Is There an AI Boogeyman in the ATS Sabotaging Your Cleared Job Search

Posted by Ashley Jones

AI isn’t new, but it feels like it’s suddenly everywhere. Depending on whether you’ve jumped on the bandwagon or not, you may see it as exciting, or something to be wary of. And with new AI tools constantly popping up, there’s a lot to keep track of and fully understand.

When it comes to job search specifically, there is a growing fear that AI is sabotaging applicants. Doug Munro, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist with Information Management Group, Inc., recently had several professionals mention their concerns about AI while participating in resume reviews with Munro at BSidesCharm, an information security conference held in the Baltimore region of Maryland.

As many as five or six individuals that Munro shared resume advice with brought up their belief that AI is making decisions in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and removing them from consideration.

“Even the first person I talked to during resume reviews mentioned they were worried that they’re getting kicked out without ever being seen because AI is doing some magical, mystical, horrible thing,” explains Munro. “And this is going around LinkedIn quite a bit too.”

Fact or Fiction

Munro’s conversations often came back to job seekers asking him, “Doesn’t the ATS make the decision?”

“No, it doesn’t,” answers Munro. “Absolutely not. As a recruiter, I make the decisions. It just doesn’t happen that way.”

The extent of the misinformation spreading online is that, “This nefarious AI demon in the ATS is evaluating your resume and removing it from consideration,” says Munro. “So the belief is that you’re not even getting seen by a human being – it’s all automated, and if you look behind the curtain, there’s nobody there.”

“There are variations to the myth, but it’s essentially presented as, this is why you’re getting ghosted,” shares Munro. “The idea that AI is reviewing your resume and making its own decision without a recruiter ever seeing it is just not the case.”

What Does an ATS Do

“Essentially, an ATS is a filing system,” explains Munro. “It’s a repository that we’re able to manipulate.”

“The closest thing to any of these worries being remotely true is that there are some built-in functionalities to most ATSs that will rank resumes based on keyword searches,” admits Munro. “They give applicants a percentage ranking.”

The higher the percentage, the more likely a recruiter might assume a candidate will be qualified, based on the ATS finding keywords relevant to the role. But ultimately, a recruiter still needs to review the resume to make that determination. And some recruiters like Munro, don’t even pay attention to that ranking regularly.

My ATS has that functionality, but I don’t use it with new applicants, because I don’t want to miss anybody,” shares Munro. “When I search the ATS for previous applicants, I see those rankings because I’m using specific keywords on a broad search. I’ll start with the 100% matches in that case and go through them before I get down to the low percentages. But if your resume tells a story that you’re qualified, you’re gonna get contacted.”

Is Anything Kicking Your Resume Out from Consideration

“We advise folks not to have images or columns on their resumes,” says Munro. “But that’s purely a matter of how the ATS is going to parse your resume into a profile. It’s nothing more nefarious than that.”

“The bottom line is, your resume gets uploaded,” emphasizes Munro. “Even if you’ve done crazy things on your resume and you have pictures all over it, and flowers and puppies, the resume itself is still going to upload. It just isn’t going to parse into the profile that’s created as effectively.”

The only thing that’s going to kick you out of the ATS is a knockout question,” discloses Munro. “If it’s a government contract and it requires a secret clearance, we can set up a question in the ATS to ask if you have a secret clearance. And if your answer is no, then that’s an immediate knockout.”

Beating the Black Hole

You might have heard the idea that the ATS is a black hole that your resume goes into and then poof, nothing happens. If you’re not hearing back from employers that you’ve applied to, it’s easy to get frustrated and blame the black hole or the AI boogeyman lurking in the ATS, especially as these fears are being blown out of proportion online.

Whenever you read anything, have a critical eye and look at the source of the opinion,” advises Munro. “Most of the people peddling this notion on LinkedIn have little to no connection to recruiting.”

The purpose behind this kind of fear-mongering in many cases is to sell something or get clicks that can be monetized. “They’re saying, I’ll help your resume get around and beat the AI boogeyman in the ATS,” explains Munro.

But you can’t beat the system, because there’s nothing to beat,” claims Munro. “The system is really simple: Are you qualified for this job? So if someone says AI is keeping you from getting a job within the ATS, they’re just flat-out lying.”

“I think there are some legitimate practitioners out there who can help, but I always recommend asking your network,” says Munro. “Seek out colleagues and ask them what they think about your resume. You probably don’t need to pay for it.”

What to Do if You’re Getting Ghosted

“If you’re not getting enough traction, look at your resume,” suggests Munro. “Is it truly reflecting what you’ve done tangibly? And then look at the jobs you’re applying for. Are you really qualified based on the requirements?”

“In the government and cleared world, there are contractual requirements that have to be met,” reminds Munro. “We’re contractually obligated to get people who meet the criteria. And so as a job seeker, you may have to pass on a particular job if you don’t have the right security clearance or qualifications.”

You have to be a savvy job seeker and not get yourself frustrated by applying to jobs that you’re just not going to get,” adds Munro. “You’re not getting culled out because this terrible software platform is making a decision. It’s because a human being has looked and sees that you don’t meet the criteria.”

“Unfortunately sometimes that doesn’t get communicated well or quickly enough, so people feel like they’ve been ghosted,” shares Munro. “That’s on us, as recruiters. We have to always try to do better in that regard.”

“And it’s a tough job market these days, so it’s entirely possible that with all the good people looking for work, somebody may just have better qualifications than you,” admits Munro. “It doesn’t mean you aren’t wonderful.”

To improve your chances of success, review your resume, take another look at the jobs you’ve been applying to, and perhaps most importantly, network. “Target companies and recruiters who are in the arena that you want to be in,” urges Munro. “Networking is huge.”

“As you meet new people, they may be able to introduce you to more people,” says Munro. “Recruiters in particular like helping people get jobs, and we try to help each other out where we can.”

Don’t Be Discouraged

Looking for a job can be frustrating, especially if you aren’t making progress and you start to buy into the fears that are spread online. “If you’re looking for a better job, it’s one thing – if you’re looking for a job because you’re unemployed, it’s a much more stressful situation,” acknowledges Munro.

So instead of blasting out 100 resumes to 100 jobs a day, slow down and really look at what you’re applying to so you can make sure you have a shot at it,” reminds Munro. “Take some time for yourself. Get out, take a walk, and do something fulfilling outside of just looking for a job.”

“We can get caught up in spending eight hours a day looking for a job, and I don’t think it’s good for us psychologically,” says Munro. “And it’s certainly going to increase the likelihood that you start thinking there are devious souls out there in the system that are trying to keep you from getting a job.”


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

    Ashley Jones [email protected]
This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 08, 2024 11:34 am

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