Applicant Tracking Systems: What You Need to Know

By Jennifer Olsen

applicant tracking system

After years working as an in-house recruiter and now as a recruiting consultant, I’ve experienced firsthand how much an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can help companies and HR departments. Thanks to technology, recruiters and companies can more easily collect and rank resumes, screen candidates, schedule interviews, and solicit feedback from hiring managers. While today’s ATS have helped create important operating efficiencies, human interaction remains a necessary and important part of understanding nuances and making hiring decisions.

Can we rely on a computerized model for all of our recruiting needs?

Current ATS platforms rely on users to input information or answer questions that are deemed relevant for a particular job opportunity and company culture. The system assumes that the requirements have been thoroughly vetted by HR and the hiring manager before being uploaded. This model also assumes that the applicant’s experience will fit neatly within the specified fields and allowable characters.

The decisions people make, the experience they believe to be suitable for a role, or how they will perform a task in an ATS will vary based on unpredictable factors including mood and whatever else may be going on in that individual’s life at any point in time. “The problem is that humans don’t always adhere to logical processes,” says cognitive psychologist, Chris Forsythe.

An ATS is only as good as the inputs it receives. Because we know that fatigue, stress, emotions, and distraction can interfere with logical processing, it’s critical that we include human interaction as part of the recruiting model. Humans are able to analyze, assess, and act on candidate information with a depth that’s not possible when relying only on what an ATS delivers.

What ATS options are available?

There are a large number of systems available to help guide and narrow the applicant pool. The best way to fully understand what’s possible is to look at a few ATS platforms to compare the types of services and features they offer:

  • Greenhouse: This ATS earns praise for having one consolidated dashboard from which companies can track sourcing activity including referrals, job boards, social media campaigns, in-person events, and external agencies.
  • Jobvite: Social recruiting features including automated social media posts and referral tracking help harness the power of current employees in recruiting efforts. According to the Jobvite website, one customer has seen a 35% increase in referral hires thanks to the social referral features.
  • Bullhorn: Users cite the ability to integrate this system with others such as Outlook and Google Apps as a plus for implementation and workflow.
  • JobScore: PCMag labels this as “a great entry-level applicant tracking tool for companies that don’t have much money to spend.”
  • Taleo: HR analysts note that this platform (aimed at larger organizations) can help an enterprise effectively track compliance around diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO).
  • Compas: This system is optimized for mobile devices, which users say helps them access information and take action regardless of their location.
  • ATS on Demand: One reviewer commented that this system helped ease some of their company’s growing pains by allowing them to organize and streamline the recruiting and application process.

What questions should I ask about an ATS?

ATS features create operating efficiencies and save time. Companies best use the “extra time” saved to create human connections between the ATS, recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates. These interactions are what help companies evaluate important hiring factors such as motivation, personality, and truly relevant experience.

If you’re considering using an ATS, consider these five things when you review platform offerings:

  1. Will this system create efficiencies in your current recruitment process?
  2. What features do you need?
  3. Does this ATS integrate with other systems currently in use or future systems?
  4. Can this ATS meet your needs five years from now?
  5. How does the ATS help us think through inputs void of bias, mood, fatigue and personal preferences not shared by all?

Resourceful HR provides support to clients around the basics of getting an ATS up and running. However, for a successful ATS integration, you’ll need IT support and dedicated resources to implement and maintain your system. It is also important to ensure that the ATS is operationally integrated into your recruitment process flow so it will support your business, as well as potential candidates.

The ATS experience candidates will enjoy should also be considered. Features such as being able to check the status of an application or creating a candidate profile for future jobs are things most candidates appreciate. But candidates also crave human connection when applying for a job or when they simply want to learn more about your company. We can use applicant tracking technology to our advantage, but each successful search requires sourcing, assessment, and interviews with human interactions built in that engage applicants and help ensure you find the right fit.

Jennifer Olsen

"My professional passion stems from a fascination with how the individual needs of employees, managers, and the business converge to produce an outcome. I’m driven by a desire to help leaders and employees find the balance between competing needs so they can work together to address the challenges they face."