For many years executive recruiters and other hiring professionals have been using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to improve productivity and performance.
I’ve found that many executive job seekers don’t know anything about ATS, and are in the dark about how ATS and AI work together.
What are Applicant Tracking Systems?
Developed in the 1990’s to help companies comply with equal opportunity hiring and candidate contact management, Applicant Tracking Systems automate the complex hiring process.
Before ATS, the hiring process was paper-heavy – sorting through and filing resumes, applications, internal memos, want ads, and all the other documentation associated with hiring.
ATS quickly became the pervasive system for hiring. In the early days ATS could also do basic resume keyword parsing and matching to job descriptions.
ATS’s ability to automate resume storing and processing requirements evolved over time to focus more on applicant tracking than compliance.
How do Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work?
Here’s what happens when you respond to a job listing online, or send your resume to a gatekeeper – an executive recruiter or human resources department:
- The document is put into a database or ATS, along with thousands of other resumes, for various kinds of jobs they’re trying to fill.
- To call up good-fit candidates, the database parses the content for relevant keywords pertaining to a particular job.
- Resumes with enough of the right keywords, according to particular criteria, are chosen.
- Resumes that are incorrectly formatted, don’t contain enough relevant keywords, or don’t fit the bill in some other way are NOT called up, at least for that particular job.
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends describes AI succinctly:
“Artificial intelligence is a machine’s ability to have human-like intelligence. Computers can be programmed to learn with data in order to perform a task, and improve at the task, as more data pours in.”
How are Applicant Tracking Systems and Artificial Intelligence used in job search?
The LinkedIn report encourages recruitment professionals to use AI:
- Let artificial intelligence do your tedious tasks so you can focus on building relationships.
- Use new tools in your interview process so you can find top talent faster.
- Keep your eye on the data so you can make smarter decisions.
- Bake diversity into your culture so you can fuel growth.
AI systems boast that they save employers money and circumvent the biases hiring professionals may go into the hiring process with.
In another report on global recruiting trends, Undercover Recruiter predicts AI will replace 16% of HR jobs within the next 10 years.
Specifically, recruitment professionals are using AI to:
Assist job seekers – Answering questions recruiters may not get to right away and automating the response process to update applicants on the progress of their applications.
Assist themselves – Providing training and information during the onboarding process, tracking and improving the employee development process, and handling scheduling, assessment, filing and other personal assistant-type duties.
Ideally, because AI ATS automate processes, these solutions improve resume screening and find better candidate matches.
But things don’t always work as expected.
HR News noted that these solutions are seriously flawed.
“The biggest challenge for the machines is understanding the way humans write, which sounds a lot simpler than it actually is, but when words change meaning and context when used in different sentences it becomes far more difficult for bots scanning resumes to make the right matching choices.”
The result of this conundrum?
“Technology still gets it wrong often and even some of the greatest household names in the online recruitment space have delivered highly inaccurate candidate and job matches.”
But AI in job search goes beyond resume assessment and candidate matching. It’s been used in the interview process for several years, to watch facial and eye movements, body language, speech cadence, and voice quality . . . all to assess honesty, emotions and personality-fit.
Online hiring services are much more in demand since the pandemic. That means that virtual interviewing is more prevalent than ever, and the impact of AI is even more of an issue.
The Inherent Problems of AI in Hiring
According to Minda Zetlin in an Inc.com article, AI in interviews presents downsides for both employers and candidates.
“For one thing, it’s a little creepy. Are job candidates told that their facial expressions will be analyzed by algorithm? It doesn’t seem to me there’s any legal obligation to tell them.
Second, our moods are a very changeable thing, and some of those changes may or may not have anything to do with a job we’re applying for.
Then, there are a wide range of physical issues that could potentially affect our faces and facial expressions. What if the person being interviewed has facial tattoos? Facial scarring? Suffered a stroke? Had Botox injections?”
An APNews article by Matt O’Brien says:
“Experts question whether machines can accurately and fairly judge a person’s character traits and emotional signals. Algorithms tasked to learn who’s the best fit for a job can entrench bias if they’re taking cues from industries where racial and gender disparities are already prevalent.
And when a computer screens out some candidates and elevates others without explanation, it’s harder to know if it’s making fair assessments.”
AI hiring systems are being more tightly regulated over time
There is a move in the European Union and the U.S. to more tightly regulate AI hiring systems.
The article above further notes:
“One of the leading companies in the field, Utah-based HireVue, gained notoriety in recent years by using AI technology to assess personality and job skills from an applicant’s facial expressions during the interview. After heated criticism centered on the scientific validity of those claims and the potential for bias, the company announced earlier this year it would end the practice.
But its AI-based assessments, which rank the skills and personalities of applicants to flag the most promising for further review, still consider speech and word choices in its decisions.”
A Wall Street Journal article by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher reveals:
“The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has called for ‘a bill of rights’ to protect Americans in what is becoming ‘an AI-powered world.’ The concerns about AI are well-known and well-founded: that it will violate privacy and compromise transparency, and that biased input data will yield biased outcomes, including in fields essential to individual and societal flourishing such as medicine, law enforcement, hiring and loans.”
What Should You Do About AI ATS?
The AI ATS dilemma is one of the big reasons to avoid spending a lot of time responding to job board postings as the way to get the attention of your target employers, get interviews and land a job.
A much more productive way to spend your time is networking your way into the “hidden” jobs at the companies you’re targeting.
Circumvent recruiters and HR for as long as you can, so that when/if your resume falls into ATS – or you’re faced with interviews using AI – you’re already at least a somewhat known entity within the company.
You may already be perceived as a good-fit candidate, making AI and ATS less relevant to decision making.