Applicant Tracking Systems: Do They Need a Human Touch?

Applicant Tracking Systems: Do They Need a Human Touch?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can – in theory – handle the entirety of the recruitment process. But despite an impressive level of automation, many essential processes still require direct human input. The best automation platforms don’t seek to exclude human input from the process but, rather, to augment and support the work of recruiters to maximise productivity, and to free them to focus time on the most value-driven tasks.


In most cases, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) have an excellent track record for successful CV screening using intuitive search algorithms. CVs tend to have very clear linguistic signposts or keywords, such as ‘education’ and ‘experience’ that an ATS can easily read, as well as trigger words such as ‘punctuality’ and ‘enthusiasm’ that are instantly identifiable. The similarity between the features of CVs provides a smooth pathway for digital comparative analysis. In this area, an automated ATS can save recruiters valuable time searching for and shortlisting candidates, while bringing promising candidates to their attention that may have been eluded during a manual search.

The Odd-One Out

However, there will often be one or two candidates who – for whatever reason – fail to submit a CV that the ATS algorithms can understand. These are sometimes the stand-out applications that are worth a second look. According to CV writing experts Purple, candidates who inject life into their resumé, or who pepper their CV with linguistic elegance, can easily be rejected unless they have meticulously optimised their CV’s keywords. As such, excellent candidates can easily slip through the net.

A Helping Hand

There are several takeaways from this scenario. Firstly, many companies cannot handle the sheer volume of the recruitment process manually without an ATS, let alone physically read every CV. Equally, few companies want to risk losing the ideal candidate because of a few missing keywords. As such, it is crucial to embed ATS technology within the HR department as a tool rather than an authority. As a helping hand, the ATS is a diligent and reliable partner, but that doesn’t mean that humans do not have an equally important screening role. While the ATS is helping the HR team, the HR team can also help the ATS.

Guiding The ATS

An ATS uses language that has been programmed by humans. A job advertisement is intended to attract candidates, but it is also the sum-total of information that the ATS is working with when filtering applications. The HR department can enhance the process by thinking creatively about the types of words that candidates may use and ensuring that they are included as keywords in the advert and as custom ATS filters.

Rejection Analysis

For complete peace of mind, it is also helpful to undertake regular auditing of rejected CVs. If perfectly acceptable CVs are discovered in the rubbish pile, it’s worth taking a critical look at what has gone wrong, and why. For instance, it might be worth adding a note in the job advertisement to state that an ATS is being used to aid candidate selection, prompting candidates to optimise their applications with specific keywords relevant to the skills, qualifications, and experience sought after by the recruitment team. The more human guidance in the recruitment process, the better the outcome.

What Next?

At Blue Octopus, we understand the delicate relationship between software tools and human-driven processes in talent acquisition, and we engineer pathways for better partnerships. For more information about getting the most out of your ATS, please call 0113 532 3418 today.

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