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ATS is a graveyard only if you are a gravedigger

Everytime someone mentions ATS in a presentation or article “graveyard” or “wasteland” is bound to follow (unless it’s done by a sales rep of course). If the speaker is really creative, he may even drop in a picture of a depressing place like this one:

ATS as a graveyard 2

The connection seems almost automatic. I know it’s coming and by now I am kind of waiting for it.

Still, when it comes I must resist a sudden urge to facepalm. Not because I do not believe them – in most cases what they say is the reality of their system. I almost facepalm because this is in most cases a user behavior issue, not a system issue. The ATS is a graveyard only if you are a gravedigger burying your candidates there.

It’s easy to fall in this trap. There are so many great options out there to search that it’s understandable to go and start searching there. But if you always go out, then your ATS will indeed become a graveyard. People who applied to you, who gone through a way too complicated application process because they had strong enough motivation to join your company are the first ones you neglect.

With time to deliver/fill being an important factor in the performance of any recruiter/sourcer/team you are better off concentrating on those candidates who are closest to delivery. As a deliverable candidate is someone who is interested and qualified it is worth to make a search in the interested pool and check if there are any qualified ones. Exhaust this pool and move in if you still need candidates: job boards, professional social networks, private social networks, blogs, forums, deep web search and headhunting are all there for you. But there are 3 good reasons why you should start sourcing with properly searching through your ATS:

– It’s a pool of people more interested in your company than any other external pool.

– The data is rich, structured and searchable (if it is not, then you indeed have a system issue :). This makes easy to build a good search and you will find many contact informations to your candidates (so you save time while contacting them).

– You deliver better candidate experience by not burying and forgetting about your applicants.

Last month at iRecruitexpo I heard a recruitment leader ranting that a headhunting vendor came back with a shortlist where 3 people from 4 were already in their ATS – they were all good candidates. His conclusion was that the ATS is useless. My conclusion is that it was a great source of candidates for the position, and by not leveraging it he wasted time and money. If you have a graveyard system, go and start digging up: make a proper search for your current positions. You will be surprised by the quality of the candidates you can find in this so far neglected source. If your ATS is not a graveyard or you are just setting up a new one, remember: burying the living is bad. Do not start it.


  1. Vince, you make some good arguments for the ATS, and plausible as well. The problem I think most employers have is recruiters sometimes don’t know how to search the company d/b for quality candidates. This could be attributed to the complexity of some systems (I know the one we had at the education mgmt company where I consulted was a nightmare!). However, at the same time, I think we’re seeing recruiters embrace sources outside the company ATS b/c engagement with candidates is so big. Not to say they can’t engage with those in the d/b, but many times a large percentage of those candidates are aged and no longer good for the position. Good start to the argument on the value of ATS. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of feedback b/c as you and I both know, whether you’re searching the ATS or going outside the company to other sources, at the end of the day it really comes down to candidate experience.

    • vinceszy

      July 31, 2014 at 6:05 am

      I agree, the problem in many cases is that the recruiters do not know how to effectively search in the ATS. But this can and should be easily trained. Aged CVs I think are all fine, you just Google the person and will find out what happened to him since.

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