After all these years, why isn't there a perfect Applicant Tracking System?

From slow hiring team adoption to frustrating experiences for applicants, challenges persist


Back in 2006, a tool known as Vurv (a.k.a. RecruitMax) was so cutting edge, it did things in the online recruiting space that no one had seen before, or sadly, or since. As an up-and-coming startup, however, Vurv Technology was quickly acquired by Taleo, who swallowed the company’s brand and technology whole. Then Taleo, to no one’s surprise, was soon acquired by tech giant Oracle and rolled into their massive HRIS system.

The real tragedy?  This wasn’t an anomaly. The early promise of other applicant tracking systems (ATS) all met similar fates. The larger HRIS systems were expected to leverage their technologies while offering better support and a broader suite of talent management tools. But acquiring companies never matched the original innovations and showed no concern for the user experience.  Instead, they pivoted to their comfort area: the administration and tracking of current employees. 

Not much has changed since then. ATSs still come up short in the key areas outlined below:



To get the most value from an ATS, companies need hiring teams to fully engage with the program and its inherent workflow. While HR and recruiting personnel may be quick to adopt a solution, they need hiring managers to be fully onboard as well. For many companies, however, this just isn’t happening.

Too often, hiring managers revert to the tools—including basic pen and paper—with which they are most accustomed. Since hiring is only an occasional part of their job, they don’t engage with an ATS as they should. Too many systems suffer from poor integration with other programs or are shoehorned into a larger HRIS. As a result, the disconnect between those involved can make hiring more of a chore than the pre-ATS days. 

When this happens lots of valuable data never makes it into the system and the software is unable to deliver the value it should, much less meet the expectations of the HR department. Key analytics that can help an organization determine the strengths and weaknesses of its current recruiting process get sucked into this black hole, and HR teams struggle to share information properly about applicants at the various stages of the hiring process. 


Poor User Experience

Have you ever begun an application for something and quit before finishing, realizing your time is more valuable than submitting seemingly endless answers to nonsensical questions and providing the same information, over and over again? If not, then you probably haven’t used most ATSs. 

Too often applicants are forced through a clunky, bureaucratic online experience that—if they stay with it— leads to a dead end. Many programs are just too cumbersome and tone-deaf for prospective applicants to use. Requiring users to enter information that’s already clearly on their submitted resume is off-putting and usually a waste of time. The huge drop-off rate makes this evident. And while social media and mobile have played a huge role in the direction where most ATS’s are heading today, they still fail to deliver a great user experience and any real value to either the company or the candidate.

The bottom line is companies lose out on otherwise qualified applicants, many of whom are familiar with streamlined ATS programs from prior applications and don’t want to waste their time applying to companies that don’t “get it.” These companies need to rethink their decisions to employ a convoluted ATS that sheds viable candidates in desperate hopes of gaining more data to mine. Instead, they need to refocus on the holistic UX, and ASAP!


Needing the Human Touch

There’s only so much an ATS can determine, which creates problems when companies’ hiring practices become entirely devoid of humanity. Resumes are fine for quickly summarizing a person’s experience, skills, and career goals, but can’t relate the intriguing details that might spring a savvy recruiter or HR pro to reach out. Also, ATS programs typically only consider applicants for the job they apply for and don’t retain data of matching applicants for other positions for which they may be better suited and have interest. 

Until AI becomes much more advanced, applications are still largely an all-or-nothing proposition that doesn’t account for the broader talents applicants possess, as well as the broader needs of the company. It takes a skilled recruiter using their professional experience and intuition to note these issues and make the right choices that automated software still rarely succeeds in doing. 


Stay tuned for HireLabs’ best ATS choices. With decades of recruiting experience and a vast network of resources, we’ve seen the many benefits—and the significant limitations—that come with different ATS programs. In our next blog, we’ll detail which ones we think are the best—and why.

Tom ThompsonComment