Struggling with your job search? How automated recruitment systems are ignoring good candidates

Is there a skills shortage? Or is applicant-scanning software blinding companies to good new recruits?

Building the digital workforce: Tech skills, trends and strategies for success

If you've got solid experience but have been out of the labor market for a while, you could be missing out on interviews because of the way employers are using automated systems to filter out candidates during the recruitment process.

new study published by the Harvard Business School found hiring software managers use incorrectly ignoring millions of viable job applicants because of the criteria that hiring managers use over time. 

ZDNet Recommends

The best cybersecurity certification: Deepen your knowledge

Cybersecurity certifications can help you get your foot in the door into what has fast become an industry with a high demand for skilled staff. Here is how to get started.

Read More

The software tools, such as applicant-tracking systems, are used by 75% of US employers to help quickly sift through hundreds of applications. It's used in conjunction with recruitment management software (RMS) to speed up recruitment. RMS is used by 90% of US employers to vet skilled candidates quickly. 

See also: Developers, DevOps, or cybersecurity? Which is the top tech talent employers are looking for now?

But the parameters that managers create in the software -- which are used to score applications for further interviews -- result in many applicants who could be suitable for a job being ignored, according to the research in HBR.  

The study found that inflexibly configured automated recruitment systems were filtering out viable candidates because they don't match the parameters set in the software. 

The report notes that 88% of employers surveyed said that "qualified high-skills candidates are vetted out of the process because they do not match the exact criteria established by the job description." 

The researchers surveyed over 8000 "hidden workers" and more than 2250 executives across the US, the UK, and Germany. They estimated there are 27 million hidden workers in the US, including the underemployed and people who no longer participate in the labor market and are, therefore, excluded from official unemployment statistics.

Besides recruitment software, rapidly advancing technologies mean that increasingly only employed people -- and up to date with the latest tech -- have the skills necessary for a job. 

"As the pace of change in the composition of tasks accelerates, the qualifications of those outside the workforce becomes less relevant more rapidly than in the past," the report notes. 

"Employers seeking workers fitting their preferred profiles gravitate to workers currently in the role or in one related to it. Those workers are more likely to be exposed to state-of-the-art technology and have enjoyed employer-provided, vendor-supported training to build their skills. Employed workers thus gain an additional and increasingly large edge over those not employed."

See also: The CIO's new challenge: Making the case for the next big thing

While recruitment automation has helped deal with higher volumes, "the quest for efficiency in the hiring process has caused firms to narrow the pool of applicants they consider so severely as to exclude qualified workers.

"Through their reliance on an automated hiring process, companies regularly eliminate all but those candidates who most closely match the job requirements specified," it notes. 

The use of RMS and ATS software means that workers who lack a less important or "nice to have" qualification don't get considered for a role, even though they are viable. 

The study also found that hiring managers often re-use existing job description templates and, over time, add new requirements, which clog up what should be broad-based filters. 

"The ATS takes on the attributes of a fine mesh rather than a basic filter. Ironically, when employers bolt important new requirements onto their existing job descriptions, they risk excluding applicants with knowledge gained through deep experience derived from years of work but lack one or more skills added only recently," the report states.