With more and more technology entering the workplace, we have seen an increase in questions, debates, and head scratching – to what extent can this technology replace human beings? Am I – a content writer – now a dying breed as ChatGBT has arrived to steal my word count? Do algorithms really know us better than our spouses? Can you even tell that the live chat with customer services is not with another person?

Do we need to be protective of the human element and more aware of its impact on customer or employee experience? Because, yes, technology can be used in place of people, but that doesn’t mean that technology can always guarantee a better job – or even do everything that people can do.

There’s a reason why your local Tesco Express still employs real humans, even if the queues are mostly for the self-checkouts these days.

And so, we turn to the fast-paced world of recruitment. Technology plays an increasingly significant role in streamlining processes and improving efficiency. AI is coming – but that’s not exactly what we’re here to talk about today.

Instead, let’s examine another of the most prominent technological advancements in the field of recruiting: the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). While an ATS offers undeniable benefits in terms of managing applications and data, does it compromise the human element of recruiting?

Compared to the debate around AI, this question seems almost quaint. An ATS is exactly the type of solution that augments and supplements, rather than replaces. And anyway, you can probably guess what side I’m going to come down on – my employer sells Applicant Tracking Systems after all – but it is an interesting question to examine in the context of all the other technologies running rampant across our to-do lists.

So, followers of Ned Ludd, come with me, as we ask: does an ATS take the human element out of recruiting?

The Rise of the ATS

Applicant Tracking Systems have revolutionised the way organisations manage their recruitment efforts. These software solutions are designed to automate and streamline various aspects of the hiring process, including posting job openings, receiving and sorting applications, and managing candidate communications. ATS platforms have undoubtedly brought unprecedented efficiency to recruitment by allowing recruiters to handle a larger volume of applications while maintaining a structured and organised database.

What used to take time and thought can now be automated. Candidate comms for instance – they play a huge role in ensuring a smooth and successful onboarding process. Traditionally, a recruiter would need to actively consider how and when to email a candidate.

Now, it those communications can be pre-set to trigger at certain moments or within certain intervals during the hiring process.

But let’s not get this too twisted – automated emails are only sent by the technology – not necessarily generated by the system itself. It’s really more accurate to think of them as being ‘pre-written’ rather than fully automated.

Is that really removing the personal touch, or simply ensuring that it’s more consistent and convenient for everyone involved?

As technology increasingly integrates into recruitment, concerns have arisen about the potential loss of that human touch in the hiring process. The heart of this debate lies in the fear that relying solely on an ATS might depersonalise the candidate experience, making candidates feel like faceless data points rather than valued individuals.

Human interaction in recruiting is crucial for building rapport, understanding a candidate’s motivations, and assessing cultural fit – elements that are difficult to capture through automated processes alone.

Balancing Efficiency with Personalisation

The challenge lies in striking a balance between the efficiency offered by ATS systems and the personal touch that human recruiters bring. Many proponents of an ATS argue that these systems free up recruiters’ time, allowing them to focus more on engaging with candidates. With administrative tasks automated, recruiters can dedicate more energy to building relationships, understanding candidate aspirations, and creating a positive candidate experience.

There’s a danger that people worried about the efficiencies of these systems might be looking back with rose-tinted glasses at the ways things can work without an ATS.

Everyone who has ever experienced a job search knows that they can be a slow, with poor communication and bottlenecks frequently getting in the way of good candidate experience. Many job seekers would likely prefer a few automated emails over days spent in the dark, waiting to hear anything at all.

But finding that right balance is crucial.

One way to mitigate the perceived loss of the human element is by utilising ATS capabilities to enhance personalisation. Modern ATS systems often include features that allow for customised communication and tailored candidate journeys. Recruiters can use data stored within the ATS to send targeted messages, acknowledge specific skills or experiences, and create a more individualised application process.

Human Judgment vs. Data-Driven Decisions

Another aspect to consider is the role of human judgment in the decision-making process. While an ATS can efficiently filter resumes based on predefined criteria, it’s the human recruiter who can identify intangible qualities like cultural fit, adaptability, and potential for growth – factors that might not be easily captured by algorithms.

This debate underscores the tension between the efficiency and objectivity of technology-driven processes, as exemplified by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), and the nuanced, context-sensitive insights that human recruiters bring to the table.

The Role of Data-Driven Decisions

ATS systems excel at analysing vast amounts of data rapidly and accurately. They use predefined criteria to filter resumes, assess qualifications, and shortlist candidates based on quantifiable metrics such as skills, education, and experience. This data-driven approach eliminates biases and ensures a fair and consistent evaluation process. ATS can quickly scan applications and select those that match predetermined keywords and qualifications, saving recruiters significant time and effort.

The Power of Human Judgment

However, the intricacies of recruitment extend far beyond checkboxes and keywords. Human recruiters possess a unique ability to evaluate intangible qualities that shape a candidate’s potential success within an organisation. Cultural fit, adaptability, interpersonal skills, and passion for the role are just a few of the aspects that are challenging to capture through automated processes. Human judgment plays a pivotal role in assessing candidates holistically and envisioning how they will contribute to the team dynamics and the company’s growth.

The Need for Contextual Understanding

One of the limitations of data-driven decisions is the potential lack of context. While an ATS can efficiently match qualifications, it might miss the subtleties that make a candidate stand out. For instance, an applicant who changed careers might not have the exact keywords associated with the new role, but their unique background and transferable skills could bring fresh perspectives to the organisation.

Human recruiters, armed with contextual understanding, can identify such potentials, and bridge the gap between unconventional experiences and role requirements.

Balancing Objectivity and Intuition

Finding the right balance between data-driven decisions and human judgment is essential. Data provides a valuable foundation for decision-making, minimizing biases and ensuring compliance. Yet, relying solely on data can risk overlooking exceptional candidates who possess qualities that go beyond what a resume can convey. Human recruiters introduce intuition, emotional intelligence, and an ability to assess a candidate’s motivations, enthusiasm, and soft skills—essential components of long-term success.

A Collaborative Approach

In an ideal scenario, technology and human judgment work hand in hand. An ATS can efficiently sort and filter applications, while human recruiters add depth and insight to the evaluation process. This collaborative approach ensures that candidates are assessed not just on their qualifications, but on their potential to contribute to the team, embrace the company’s culture, and evolve with the organisation.

A Harmonious Blend

In the end, the question of whether an ATS takes the human element out of recruiting boils down to how organisations use technology. ATS systems are tools that can enhance efficiency, but they should not replace the irreplaceable insights, empathy, and personal touch that human recruiters provide.

The future of successful recruitment likely involves a harmonious blend of technology and human expertise, leveraging ATS for administrative tasks while ensuring that personal interactions remain at the forefront of the candidate experience. By achieving this balance, organizations can enjoy the best of both worlds: efficiency and personalization in their recruitment efforts.

It’s important to recognise that technology is a tool, not a replacement, for human insight. The real power emerges when both elements work synergistically. ATS systems enhance efficiency, minimise bias, and expedite administrative tasks.

Human judgment, on the other hand, contributes the crucial ability to understand context, evaluate cultural fit, and foresee a candidate’s potential impact. The future of recruitment lies in striking a balance between these two forces, harnessing the advantages of data-driven decisions and the irreplaceable value of human intuition.

If you want to understand more about how Hireserve could help you streamline your recruitment processes without plunging us into a Matrix-style techno dystopia, why not book a demo today?

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, HR Zone, and The Guardian World Magazine, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.