how long each stage should take, who will be in charge of each stage.

– Not sure if the job description is clear enough? Put it in a Google Doc so other members of the hiring team can comment/co-edit.

– State the benefits and salary range.

– Include contact details and the name of the contact person.

– Use an ATS that can import all candidate resume info straight into the database. Don’t force candidates to fill in everything they’ve just uploaded.

55 percent

2 – Maintaining employer brand

Mistakes: Not having a mobile-friendly job posting. Not keeping applications ‘open’  to keep candidates in the talent pool. Long application process.

Why you should act: In case you need a reality check on what a bad candidate experience looks like, read Matt Charney’s recent experiment. He generously donated 30 minutes of his life to go through one of those excruciating application processes. He not only hated the whole setup, but also cringed at how it reflected on the employer brand through and through.

The employer in Matt’s experiment forgot that candidates are also humans. No one likes filling out ten pages just to receive a condescending message that they “may be considered.” Make everything short and to-the-point. Candidates should be able to finish the whole application in fewer than ten clicks.

Pre-screening questions are great as long as you don’t abuse them. Get to know how a candidate thinks instead of interrogating them. For example, here are our pre-screening questions for the position of Sales & Customer Success Manager at Recruitee:

“What is your experience in support/sales?”

“What CRM systems have you worked with in the past?”

“What is your experience with Mixpanel (or similar analytical tools)?”

Research has found 86% of active candidates use their smartphones to begin a job search. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly careers site, you face two problems. First, candidates won’t see your job openings on top of their search results, as Google now prioritizes mobile-friendly websites. Second, candidates will be forced to squint, zoom, and pinch just to read your job openings. The good news is that there are ATSs offering mobile-optimized career sites. You can style the site with your brand identity, and open and close jobs without having to bother your always-busy developers.


A screenshot of Recruitee’s careers site editor

A bonus for your employer brand is to have an open-application option. All candidates who are interested in your company in general can apply via this to stay in your talent pool in case a job they qualify for opens up. This also helps you  in the long run: it saves tons of time when you need to source applicants and scout again.


– Use an ATS that supports flexible, easy-to-use careers sites.

– Style and brand your careers site to show your company’s brand identity and culture, including the faces behind the brand.

– List all your job openings on a mobile-friendly careers site and close them after the deadline.

– But have an open-application option.

– Add a reasonable number of pre-screening questions in the application process.

– “Mystery shop” your own application process to check if its length makes sense and if you still stay sane afterwards.

top comm

3 – Being responsive to candidates

Mistakes: No confirmation that application was received. No notice if passed over. No explanation for being passed over.

Why you should act: It’s so easy to make this mistake. You’re just too busy. Too many candidates. Too little time.

But, let’s be honest, this excuse is lame.

If you would answer a stranger’s question on the street, why don’t you reply to a person who expresses interest in your company?

If a candidate spent their time applying, it’s your job to respond to them. As long as the candidate stays in the recruiting funnel, they have the right to know what will happen next and when. If the candidate is out of the funnel, they have the right to be notified of the decision and the reason. Especially now that many ATSs let you automate your email response, you really have no excuse not to at least notify them, and it will make you stand out amongst the throngs of companies who don’t.

One tip to reduce low-quality, mass-applying candidates: post your job openings only on industry or role-specific job boards. For example: job boards for remote work like weworkremotely, job boards for designers like Dribbble, and job boards for developers like Stack Overflow.


Have your relevant mailbox(es) synced with your ATS for an overview of communication between you and candidates.

– Make your auto email response as human as possible before bulk-sending it to candidates. An example:

Hi [ candidate’s name ],

Thanks for your application to [ your company ].

I would like to confirm that we have received your application and everything checks out.

You will hear back from us by [ insert the ending date of the screening stage ].

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact [ contact person’s name ] at [ contact person’s email or phone number ].


[ Your name ]

– Post job openings on niche job boards.

4 – Structuring interviews

Mistakes: No coordination in interviewing. No preparation from interviewers.

Why you should act: 83% of professionals say they would change their mind about a role because of a negative interview experience. Failing to prepare here is shooting yourself in the foot. What’s worse: you’re likelier to hire the wrong ones. Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google, points out, “Typical, unstructured job interviews were pretty bad at predicting how someone would perform once hired.”

You should ask every candidate applying to the same job the same core set of questions. This structure allows you to have an overview and easily compare candidates. When evaluating finalists, you can easily keep track of the hiring team’s notes and candidate ranking form within your ATS. Having everything written down makes sure the decision-making process remains objective and equal.


– Have a structured interview with preset questions for the same job opening.

– Use behavioral questions instead of brain teasers. Consider asking:

  • How is your current/past company different because of you?
  • Can you describe your biggest achievement there?
  • Can you describe a time when you solved a difficult problem relating to your expertise?
  • What didn’t we ask you?

– Get feedback from the interviewer(s) within the same day. Log every note and comment in your ATS.

You can click here to download the whole checklist for creating the perfect candidate experience.

Choosing an ATS that lets you create a satisfying candidate experience is important. It’s even more important that you take action yourself to turn a bad candidate experience into a great one. You are the human needed to humanize applicant tracking technology.

Looking for Applicant Tracking software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Applicant Tracking software solutions.

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About the Author

Hagi Trinh

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Hagi Trinh is an avid recruitment writer at Recruitee. The team is working on the greatest hiring platform of all time. Our goal is to give users efficiency, control, and confidence to make the best hiring decisions. You can sign up at to try it out.


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