But the systems have their limitations, acknowledged Haag-Hatterer, president and CEO of Consulting Authority LLC.
"You've got to spend the time to get the right system in place, customize it and set up the criteria that will best give you the return you're after," she said. "And that can be a moving target. You don't just implement software to parse through hundreds of resumes."
Most large companies have comprehensive screening systems in place. Now smaller companies have begun testing the waters, using recruitment software systems that look for specific keywords in resumes and cover letters.
Haag-Hatterer, however, warns that employers that do little more than rely on keywords may hurt their chances of finding the right people.
"If you're picking out words that everyone uses — strategic, budget, planning, something that's an ambiguous term — you're not doing yourself any good," she said. "All it tells you is how to beat the system, and qualified applicants may be left out of the selection process."
The bottom line for companies, she said, is how comfortable they are allowing a tracking system "to parse through and make a decision on who you follow up with and who you don't."
Baltimore-based sports apparel maker Under Armour, which is growing and hiring, said it decided last year to overhaul its applicant tracking system to speed up searches. The company gets, on average, 35,000 applications a month.
Troy Barnett, Under Armour's director of HR process and technology, called the new system "extremely effective," allowing the company to divide applications by division: retail, corporate, international and distribution, and then assign them to specific recruiters.
"Once we find candidates, we have the ability to create questionnaires and rank resumes and candidates to get the best candidate for the position," Barnett said. "It gives the recruiters more information when they're looking at a particular candidate, and [the ability] to ask those tough questions sooner than later."
At Under Armour, about 85 percent of candidates for a particular position move to the next level of review, where recruiters try to match responses with job descriptions, he said. The company usually interviews about five to 10 people by phone before narrowing the field for in-person interviews.
"The biggest thing we do is educate our recruiters and hiring managers to work as a team to understand what a job is calling for," Barnett said. "There are situations where someone may not have the exact experience we're looking for, but something in a resume triggers their being a person for the next step."
Like the private sector, public agencies also rely on computerized tracking systems. HHS Careers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' recruiting system, posts federal job vacancies to USAJOBS, the government's official online job site.
"Top talent is quickly identified, speeding up the Federal hiring process," according to the department's website.
But many applicants who regularly use the system complain that applications rarely move on to hiring managers and never lead to interviews.
Applicants said the government system offers little chance to highlight their strengths and provides little or no feedback.
Elaine Sarao, a Washington resident who has worked in foreign affairs since 1994 and currently serves as a Franklin Fellow in the U.S. State Department, said she has applied for both lower- and upper-level federal jobs at various agencies since 2007.
"I have not gotten one interview," Sarao said. "They are so narrow in the way they look at people. If they are looking for a lima bean counter and you've counted pinto beans and black beans, they'll say they can't hire you because you've not counted lima beans."
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