Handcuffed in the ATS and the New Skills of the HR Professional

In the days of big data and HR software traditional soft skills are not enough anymore. Technical savviness? Neither. Here is a story happened to me that shows how these two sets of competencies have to augment each other in the role of the digital HR professional. The story is creepy and dark as a Black Mirror episode – but it is not a fiction!

HR competencies in the digital age

Isn’t this whole hype around digital technology in HR a big scam? We choose this profession because we love to work with people, not with computers and software! Well, i think it is not a scam. We still work with people and our job is still to make their life at work better – we just do this with the help of digital tools.

This means we still have to possess

  • excellent people (communication, feedback, motivation, change management etc.) skills
  • the proper attitude (open-minded, helpful, constructive, sincere, among others)

Plus we have to be technology savvy enough so we can practice these competencies in digital environments as well. We have to be extremely comfortable online in order for us to have the chance to create a friendly atmosphere for those we are collaborating with.

Handcuffed in the ATS

The ATS (Applicant Tracking System) I use retrieves social profiles automatically based on the applicants’ e-mail addresses appearing in the CV and lists them next to the candidate’s documents. It also inserts a photo from one of the candidates’ social profiles – sometimes LinkedIn, sometimes Pinterest, Twitter or anything else it finds. This means that the photo that gets automatically pulled onto my screen by the ATS might not be intended to be used for professional purposes (which might already be creepy for some): you don’t exactly set your avatars on social networks with job search in mind don’t you? Plus the image is picked without asking the applicant if it is really THE picture he would want to attach to his resume. I’m not saying this is scandalous or anything, we just need to keep this aspect in mind.

So I was just checking new applicants as usual when I came across this applicant whose image was depicting a woman’s hands cuffed behind her bottom. I was shocked. Not that we are a stuffy company, but the ATS is a corporate environment where erotic content is something unusual to be seen. I immediately reached for the phone to ask the applicant if the photo is used intentionally or is it meaning something. I wanted to see if it was a surprise for him as well. I wanted to tell him it was quite a shock for me to see that, and give him the advice to remove it or change the email address they used for the given account.

But instead of making that phone call right away, I started to conduct a bit of an investigation.

Do a search before you call

The applicant was a graduate student with two years track record in assistant positions. Based on his work experience he seemed single-minded and hard working. The photo appeared strange and incongruent with the CV. I even realized that while the photo got retrieved from Twitter, the link of the Twitter profile was missing. The story just didn’t hold together.

Than I did some simple Google searches for the different forms of the applicant’s name and email address. Than Twitter search and Facebook search. (My mind was pounding, trying to create a story holding together the applicant’s CV and the photo, or to justify the choice of a profile pic like this. I was trying to form the sentences I will say on the phone.)

With a dozen searches, nothing was found. Did he delete the photo before he applied? Was it just circulating in the cloud for some days and travelled to my ATS from the past? I just couldn’t find it out!

So I reached out to the support chat of the ATS about the case.  Their answer was that the photo was retrieved due to an error of the third party vendor who is not always pulling the correct profile picture for an applicant. So that was the key to the mystery.

It took me some time to calm down. I was so grateful I haven’t called him right after seeing the incongruous photo. He must have been very surprised to find out that his online identity started to live it’s own (erotic) life and preventing him from creating the desired impression with his great CV he sent to a dozen companies.

Isn’t it creepy? It is.

Be digital, be human

I was wondering what if this happened at another company… Where recruiters lack the required attitudes and skills (helpfulness and willingness to give feedback) or digital skills (knowledge about social media and privacy, the ability to retrieve information from different platforms) or just simply don’t have the time to investigate the matter… Would this applicant have been rejected immediately? Or would he have gotten some questions about the photo during the interview?

Only as through analyzing this story I realized the amount of skills this case required to be investigated properly. How many tiny little things could have happened in another way to create a completely different, dark, Black Mirror styled ending? While HR software definitely have their risks, they are doubled if we don’t know how to handle them.

We do affect people’s lives and we might affect them even more than before. We just have to be aware that now we do it through a medium.