People Not Candidates

On December 8, 2010, in From The Vault, HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

People Not Candidates on HRExaminer

The Applicant Tracking Systems industry was invented by Lars Perkins and Paul Costello over 25 years ago

Continuing our series this week in looking back we turn to the systems and tools of recruiting. What progress have we made in our industry since 2002 when this post on ATS vs. recruiting software was first published? ATS systems still abound and new web-based tools have emerged. But have we progressed? Perhaps adaptations like social media applicant development and tracking count? Are we still driving into the future with our eyes firmly fixed in the rearview mirror (quote: Marshall McLuhan)? Read on and please let us know if you think we’ve gotten to anything new.

People Not Candidates

(originally published January 24, 2002)

“I once wooed an exec to Dell…stock, excitement yes…but the decision maker was an interview with the coach of the girl’s basketball team at one of the local high schools. She was a sophomore star looking for a big time high school program that would lead to playoffs and a scholarship….”

That was Hank Stringer’s way of gently reminding us that meaningful work negotiation in times of scarcity is nothing new. Hank, you’ll remember, is the founder of
One of the most interesting conclusions we reached during the development of the 2002 Electronic Recruiting Index was that is the only company in the world that is currently producing Recruiting Software.

We can almost hear the groans from critics who’d suggest that sitting on’s advisory board has clouded our view of the world.

Here’s what we mean by “ is the only company in the world that is currently producing Recruiting Software”.

The Applicant Tracking Systems industry was invented by Lars Perkins and Paul Costello almost exactly 20 years ago (give or take a couple of days). It was a profound move forward. Applicant Tracking Systems automate the administrative (workflow) parts of the hiring process, provide resume search capability and allow for the documentation of regulatory requirements. Webhire, the company formed by the two visionaries, remains the largest single supplier of ATS (based on customer headcounts). It’s an amazing accomplishment and, if you have a moment, send the company a piece of email congratulating them on 20 years of solid contributions. No company has experimented more vigorously and productively.

Applicant Tracking Systems are great for some things: standardizing awkward processes, measuring administrative cycles, ensuring conformity, organizing files and other administrative tasks. Unfortunately, Recruiting is not an administrative process. The original idea behind the ATS concept was to free the Recruiter from the Administrative burden so that more Recruiting could get done. Unfortunately, software is unforgiving and the promised freedom turned out to be more rigorous boundaries. As a result, many ATS installations go unused. In fact, the critical discriminator in many ATS procurements is the ‘promise’ of tight configuration control that makes the constraints imposed by the software even tougher.

That’s why we make the distinction between and ATS and Recruiting software. Recruiting software is about relationships, decision making and collaboration. It focuses the recruiter on the decisions at hand, offering support and information. It’s no accident that Hank Stringer is the only Recruiter to found a company in the space. He understands how to recruit. The ATS suppliers all collect customer requirements (whether or not the customers know how to recruit) for administrative purposes.

It’s the generational difference between Wang and Microsoft Word. Surely, you’ll remember (or know a kindly elderly person who remembers) the incredible impact Wang had on the office. By placing word processing machines on secretarial desktops, Wang made the first moves into office automation. 15 Years later, however, Microsoft Word was the dominant tool. The reason was simple. Wang’s approach assumed that there would always be a secretary, it was secretarial software. The Microsoft product was more visionary and assumed that secretaries were only one of the kinds of users. It was not secretarial software. It was word processing software.

Managing the administrative stuff is important. Assuming that that is the limit for Recruiting Software is a generational mistake. As we’ve been pointing out this week, the emerging new social contract is a profound challenge to existing administrative structures. Acquiring the talent is far more important than ensuring that all of the administrative processes run smoothly. In fact, rigid administrative automation will prevent good recruiting.

A new generation of tools is becoming available. is the first company to produce real recruiting software.

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Heather Bussing is a returning contributor to our HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Heather has practiced employment and business law for...