Secrets of the ATS: A chat w/Oracle/Taleo GM Nagaraj Nadendla

Continuing my series of interviews with the CEOs of leading ATSs, today I’m happy to share my conversation with Nagaraj Nadendla, GM and SVP of Oracle Cloud Recruiting solutions.

Oracle operates the 2nd most popular ATS for $100K+ jobs and is consolidating the naming of their product from Taleo to Oracle Cloud Recruiting solutions.

Marc Cenedella:

So, can you explain how an ATS, and Taleo, and Oracle’s Cloud Recruiting solutions work?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

So recruiting solutions have evolved from thinking about digitizing the resume to simplifying the workflow, moving from spreadsheets into some sort of a workflow mechanism. Today’s recruiting systems are much more than that. The way you attract candidates has changed. It encompasses the way you engage, source, attract, convert them into candidates and then eventually to employees.

I typically try to stay away from the ATS moniker because recruiting solutions have evolved beyond that.

Marc Cenedella:

Yeah. And how did you come to be involved in Taleo and Oracle Recruiting Cloud  solutions?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Well, personally, that’s been a sort of an interesting journey. I used to be in the traditional CRM (Customer Relationship Management) world for several years, back in the early 2000s. And I had a stint at a company called Evolv, an Assessment Provider. And that was my foray to broader HR going from the CRM and  sales force automation world.

So, assessments for high volume hiring was an interesting transition for me. We built a platform; I spent a few years there and that’s how Taleo came calling. And I transitioned into a GM role at Taleo for the recruiting business. Eventually, we were acquired by Oracle. So it was a transition from traditional Customer Relationship Management into HCM (Human Capital management) for me over the last decade or so.

Marc Cenedella:

And when did Oracle acquire Taleo?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Oracle acquired Taleo in 2012.

Marc Cenedella:

And so what’s new for Oracle/Taleo in 2021?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

We’ve built a fully reimagined recruiting solution that is a part of our Cloud HCM with a compelling candidate experience. I cannot emphasize that enough.  No authentication logins required. And we’ve built CRM functionality, advanced sourcing, and all of that natively.

Marc Cenedella:

So when we survey our members at Ladders, they say on average, it takes them 18 minutes to complete an application. Should it take 18 minutes to complete a job application for a high-level professional?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

In a nutshell, no, it should not take 18 minutes. 

The unfortunate thing is the recruiting systems get the blame for that, but it’s not always the recruiting system. 

Customers make choices. The length of the application process, whether a candidate is able to import their profile from LinkedIn or Indeed, or wherever, or submit a resume that gets parsed automatically and pre-fills a lot of the data. Some will ask you questions, they’ll put you through various disclaimers, they want a lot more information. 

It’s a customer’s choice at the end of the day. I feel that as technology providers, we sometimes take the blame.

Marc Cenedella:

Right. Everybody always blames the ATS!

What can I do to make sure my resume gets past the ATS?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

So again, these are processes customers control. 

At the end of the day, profiles/resumes get presented to recruiters, and it’s the person who’s doing the screening.  You’re at the mercy of their process.

Marc Cenedella:

When I apply to a job through Oracle/Taleo, does my resume get a score?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Yes and no. It depends on the customer. Nothing in our technology does it automatically. Individual organizations make a choice based on their needs. One might score you a certain way so your profile bubbles up, or based on your resume and the skills that an organization is looking for, depending on the way they evaluate.

But with machines in the mix, some provide scores for applicants.

But it’s not so much scoring – it’s whether there’s a match identified either by the human or the machine. Then you’ll certainly bubble up. It’s not an exact science.

Marc Cenedella:

Right. So, there are a lot of new entrants that have come into the market in the last decade. How is Oracle/Taleo addressing the challenges and the opportunities from these new entrants?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

I think many of them come from different perspectives. Some come from the point of view of ‘I’m going to do a much better job at the top of the funnel with the way you engage in personalized experiences with candidates’. Others have come from advanced sourcing and they’ve got great tools, while some think about campus capabilities and they’ve expanded the footprint into other aspects of the recruiting funnel.

We think today with our approach, the way we built our recruiting cloud, as part of Cloud HCM, we address a hire-to-retire scenario from universities all the way through multiple tours of duty at a company. People come in, they leave, they come back. But for having that single view of talent across the board, that’s what we’ve built in our solutions. 

Marc Cenedella:

Yeah. That’s great. Well, why did Google fail in this space with their Google Hire ATS?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Interesting question. I don’t claim to know exactly why they failed or if they failed, but I think sometimes – and we’ve seen this with some of our partners too – enterprise applications are not easy, right? You not only need to have unique features, whether it’s delivered through AI and machine learning, but for the recruiting function to work end-to-end. 

And that’s what we’ve always known with Oracle, and now as we’ve delivered Cloud HCM.

If something goes wrong, if you’re unable to hire, whether you can’t accept an application, a submission, or you can’t generate an offer in time, or you can’t hire properly, it’s visible. And it’s painful for organizations if you can’t.

If you fail in hiring, it’s extremely visible.

Marc Cenedella:

Right.

Nagaraj Nadendla:

And enterprise customers with global presence, with multitudes of data privacy, and security and compliance needs across the globe – these are non-sexy things, but that’s what makes these things tick, right? So it’s not easy to be in this business, to begin with, and to operate at  scale globally. Our perspective is, these are not easy things to solve.

Marc Cenedella:

And now with Indeed’s announcement, does it appear that they’re trying to get into this space?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Well, I’m sure everybody is trying to do something.

Marc Cenedella:

I promise you, Ladders will never get into ATS space. 

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Many have tried this, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to make enterprise customers successful. So, I don’t know what it means yet. Based on these announcements, we’ll have to see how they evolve. But like others, they’re a partner, so we’ll see, we’ll have conversations and see. 

Marc Cenedella:

So, look it’s 2021. Do I need a resume, really? Isn’t this all about profiles and social profiles and social media now? Do I need a resume in 2021?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Not necessarily. It’s not an absolute must. Having some sort of a digital persona is important. Resumes have been that vehicle for a long time, but they don’t necessarily need to be an absolute requirement, no.

Marc Cenedella:

What percent of your clients are standardized on using the resume?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Almost everybody allows a candidate to upload a resume, but it’s a choice. The candidates have a multitude of choices. We allow a digital profile to be imported from LinkedIn or Indeed; or  upload a resume, et cetera. It’s a choice the candidate makes. Our customers facilitate all of the above, and it’s really up to the candidate to determine the digital persona they want to present to the employer.

Marc Cenedella:

What can I do resume-wise to ensure my application makes it through the ATS, to a happy end result?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

I’ll share what I tell my kids. In this day and age, I think it’s important to highlight the skills you have. The other thing I’d say is that it needs to be interesting. It needs to pique the interest of either the machine or an individual. 

And the last thing I’d say is something about you has to be part of that digital persona. “I have X number of skills. I have this, I have that.” That’s good, but it’s not enough to bubble to the top. If you want to go all the way through that process, that digital persona should translate into a real persona.

Marc Cenedella:

How do systems differentiate between ability levels and skills? I might have been doing Java, or FP&A, or Salesforce Administration for 8 years.

If Candidate A has been doing it for 8 years, and can nail any task that you put in front of her, and Candidate B has been doing it for 8 years and yet he still can’t do the basics. When you say it’s turning to skills-based screening, how do I stand out? If I’ve got eight years verus somebody else who has got eight years of experience?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Yeah. That’s the hard part to evaluate.

The work you do exactly on the job at the moment is the hardest part to evaluate. 

Hopefully, that’s fleshed out in the rest of the selection process because people have to interview. In the interview questions, it’ll be along the lines of, tell me a hard problem you solved, how did you solve it, and so on. If you’re unable to sort of walk through that and re-live that experience, you will get selected out of the process.

Marc Cenedella:

How come when I submit my resume, they always garble the parse?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Some things are much easier to extract. If you think about the global workforce with so many styles in the way people present their digital persona through a resume, it’s a hard science. The technology is hard to solve. There’s always things that will not parse properly. 

Marc Cenedella:

But the user’s going to say, Tesla can drive a car through crowded city streets and you can’t figure out the year I went to college???

Nagaraj Nadendla:

I would say for a majority of the information, depending on the formatting, there’s 70-80% better accuracy today than there was 10 years ago. It’s gotten better, but there’s still a sizable percentage that leaves a lot to be desired. As much as machine learning has improved, it’s not easy. Particularly with extracting entities. It’s not an easy thing to do. Specific things, yes, such as your name, educational background, and others, but with other entities, sometimes it’s hard to do. 

Marc Cenedella:

Well, at least resume readers have a future that isn’t threatened by robots. In the Oracle/Taleo products, do recruiters actually use resume database search?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

So, the word resume is too strong a word. Yes, they do profile searches and the searches include resumes. The entire available data set about every candidate is searched, including a document such as a resume. So yes.

Marc Cenedella:

And at your larger company, larger customers, isn’t that overwhelming? If I type in Java, I’m going to get 3 million results.

Nagaraj Nadendla:

If I take some of the largest customers with millions of profiles and I picked Java as an example, there might be a few hundred thousand people. Do I need all of them? Maybe I’m searching for people in a certain geographical area. I can sort of filter further to get to the population that is available. 

Marc Cenedella:

What advice do you have for someone in the job search?

Nagaraj Nadendla:

When I talk to any individual, I always tell them “An employer-employee relationship is no different than any two people, right?” You have to give the other person a reason to take a chance with you.

An offer is nothing, but somebody is willing to take a risk with you. You have to give them enough reasons in the selection process to do so.

Marc Cenedella:

That’s great. Well, look, I really appreciate you spending this time to explain to our readership… how this whole system works.

Nagaraj Nadendla:

Okay. I like to help, Marc.

Marc Cenedella:

Thanks so much, Nagaraj!

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