“Secrets of the ATS” — a chat with Greenhouse CEO Daniel Chait

You have questions on Applicant Tracking Systems, and I’m getting you answers, interviewing the CEOs of the top ATSs in my Secrets of the ATS series.

Today I have the pleasure of sharing my conversation with Daniel Chait, CEO & Co-Founder at Greenhouse. Greenhouse is ‘the Hiring Software company’ and ranks #4 on Ladders’ list of ATSs supporting the most $100K+ jobs.


Daniel Chait is CEO and Co-founder of Greenhouse, the hiring software company with a mission to help every company become great at hiring. 

Marc Cenedella:

Thanks for joining us! Starting off, can you talk a little bit about Greenhouse, why you guys started and what was the purpose for creating the Greenhouse ATS in the first place?

Daniel Chait:

Yeah, absolutely. We actually didn’t think about it as starting an ATS company, Marc. What we thought was that for so many people, getting a job, and getting the right job, is one of the most important things in their life. And for most teams making the right hire is one of the most important things they can do. And in both cases, the process just wasn’t working. 

Marc Cenedella:

What about the process wasn’t working?

Daniel Chait:

Most of it. 

Previously, companies only had so many ways to find people and now it’s almost the opposite problem. Whereas before the Rolodex with those 30 great people was like gold, now my Rolodex and your Rolodex and everyone else’s Rolodex has the same 700 million people in it. It’s called LinkedIn. And so with all of this information online, the question becomes how do you find the right person at the right moment and interact with them to get them into your hiring process, number one. Number two is once you’ve done that, people have so much transparency and so much mobility and so much availability of career options now, that you have to make your job a place that they want to be.

We set out to rethink what it means to build hiring software for companies for whom the ability to hire the right person is one of the most important things that they can do, for our clients such as Airbnb, NerdWallet, and Lyft.

Marc Cenedella:

How do I know if my resume made it past the ATS?

Daniel Chait:

This is the thing, right? ATSs are not all the same. There are still a number of ATS products where they apply some kind of algorithm, or AI, or whatever process, automated process, that filters out and shows the company, “Here are the candidates you ought to look at and here are the ones you ought not to look at.” 

Greenhouse doesn’t do that. We help our customers get through that application file quickly, efficiently and fairly. Because everyone who applies for a job deserves a fair chance. Now the truth of the job market today is that it’s easier than ever to apply for jobs, and so people apply for way more jobs than they used to.

When I applied for my first job out of college, I had to put a 25 cent stamp on every envelope, print out resumes at Kinko’s on ivory paper, and print envelopes.

Marc Cenedella:

Yes! The Kinko’s visit!

Daniel Chait:

Literally – should I buy the ivory, or should I buy the white?

Marc Cenedella:

And always a little bit panicked because you don’t know what you’re doing.

Daniel Chait:

And when I applied for my first job, I only sent out so many. But with a few clicks today, you can apply to any job in the world. People typically will apply for dozens of jobs when they’re looking. Companies do have a much higher volume of candidates to get through than ever before. 

So especially at the top of the funnel, in that early application stage when you first apply, you should expect for any job you apply to, that almost all of the time, they’re going to quickly say, “Hey, you’re not what we’re looking for.  We’re not going to be able to proceed.” It’s just a math problem. You shouldn’t take it personally. It’s just the world that we live in.

Think about it from the company’s standpoint: they’re going to open a job up and get 100 or 200 applicants, and then they’re going to screen out a third of those to be interviewed by the hiring manager, and then give a test that a third of the people are going to pass. Finally, they’ll have a short list of four or five candidates to come on site, and hire one of them. 

If you do the math, you realize you probably need to apply to between 50 and 100 jobs to have a reasonable chance of getting hired. 

I think most people, when they think of their job search – “I’m going to apply to a bunch of jobs,” – only apply to three or five or 10! 

Most applicants don’t have a 10% or a 25% chance of getting hired. They have a 0.1 or 0.01% chance of getting hired.

Marc Cenedella:

We’ve surveyed our Ladders users, asked them “How long does it take you to fill an application?”  The answer came back 18 minutes! Why does it take 18 minutes on average to fill out a simple application? 

Daniel Chait:

It absolutely should not. When you get to that careers page and they say type in the name of every school that you went to and the years that you were there, and the educational degree you have. And then type in basically everything you already put in your resume. Type it in again into a bunch of tiny little text boxes that look like they came out of the DMV. That’s just a fail. 

To me, that’s the company not putting their best face forward to you, the candidate, who they’re trying to hire; to the talented people that are going to power their company. So it shouldn’t take 18 minutes, and I think increasingly candidates aren’t putting up with it.

Marc Cenedella: 

Do I need a resume? Isn’t LinkedIn enough? Why do I have to have a resume in 2021?

Daniel Chait:

It’s one of these persistent things, Marc. I mean, there is a growing set of people who don’t look at or use resumes. I rarely look at resumes of people I’m interviewing because I don’t think it’s the most important way to think about a person. But in reality, I think that’s still aspirational – to say you don’t need one for most jobs. 

And I think the reality of today’s job market for most people is that you do need a resume because it still is common, the standard. The same way we all still use email to communicate, which was developed in the seventies. Resumes are still like the cockroach of the recruiting industry. They’re always going to be around for the foreseeable future.

Marc Cenedella:

Does Greenhouse score my resume at all?

Daniel Chait:

Greenhouse does not score resumes.

Marc Cenedella:

And why not? 

Daniel Chait:

Unfairness. Everyone’s resume is wildly different in what they write and how they write it. 

Any kind of automated scoring system of a document like that is subject to the biases of the people who are building the algorithm and the data that’s used to train that algorithm or that scoring system. It’s hard to trust those or have any transparency into what they’re doing. So that’s a task better left to the hiring managers and the teams looking for the people.

Marc Cenedella:

So how does Greenhouse work? Say, for example, I live in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m applying for a director of logistics job. The company uses Greenhouse. I get to their site. What happens?

Daniel Chait:

Yep. The first thing you’ll see is on the company’s website or careers page. There will usually be a careers tab, and you can search around for the listings by department and role, and you can apply. And we want to make that really easy for the candidate. 

There’s a very easy one page form, that the company can customize as to exactly which fields they want to show. You fill in those fields and you apply!

This whole thing of “First, you’ve got to create a new password, and then you’ve got to have a log in, and then you’ve got to upload your resume, and then retype all your education over again…”.

None of that, nobody wants to do that. The companies don’t  use most of that data. And so we skip that step. You can apply and fill in the form in 30 seconds. 

Marc Cenedella:

So what can I do resume-wise to ensure my application makes it past the ATS?

Daniel Chait:

The hallmarks of a good resume are, first of all, to do the easy stuff right. And I know this is going to sound obvious, but if you’re not going to do the easy stuff right, people aren’t going to trust you to do the hard stuff right. 

The easy stuff: spelling, don’t have typos, formatting, don’t have a million different fonts, have stuff lined up and make it look neat, good editing, have simple short declarative sentences, action words, make the timeframes you were in different jobs clear…

It’s simple stuff. But if you don’t do it, it’s very easy for that recruiter to pass on you.

Beyond that, think about the resume from the point of view of the person reading it. It’s about creating very simple obvious wins and benefits and things you did and making it clear to the reader, the value you added and why that mattered to the team. That’s the way to give yourself the best chance. 

It’s not about optimizing for a computer algorithm. It’s about optimizing for the person who’s going to look at the resume and deciding if they’re going to invest their time in meeting with you.

Marc Cenedella:

What information does Greenhouse parse, and what does the employer see?

Daniel Chait:

In Greenhouse, the company is going to see your resume exactly as you have submitted it. So they’ll see a full image of it right there, and they’ll be able to scan it with their own eyes. 

Marc Cenedella:

Does it parse out the work experience and education? That you went to U. Michigan and graduated class of 2012?

Daniel Chait:

It will do a full text indexing of all that information, so that the company can use that in search. But most resume parsing technology is not good enough, nor is it useful enough to companies to bother structuring all of that in an automated way. If I want to find people that worked at Xerox or that went to Michigan, I can type those words into the search engine in Greenhouse and it will find those resume matches. 

But to try to parse it out in a highly structured way, ultimately leads down the road of, “Well, we should make the candidates type all this in again.” It always does. And it’s not something that most candidates want to put up with. And it’s not something that most recruiting teams need, or will make a lot of use out of. So it’s best as a search platform.

Marc Cenedella:

Do recruiters actually use the resume database search in Greenhouse?

Daniel Chait:

Oh yeah. All the time.

Marc Cenedella:

And how does that work?

Daniel Chait:

When you apply to a job at a company that uses Greenhouse, such as Pinterest, Twilio, Stripe or DoorDash, your application information will stay on file with that company and they’ll use it in other job searches.

When they open up a new job, Greenhouse can help them search for people that they’ve already met with, who they may want to reach out to or notify that there’s a new role.

Let’s say you applied for a product marketing job. You are second place, silver medalist for that role, but we offered it to someone else. Next time one of those roles comes open, the company will be able to search for people who had that status on the last search and reach out to them and say, “Hey Marc, we’ve got another role that you might be interested in. I invite you to check it out and apply here.” 

By far the biggest complaint we hear is that they never hear back. Candidates hate that. They apply to millions of jobs, they interview, and they just don’t ever hear back. And all they want to know is, “Am I still in this, or am I not?” One of the things that Greenhouse does a good job of is helping our customers automate the process of making sure they get back to everyone. So in Greenhouse, when you reject a candidate, you say, “Nope, this isn’t someone we look forward to meeting.”

Now they can choose not to send that email for a variety of reasons. But by default, Greenhouse will prompt them every single time to send an email back to the candidate letting them know that they’re not going to be moving forward. And that is by far the number one complaint that most people have in their job searches, “I never heard back.” 

Marc Cenedella:

And why are recruiters in HR hesitant to use that functionality in Greenhouse?

Daniel Chait:

Well, they use it in Greenhouse a lot. 

I think the biggest reason why they generally don’t get back to people is because traditionally their workflows are shaped by their ATS. And most ATSs thought of themselves as tracking systems, not hiring systems. And so the job of the software was to help the person do the tracking, not to help the person do the hiring, right? 

With Greenhouse, we say, “We’re here to help our customers do a great job at hiring. And part of great hiring is getting back to the candidates.” So as a necessary piece of that, it’s obvious that we’re going to show our customers, here’s what needs to happen when you file a resume and get back to them.

The other problem is there’s no feedback loop. The fact that they don’t get back to these people and they disappoint all these people, never shows up in a recruiter’s performance review.  It doesn’t show up on a dashboard anywhere. It’s not part of any kind of compensation. It’s invisible, right? 

At Greenhouse, we will automatically send out a survey to the applicants that apply to jobs. And that survey feedback comes back on a regular basis to the company so they know what’s working and where the problems are.

They’ll see it in a real way – these are your actual applicants giving you direct feedback about what they applied to, what did they think of the interviews, was everything run well? It can’t be dismissed: “Oh, this is anonymous data. We don’t believe it.” 

Our companies use that interview feedback information to drive improvements in their processes internally.

Marc Cenedella:

Last question: What advice would you have for a friend, a college buddy, a cousin applying to jobs?  

Daniel Chait:

You have to think of some way to stand out. And so I would say use your network; use the communities that you’re a part of to find a way to showcase yourself to that company. People have done amazing things on social media where they’ve created video for some brand, or commercial for the company and gotten their attention.

Other people have created work that’s  relevant to the company and showed it on their GitHub profile, or in other ways. Finding some way to be not another one of the hundreds or thousands of applicants in their inbox increases your chances of finding the right job.

Marc Cenedella:

That’s awesome. Thanks so much, this has been great. Really appreciate your taking the time and explaining this to our nine million members.

Daniel Chait:

Great to catch up with you. Thank you.

~~~

We thank Daniel at Greenhouse for his terrific insights, and all of the CEOs who have shared their wisdom for our Secrets of the ATS series.

And for ATS-optimized resume advice, see my detailed article The High Score Resume format: How to write a resume for 2021.