The following material has been excerpted from Electronic Job Search
Revolution by Joyce Lain Kennedy and Thomas J. Morrow, Copyright
(c) 1994, Joyce Lain Kennedy & Thomas J. Morrow. This material has been
provided in cooperation with John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and is intended for
your personal use only; it may NOT be otherwise copied or distributed
without specific written permission from the publisher.

Chapter 3

New: In-House Applicant Tracking Systems

Smart Software Is Changing the Way Hiring Happens in America
--Here's What You Must Know

  • In the last chapter, we looked at external resume database services--services that inventory people.

  • In this chapter, we examine another way to inventory people--the new internal systems companies are using to electronically process their own pool of applicants whose unsolicited resumes come in "over the transom."

  • Today's front-running companies may use an external system, an internal system, or a combination of both.

  • Tracking systems are not exclusively for employers. Executive recruiters, who (for a fee) help client organizations find and appraise candidates for specific positions, also track applicants with these systems.
  • "We'll keep your resume on file." How many times have you heard that one?

    The artfully constructed resume you pieced together dream by dream, tactic by tactic, and word by word is handed over to a corporate recruiter who, for all you know, orbits it into space. You never hear another word about it.

    You've tried every trick in several books, from sending your resume to the company president claiming you both are alumni of the same university, to changing your status from job seeker to shareholder by buying one share of stock and asking the director of investor relations to pass your resume along.

    Nothing is working, and the absence of a response is dashing your hopes and dreams. It happens time after time: the waiting, the anticipating. You begin to feel discouraged, frustrated, disheartened, rejected, depressed. What happened to those hundreds of resumes you sent? Doesn't anyone care? Why long-time-no-hear--from anyone?

    A wall of silence is one of the real gut-wrenching complaints job seekers make about human resource specialists and hiring managers. You wonder: Why don't they have the common courtesy to acknowledge the receipt of your resume? Don't they remember what it was like when they were on the outside looking in?

    You're not alone in having a pity party. Being ignored hurts. The discomfort you feel from being disregarded is largely because a resume mirrors you--it is a kind of proof of your individual existence, an edited portion of your life story. None of us actually expects to get a job offer from each and every employer to whom a resume is submitted, but we certainly expect acknowledgment that we exist.

    Beyond mere wounded feelings, the underlying reason acknowledgment letters are so important is that high morale during a job search is essential to your success. Essential! When you are hammered by rejection--which is how you may subconsciously interpret the silent treatment--your sense of self-value begins to slip and you unknowingly broadcast messages of desperation: SOS... SOS.

    Employers can smell despondency a mile away and will go to China and back to avoid it. Most managers try to be admirable people, but it's not their job to hire pitiful people with low self-esteem for whom they feel sorry. It's their job to hire winners.

    The linkage of acknowledgment letters to the success of your job hunt is subtle, even obscure--and very real.

    Why don't companies know this and get back to you promptly? The short answer is: staggering workloads.

    Switch viewpoints, if you will, to the other side of the recruitment desk. Pity the poor beleaguered corporate recruiter who is told to find the best person for the job--fast!

    How An Applicant Tracking System Works

    Each of the major internal applicant tracking systems offers varying performance features.

    Some offer blow-you-away sophistication and virtuosity in preparing every human resource report a company could possibly want. Others are less ambitious. All of them provide similar functions in a new recruiting frontier.

    These are the journey legs as your resume voyages through a database.


    Your original resume--the one you labored at writing, or paid dearly to have written--is welcomed into the applicant tracking system's database by the amazing scanning and optical character recognition technology mentioned earlier. The technology reads and absorbs its contents, adding your resume to a huge computerized pool of job talent.

    Your credentials may be sorted and stored in a number of ways, including alphabetically, regionally, or by specialty skills. An example is given in Figure 3-1.


    The software automatically stamps the date on your records, which will later show when your resume was received and entered.

    Being polite as well as smart, the software now says, "It's time to confirm that we received this applicant's resume," and an acknowledgment letter goes out. It too is date-stamped.

    Requisition Tracking

    The hiring manager issues (through the human resource department) a job requisition to the system. Upon receipt of the requisition, Figure 3-1 Computer Screen Produced by Applicant Tracking System. (Courtesy of SmartSearch2/Advanced Personnel Systems, Inc., Oceanside, CA)

    the system switches over to a "requisition tracking mode"--and is off and running on an electronic sprint to find "best match" candidates.

    Most tracking systems have predefined categories, such as education and industry experience. They are accessed automatically.

    The hiring manager can ask for other categories specific to the position, such as the ability to use a specific brand of graphic-design software or to analyze toxic air samples. By inserting keywords, the search can be tailored to a gnat's eyebrow. The process is called "building a search." It means matching the exact specifications of a job requisition with the credentials of applicants in the database.

    Weighting Keywords

    The hiring manager, through the use of a sliding scale, can weight each predefined category or tailored keyword according to its level of importance.

    For example, the descriptors used in the search may call for an "engineering technician" who has a two-year "associate degree," but may give preference to an "engineering technologist" who holds a four-year "bachelor's degree." The technician must either live in or be willing to move to "St. Louis, MO." The information from the categories will be "matched" with any and all resumes in the system that fit the job requisition.

    In this overview, let's assume your resume fits the job requisition and is still in the running. The tracking system has zeroed in on the following matching keywords in your resume:


    If you're tapped electronically to become a "screen star," the software will, within seconds, add your candidacy to others similarly qualified and present you within a ranked list.

    In many cases, the human resource specialist or hiring manager views your original resume, along with the capsule of data pulled out from the resume (called an applicant summary or an extracted summary), on a computer monitor.

    In some systems, your information is stored in an online database in three versions:

  • A capsule of name, rank, serial number, and categories into which you fit;
  • An applicant summary from the original resume, or a standardized form (it makes comparisons easier);
  • An exact image of your resume. The data in any or all versions are instantly available to a resume reader.

    Even in less complex tracking systems, the resume reader can select an individual name on the computer screen's matching display and bring up the entire resume. Usually, these tracking systems will highlight (electronically illuminate) on the screen the precise specifications that qualify the resume for the requisition. This feature gives the searcher an instant grasp of how each candidate matches the job requisition, and makes it easy to see how, "on screen" at least, you fit the job.

    Qualified candidates are listed according to how each person matches the requisition. The best matches appear at the top of the computer screen; the fewest matches are at the bottom.

    The relative score of each candidate appears as a number next to the candidate's name on the ranked list. As an example, those with "bachelor degree" will be listed ahead of those with "associate degree" if that's what the search dictates.

    In the earlier search for an engineering technologist willing to move to St. Louis, resumes from that city will be listed ahead of other geographic locations, providing all other categories are equal.


    The electronic genie can be told to conjure up any or all of the information about you and your competitors in hard (print) copy, faxes, or e-mail.

    In a flash, the searcher can send the selected resumes to be run out on laser printers or by fax to hiring managers across the hall or across the nation. Let's hope you're among the favored.


    In a slightly different scenario, your name may not come up as the result of a newly ordered job requisition search, but as a possible answer to some unfinished business.

    Not infrequently, a department manager spends months searching high and low for the perfect candidate for a hard-to-fill position. The manager has left a standing order to call when/if the perfect person comes along. Let's assume you're that perfect person. When your resume is scanned into the system, a flare goes up, alerting the manager that the human resource department may have struck pay dirt.

    As you can see, the possibilities of a resume tracking system are vast and potentially rewarding for your job search. But when you get a warm and friendly customized letter acknowledging your resume, don't get too confident just yet. The signature on your letter really wasn't handwritten. It was generated automatically from the system's image memory of personalized signatures. Amazing, these machines.

    Tomorrow's Cutting-Edge Technology Today

  • For the human resource specialist or employment manager reading this book, this section gives a brief overview of the many commercial products that can make your job easier.

  • For the job seeker reading this book, the remainder of this chapter may or may not be of primary interest. We recommend that you read it because it gives clues about some of the newest software programs designed specifically to handle the huge amounts of resume processing and applicant tracking information. It generally is useful to know the conditions under which the person on the human resource side of the desk is working. However, if you're pressed for time, skip to Chapter 4.
  • Constantly aware of keen competition and a thirst for even more applications, software companies continue to upgrade and innovate their programming. To remain competitive in a rapidly growing market of employers, innovation is urgent.

    Putting the electronic recruitment issue into perspective, a director of corporate human services management recently said management demands swift solutions in today's market, and the question for employment managers in the 1990s isn't "to scan or not to scan," but rather "to compete or not to compete." In the not too distant future, it will be normal practice in American industry for resumes to be read by computer.

    (For the job seeker in the 1990s, perhaps the question isn't "to learn computer job search or not to learn computer job search," but rather "to compete or not to compete.")

    We have identified more than a dozen applicant tracking software systems currently being used by corporate America. More companies appear yearly. Nearly all of these applicant tracking systems basically work the same way, but each has at least one or two distinctions, a few of which are substantial.

    Most applicant tracking systems process resume information by digesting the entire contents of the document. However, some copy the exact image of the resume being scanned and some don't. Although the first approach takes up a lot more computer memory, some human resource managers say having an exact copy of an applicant's resume on their screen can be helpful with judging the following criteria:

    There is another advantage in having the exact copy of the resume in the database: Some factual detail on the resume may not be captured by applicant tracking systems that rearrange the resume into a standardized format.

    An applicant may list information that gives an interviewer some insight into his or her personality--for example, something signifying risk taking, such as "skydiving" as a hobby--but that information probably would never be known if the actual resume were not retrieved for viewing.

    The overall goals of any applicant tracking system are to be fast, consistent, and thorough, and to give every job seeker the same treatment.

    Applicant tracking software can provide employers with unbiased candidate evaluation procedures and with effective, detailed record-keeping systems. For example, an applicant tracking program can make it much easier to document compliance with government employment requirements, when necessary.

    A spokesperson for Bell Atlantic, a 73,000-plus employee corporation with a number of subsidiaries nationwide, says her office receives an average of 75,000 to 100,000 unsolicited resumes a year.

    "We're trying to hold that number down, but it tends to go up and down with the economy," says the spokesperson. "We attempt to limit our unsolicited resumes from applicants not likely to be good matches through using an 800 number that details company requirements."

    Bell Atlantic hires more than 500 professional and technical personnel annually, and another 5,000 to 6,000 nonexempt employees, including temporary and part-time workers.

    "We used to hire a lot of college graduates right out of school, but we're hiring more seasoned veterans now than we used to," she says. "We formerly hired a lot of entry-level workers so that we could train them internally, but now we look for more experienced, job specific knowledge, people who can 'hit the ground running.'"

    She explains that her company utilizes three types of scanning and imaging: (1) image character recognition, (2) intelligent character recognition, and (3) optical mark recognition.

    Job seekers applying for nonexempt positions at Bell Atlantic usually do not submit a resume. Instead, they fill out an application, which is scanned with an intelligent character recognition system that converts the handwritten application into a basic resume, according to the spokesperson.

    The applicant tracking system then handles this basic resume much like it would handle submitted resumes, only on a different level of hiring requirements.

    As for all other job seekers submitting resumes, the spokesperson says Bell Atlantic no longer keeps the paper once the resume has been scanned into the company's database in Arlington, Virginia.

    "That was a big step forward in gaining valuable filing space," says the spokesperson. "It's [the applicant tracking system] not only reduced the working space we need, but we've significantly reduced the staff we used to need in the human resources department." She adds that being able to operate in less space amounts to a significant savings because of the high price tag on office space in the major metropolitan areas where the company operates.

    Bell Atlantic has taken the art of electronic applicant tracking even further. It has developed a system that interacts with Resumix and allows any employee of the telecommunications company to access a special 800 telephone number to inquire what jobs are available within the company.

    "You need your social security number and a special company PIN [personal identification number] in order to access the system," explains the spokesperson. "This is to keep independent recruiters from getting into the system to take advantage. This program is strictly for our employees."

    Once the system is accessed via a push-button telephone, she notes, the employee can either apply right on the phone for the job desired, or request a more detailed job description for the opening.

    "We fax the job description directly to the employee. Most workers have access to a company fax," she observes. "Faxing is less expensive than using either internal mail or the U.S. mail system, according to an internal study."

    She says that, during a typical week, 6,000 to 8,000 employee calls come into the in-house job openings system. In turn, about 1,000 faxes are sent, detailing anywhere from 200 to 400 positions that are open.

    "We hire inside among our existing employees whenever possible," the Bell Atlantic spokesperson explains.

    She adds that nonexempt employees (workers who legally must be paid at overtime rates for overtime work) can arrange for a standing application (the application remains in place until an advertised position is filled). This ensures that the interested employee is considered for that job without needing to call every day or every week to check on its status.

    San Francisco-based Bank of America, California's largest and one of the nation's biggest financial institutions, uses a major applicant tracking system, which officials at the bank prefer not to name. A spokesperson for Bank of America's Systems Engineering Group in San Francisco has a staff of ten human resource specialists and recruiters to service the division.

    "This applicant tracking system allows us to become our own personnel agency," the spokesperson explains. "We get our resumes and applications from a variety of sources: media advertising, career fairs, internal transfers, and computer networks."

    The Systems Engineering Group spokesperson says his division, which has more than 4,000 workers, receives an average of 150 resumes weekly. "It can be as high as 400 to 500 a week, depending upon how many ads we've run in the media," he adds.

    "We put resumes in file folders before going to this system four years ago," the spokesperson recalls. He says automated tracking has proven itself. "We're committed to the applicant tracking system. And the other divisions are watching our progress closely and with great interest."

    The Systems Engineering Group generally hires between 350 to 400 people per year. "That includes the transfers from within our employee ranks," explains the spokesperson. He says the applicant tracking system has allowed more efficiency in his department.

    "We've not only downsized in personnel, but where our old manual way would require five recruiters to handle 150 [position] openings, today three recruiters handle 200 openings," he notes. "We certainly can do a much higher volume of work with fewer people because of this system."

    The spokesperson finds it fascinating that a computerized applicant tracking system allows the first two or three steps of the job hiring process to be accomplished "automatically" without human assistance.

    "One thing it [the system] can't do, though, is speak directly to the candidate to get an even closer match for the final hiring," he concludes. "You can't take the human factor out of this."

    PRC, Inc., of McLean, Virginia, a professional services company that does 75 percent of its business with the federal government, uses Resumix as its human resource applicant tracking system. An employment manager for PRC says his company has more than 25,000 resumes scanned into the database. The 7,500-employee corporation has used Resumix since early 1991.

    "We receive about 20,000 resumes yearly," says the manager, who was with the company before it installed Resumix. "It's a real time-saver. The number of work hours we've saved is significant."

    The manager says until he was appointed to head his department's applicant tracking process, no one really had a handle on just how much time was saved.

    His department has about 15 human resource specialists who use Resumix daily to handle the many job requisitions that come from PRC managers monthly.

    "This type of programming is really in its infancy," the manager explains. "It is very important to implement the system properly to take advantage of all its capabilities. Resumix's programming, I think, is state-of-the-art."

    So Much for Australia...

  • After being laid off from his defense industry job at Northrop Corporation in the Los Angeles area, computer whiz James Blanton figured the timing was right for him to see a bit of the world. Why not work his way around the globe? Why not start in Australia? Blanton began searching for an Australian employer who needed his skills.
  • "I bought this job search book listing foreign employment opportunities and there were a lot of listings for Australian companies," says Blanton. "A friend of mine was helping me mail out applications. I asked her to send my resume to all the companies listed for Australia."

  • Two weeks later, Blanton says, he received a call from San Francisco-based Bank of America. Unaware of exactly who had been sent his resume, Blanton quickly found out that among the companies listed for Australian opportunities was Bank of America.

  • "I guess they have some sort of operation there," he says. "Anyway, when they called, we scheduled a meeting. I was offered a job about a week after the interview."

  • Blanton accepted a systems engineering position in computer security--not in Australia, but at Bank of America's Concord (California) Technical Center, just east of Oakland, California.

  • What happened was this: Blanton's mailed resume had been received and placed into the company's computerized applicant tracking system, which quickly tagged it as matching the requirements for one of the bank's technical openings.

  • Blanton says he isn't aware of what sort of system the human resource department uses, but he sure is pleased with its results.

  • "I couldn't be happier with the way things worked out," says Blanton.

  • And Australia?

  • "Well, I have a pen pal in New Zealand who gave me the idea of going down under in the first place, but that's on the back burner now," Blanton says as he glances appreciatively at a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on his wall.

  • A Sampling Of Applicant Tracking Systems

    For more actual book material...