Bridging the Recruiting Gap Beyond the ATS

Since staring SmartRecruiters Inc. in 2010, Jerome Ternynck has been trying to find the easiest way to bridge the gap between jobs and the people who want them. By giving businesses easier access to talent, Ternynck and his team have made it their goal to eradicate unemployment.

Among the bigger issues facing recruiters today is technology — particularly the future of the applicant tracking system — the database that collects and stores massive numbers of applications submitted by candidates.

Ternynck said that while applicant tracking systems are fine at tracking applicants, more must be done to make them more efficient to use. Through his company, Ternynck aims to deliver a much richer experience.

Ternyck recently spoke with Talent Management. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Explain what SmartRecruiters is and how it makes the hiring process easier.
SmartRecruiters has been three years in the making and we are really building what we believe to be the next generation of recruiting technology. We define ourselves as the hiring platform that candidates and managers love. By that we mean a single platform that companies can use to manage their end-to-end hiring process that is focused on engaging candidates and managers, which today are the top two people in recruiting. We have 60,000 customers that have signed up since our start and have posted almost 300,000 jobs. More than 11 million applicants have used our system.

You have talked about there being a blind spot that kept recruiters from connecting with candidates. How did that blind spot form?
I originally created one of the first global ATS systems about 15 years ago, and I realized that the way applicant tracking systems are designed, they don’t help organizations hire better talent. As the name says, applicant tracking systems are just designed to track applicants, but unfortunately that is not how the world works. The way it is working today — simply tracking applicants — is not what managers or candidates want. I wanted to build SmartRecruiters with a very simple goal: How do we make hiring easy? How do we make it easy for businesses to source and hire talent?

Of course, in that process we track what happens and we make our customers compliant, which is the original promise of ATS. But we go way beyond into sourcing and facilitating a choreographed hiring process.

With the current ATS form being so flawed, which group is getting the shorter end of the stick — the applicants who aren’t being found or the employers?
I think it is both. Candidates have a very hard time actually connecting to organizations and jobs, and the inverse of this is the click-to-apply ratio of many applicants — many do not get through the entire online application. In a traditional ATS, that number is between 5 and 10 percent. Where 100 candidates are interested in a job, less than 10 end up applying, while companies are paying for candidates to come to their website through advertising. Where are the other 90 that they are paying for? So it is a tough situation for both groups.

Why is the click-to-apply process so difficult for applicants?
For candidates, it is extremely painful to apply to a job through certain systems. You just pick a job on any random Fortune 500 website and just click there. If you put yourself in the shoes of a candidate, it is impossible. It is not mobile friendly, you can’t do it with your phone, and if you are doing it on your computer you are looking at 30 minutes with error messages.

So what does the post-ATS world look like?
I think from a candidate’s perspective we are going toward a world where someone can express interest in a job through one click, and today if you go to a job that is powered by SmartRecruiters in less than 10 to 15 seconds your application goes through. That has helped our hiring rate reach nearly 50 percent.

So, from a candidate perspective, that is very beneficial. From a company’s perspective, that means you are getting five times the return on their advertising dollars. So, first things first, make it easy to have a candidate express interest in a job through one click apply.

Then we cannot continue to abide by recruiting systems that only recruiters use and that managers do not want to use because they are too complex. Today, all the recruiting in big corporations happens offline, and it happens offline because managers are unable to use the applicant tracking systems because these are big outdated systems that are basically a long list of data where you can track changes and track people but there is nothing in that system that actually helps managers make better decisions when it comes to applicants.

We think that the world of recruiting is a world that is immensely social, and therefore we believe in a collaborative hiring process. If you look inside SmartRecruiters, all of our designs are about making it really easy; they don’t need any training.

Eric Short is an editorial intern at Talent Management. He can be reached at