How A.I. Can Close the 'ATS Black Hole'

We all know what the ATS black hole is: When a candidate sends their resume into an applicant tracking system and then never hears back from the company again. It happens to the best of talent – even people who would be a perfect cultural and technical fit for a role.

Continue Reading Below

Unfortunately, many applicant tracking technologies fail to meet the needs of hiring teams and the candidates they're trying to attract. Some inadequately parse resumes, complicating the application process and eliminating qualified candidates from consideration because of simple keyword mismatches. Others simply lack enough functionality to ensure candidates are carried through the entire process correctly.

In a test conducted in 2011, Bersin Associates (now Bersin by Deloitte) created the resume of an ideal candidate for a position as a clinical scientist. When the team ran the resume through an ATS from Taleo, the ATS rated the candidates as only 43 percent relevant to the job because it had misread the resume. Given that 75 percent of talent acquisition professionals use recruiting tech like ATSs, it is likely that a lot of hiring teams and candidates are facing similar issues.

Could Artificial Intelligence Help?

While artificial intelligence (AI) has generated a lot of buzz, it's more than just a buzzword.

AI has its critics, especially among those who don't fully understand its capabilities or functions. Many wrongly believe AI is little more than an advanced form of automation. While it's true that AI does automate certain processes, it isn't formulaic like the automation of ATSs. In fact, the whole purpose of AI is to bring a more human touch to recruiting.

This is how the black hole problem finds a solution. AI can work alongside human recruiters, easing their daily work and administrative duties. This gives recruiters more opportunities to nurture candidates and keep their talent pipeliness healthy. A smoother process means no applicants get stuck in the ATS black hole.

AI Understands the Job Opening

If you've ever used Netflix, Amazon, or Facebook, you've received ads targeted to you and your lifestyle. These platforms understand your habits and preferences and then suggest things you might be interested in based on your online activities. AI works similarly in recruiting. It learns the needs of your company, the way you work, and the intricacies of the job opening. When a candidate makes it into the system, the technology looks for information about the person behind the resume. Often, recruitment AI uses chatbots to talk with applicants in real time, gathering more information about who the individual really is.

Because chatbots can move quickly, there's no time between the application's submission and the candidate's first contact with the company. Some organizations rely on their ATSs to thank applicants through automated form emails, but AI starts a conversation with the candidate. If the candidate has a question, the chatbot has a response. Meanwhile, recruiters can focus their attention on the information being submitted.

AI Is an Assistant to the Candidate

Speaking of conversation, 60 percent of candidates say they want better communication during and after the application process. AI doesn't only provide support for recruiters –it also gives candidates the very communication they're looking for. If candidates have questions to ask or issues to discuss, the chatbot is there. They don't have to wait for a recruiter or hiring manager to be available, nor will a spam filter accidentally prevent their question from reaching the company.

The lack of communication between candidates and talent acquisition teams is the beginning of the black hole. When the candidate receives no response from a company, they assume they didn't make the cut – or that the company is simply ignoring them. With chatbots, candidates can be in constant communication with a representative of the employer, easing their doubts and making them feel more valued by the company.

AI Provides Quality Data

As candidates complete their applications and chat with the AI, the AI is gathering valuable information. Because the AI understands the company and the specifics of the position, it can build shortlists of applicants who are most qualified. Some chatbots can assess candidates for experience through the keywords and important concepts they use in conversation. Some can even evaluate the degree of alignment between the company culture and the personality and values of an applicant.

The ATS black hole exists because there simply aren't enough hours in a day for recruiters to do everything they need to. The ATS has helped to alleviate this to some extent, but it is not without its faults. With AI assistants, the process is always moving. Communication and feedback are constant.

If you think your hiring process is exempt from the ATS black hole phenomenon, understand that 64 percent of employers do not know how many qualified candidates are in their own ATS databases. Embracing AI in recruiting isn't embracing a complete shift in process: It's enhancing the process you already have to make it more rewarding for both your company and your candidates.

A version of this article originally appeared on Money Inc.

Noel Webb is cofounder and CEO of, a "cognitive recruiting assistant."