I’ve been helping someone, a long-time and very successful sales professional in his late 50’s, find a new sales job. Now, he is very good, very experienced, and has won every possible sales award at every job he’s ever had. His negative? He doesn’t stand-out in today’s computer search / keyword-based job application process. “Statistics show that approximately 50 percent of mid-sized companies and almost all large corporations use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen candidates for job opportunities.”
I’ve been in the computer-assisted automation business for a long time, and I know how it can benefit users in many areas, sales and customer relationships being the two I am most conversant with. Shared information, cybernetic analysis, process management, standardized language, computer metrics, etc. etc. etc. All have great value when properly designed and implemented. But some things just shouldn’t be automated.
Can you imagine Julia Child automating her Boeuf Bourguignon? Or Edvard Munch automating The Scream? Or me, for that matter, automating one of my novels. (Not to be compared with the genius of the other examples, of course.) Automation by definition brings everything to a common denominator, and even if it isn’t the lowest, it isn’t the highest, either. What that means is that the outliers get lost. The exceptions to the rule. And when you’re looking for the top performers in any field, including and maybe especially sales, the outliers and exceptions are often the best performers.
Steve Jobs or Jack Welch might well be unemployed if they had to apply for a job today, or be relegated to an entry-level, commission-only insurance sales position. For that matter, the founder of this site, a very successful sales professional and sales entrepreneur, might have problems getting a sales job today. He’s a PhD physicist, and I imagine his profile would have been very difficult for an automated application system to digest.
When you standardize things, it becomes a system, and humans are very good at gaming systems. Why do you think that Amazon and Google and Netflix are constantly tweaking their algorithms? Because people figure them out and find a way to jump to the top of the list without earning that rank. Do you think Monster or Career Builder have ever tweaked their algorithms to identify and prevent gaming? Or what about the job application process at the General Dynamics or Marriott web sites? Or even for a custodian job with your local county government? They use packaged software apps, and their one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t, really.
So what happens is we get resumes loaded with the keywords-de-jour.
We get applications that might as well cut and paste the job description in order to get through that first review. ” ‘ATS technologies can filter candidates by those whose responses dovetail best with specific job descriptions. For the best response rates, make sure your content and experience match up accordingly,’ Day says.”
What we don’t get is any true picture of the person making the application. “This is one of the problems with many automated application systems; they don’t allow for the nuance and judgment that a good hiring manager would bring to the process. But the people who set up online systems like this often don’t think about the requirements they program into them, and how they’ll kick out people whose applications they might actually like to see.” In this particular case, the application system kicked out someone who didn’t have a Bachelor’s Degree in the specified field. She had a Master’s Degree.
On the darker side, remember that these systems are designed to profile people to fit the job opening. Whose to say that the filtering doesn’t include age, race, religion, or any number of criteria that are illegal to use in hiring? There are enough indicators in any resume to deduce these things.
I don’t have an answer to this, only an opinion. But it seems to me that companies are on the fast-track to average when they set up systems designed to recruit standardized employees.
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