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Are You Blaming Your ATS for Your Bad Candidate Experience?

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Update 3/13/18: This post has been updated with fresh tips on how to improve the applicant experience and more recent links and stats to keep you on the cutting edge.

Some say that what started out as a solution has become part of the problem.

Applicant tracking software, a tool that can make hiring faster, easier, and more exact, also sometimes makes the process longer, more confusing, and incorrect.

Candidates complain that ATSs are a black hole, and recruiters use ATSs mostly as a keyword search engine. If you don’t give your ATS thoughtful keywords to work with it will give you the wrong results entirely.

But you knew that.

Most people who interact with an ATS regularly know that it can cause problems if you don’t know how to successfully integrate it into your hiring process. But if you already are using your ATS in the right way and your applicants are still having a bad experience in the hiring process, it might be time to stop blaming your software.


What’s causing your bad candidate experience?

There’s a lot more that goes into a candidate’s experience than just the applicant tracking software.

A good candidate experience will help you hire the top talent and propel your business forward, and applicants care more about their experience than they do about your company’s overall perception.

According to Gartner, “the best-in-class candidate experience improved pipeline (95% would reapply), increased referrals (97% would refer other candidates), and increased customer loyalty (88% would increase their purchases from the employer company).” (Full article is available to Gartner clients.)

If you want those results, you’ll need to make your candidate experience stellar.

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.

1. Writing barren job descriptions


Details are everything

The mistakes: Your job description lacks detail. There’s no salary info, no benefits info, no info on the interview process. If you’re a severe offender you might not even have point of contact information.

Why you should act: They say that first impressions are everything, and if candidates don’t know your company, a job description is their very first impression of you. When job descriptions are just laundry lists of skills, applicants are left with more questions than answers.

There are a slew of pitfalls to worry about when writing a job ad, but if you do some research (like this great article on crafting a better job board) you can find ways to avoid the problems and get your candidates’ experience off on the right foot.

 Your to-do list: 

  • Describe the challenges and goals for the first six months or one year on the job.
  • Describe the application process as clearly as possible: how candidates will be evaluated and how many stages there will be. Even better: how long each stage should take, and who will be in charge of each stage.
  • Not sure if the job description is clear enough? Share it in a Google Doc so other members of the hiring team can offer feedback.
  • State the benefits and salary range.
  • Include contact details and the name of the contact person.

2. Failing to maintain an employer brand

Your brand! gif

Your brand!

The mistakes: Your application doesn’t stand out in a crowd. Your job description is forgettable. Your ATS looks like every other ATS in the world. There’s no way for a candidate to have specific recall about your open position, because there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it.

Why you should act: When you post a job ad, you’re advertising your company. Just as a client or a customer moving through your sales funnel needs to be reminded of your brand at every opportunity to ensure a sale, a quality potential hire needs to be reminded of your company’s brand as they move through your hiring funnel, or else they may drop out of the process or turn down your offer.

Think of the process from your candidates’ point of view. They’re probably applying to a lot of jobs simultaneously. One U.K. study found that the average job-seeker applies to 27 jobs to get just one interview. At that rate, the applications are bound to run together.

You do not want to be another blurry form to fill out. You want to be memorable and impactful.

 Your to-do list: 

  • Style and brand your careers webpage to show your company’s brand identity and culture, including the faces behind the brand.
  • Consider using an ATS with gray or white labeling, a feature that allows you to fit the software to your aesthetics.
  • List all your job openings on a mobile-friendly careers site and close them after the deadline, but keep an open-application option so you can have an eye out for quality talent all the time.

3. Not responding to candidates

Olivia Munn You

Any response is better than no response

The mistakes: You aren’t communicating with your applicants. There’s no confirmation that an application was received, no notice if an applicant is passed over, and no explanation for rejections. Your candidates might as well be screaming into a black hole.

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

But, let’s be honest, this excuse is the worst. There’s no faster way to make applicants feel disrespected and to turn an otherwise good experience into a bad one.

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 responses, you really have no excuse not to at least notify them, and it will make you stand out among the throngs of companies that don’t.

 Your to-do list: 

  • Have your relevant mailbox(es) synced with your ATS to get an overview of communication between you and candidates.
  • Make your auto email response as human as possible before bulk mailing 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 ]

4. Not structuring interviews

You start asking him questions and you flip it gif

Maybe not that kind of structure

Mistakes: Your interviews aren’t coordinated. Your interviewers aren’t prepared beforehand. You’re making everything up as you go along, and your applicants can tell.

Why you should act: Failing to prepare for an interview makes you look unprofessional and sloppy in front of your potential new employee.

It also means you’re more likely to hire the wrong people. 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 the same core set of questions. This structure allows you to easily compare candidates. When evaluating finalists, you can keep track of the hiring team’s notes and candidate ranking forms within your ATS. Having everything written down makes sure the decision-making process remains objective and equal.

 Your to-do list: 

  • Have a structured interview with preset questions for different applicants going for the same job opening. Make an interview scorecard to standardize your process.
  • Ask behavioral questions such as:
    • How is your current or 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.

Are you still blaming your ATS for your bad candidate experience?

By taking these tips to heart, you can turn a bad candidate experience into a stellar one that will net you the talent you need.

What are your biggest takeaways? Learn something? Tell me about it in the comments below or tweet me @CapterraHalden.

Want to learn more about applicant tracking and hiring? Check out these great articles:

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

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.


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