What is an applicant tracking system (ATS)?

Learn what an ATS is, what this recruiting tech does and how to optimize yours for ROI

An applicant tracking system is recruiting technology or software that recruiters, talent acquisition teams and employers use to track candidates across the recruiting and hiring process. When implemented and used well, your ATS simplifies the recruitment process. It can make recruiters or your talent acquisition team more effective and efficient — which can mean stronger candidate experiences for talent, better hiring results for you.

How does an ATS work for recruiting teams?

Depending on what types of jobs you recruit for and/or how you market your job posts, some job types can get hundreds (or thousands) of applications. And the quality of those applications and candidates can vary. Their work experience might not be a match. The candidates might not have the education, certifications or training you’re looking for. Maybe there are red flags that make them the wrong fit.

An applicant tracking system helps recruiters automate and process these applications based on requirements and expectations. An ATS can save in-house recruiting teams and staffing companies time and money by automating the first sift of resumes and applications, instead of recruiters doing it manually.

What capabilities & functionalities should an ATS have?

Capabilities and functionalities depend on your business and your (ideal) hiring process. Consider how you source talent, sift resumes, screen applications and support the candidate journey. What opportunities do you have to automate the process? How can you improve speed, flow and communication? These questions are a great place to start.

Best-in-class applicant tracking systems automate day-to-day recruiting tasks, giving talent acquisition teams time in their day to build relationships, improve processes and provide personal service to candidates, hiring managers and other stakeholders. ATS automation capabilities often include posting job openings to career sites and job boards, sending check-ins, texting follow-ups and scheduling interviews.

A high-quality ATS can also deliver event- or milestone-triggered messages, like taking the next step in the hiring process or reminding a candidate to finish an application or screening. It can also track candidates’ communication preferences, so it will send those reminders or check-ins via the channel (e.g. email, text, phone call) they prefer. You can also use data and insights from an ATS to see what works, what hasn’t and what you might do next to improve your candidate experience.

How to Optimize Your ATS for ROI

The key to avoiding common ATS missteps is to take a step back prior to implementation and make thorough planning and consideration a priority. Taking into account the following four considerations can help you lay the groundwork for more detailed ATS setup and, ultimately, a better outcome for your organization:

1. Make sure all the right stakeholders have a say

When it comes to an ATS, you want to build with a purpose. Be strategic. That means ensuring the right people are able to give input from the start.  

You want the people who understand your workflows and the steps involved to provide input into its design, not just the IT folks tasked with executing it. It’s the only way to eliminate the need to track information in a spreadsheet that exists outside your ATS, which impacts the ability to pull data directly from your ATS for your reporting needs. Avoiding these types of manual workarounds at all costs must remain a constant goal, even as business needs and processes change over time. 

This 100% means involving recruiters from the start, but it also means pulling in people from other areas within the organization to ensure no points are overlooked. You can even consider involving a business analyst. If you’re unsure who to involve, we at Advanced RPO can help you decide—we have a list of steps and standards designed to ensure no stone is left unturned.

2. Set up your ATS to fit your unique recruitment processes

When setting up your ATS, keep unique variations in your recruiting process in mind. If you focus more on high-volume recruiting or low-volume exempt or niche placements, this will dictate how you set up your steps and statuses. As an example, pre-screening questions are crucial for high-volume hourly hiring, but not so much for one-off, full-time hires. 

And, I beg you, do not only set one status per process stage. It’s not feasible to manage, track, and report on. There is no way to differentiate between candidates who have been scheduled for interviews, those who haven’t, and those who have already spoken to a hiring manager. Or, which candidates have been cleared by background checks and those who have yet to complete one.

3. Make sure your ATS is integrated with other operational systems

Your ATS is the heartbeat of your end-to-end recruitment process. It must be able to seamlessly interface with your other recruitment tools and vendors. This includes your HR system of record, your background check and assessment vendors, etc.  

The more integrated all ATS workflows are, the more efficiently candidates can be moved through the hiring process. And though it may seem like a significant investment to build these integrations up front, the truth is it ends up costing more in the end due to lost efficiency, reduced scalability, and stilted productivity, especially in high-volume hiring situations.  

4. Leverage ATS capabilities to the fullest extent

Today’s applicant tracking systems come packed with time-saving functions that could elevate your hiring process even further—if you use them. By setting up your ATS correctly on the front end, you’re in a better position to benefit from all its capabilities on the back end. This ranges from pre-screening questions to automatic statusing, scheduling, and communication tools that streamline that application process and support seamless handoffs to candidates.  

But don’t overlook training when it comes to your ATS investment. Training on processes and the consistent naming of steps and statuses. Training on documentation and reporting. Training on how to determine if a new system request could impact what’s already in place, and whether that means the request is beneficial or detrimental to your end goals.

You Don’t Need a New ATS. You Need a New ATS Approach.

Talent acquisition is both an art and a science. Your ATS can help with the latter, making the hiring process more precise and concise for both recruiters and candidates. But it must be designed to shine for your organization. Create as many statuses as it takes to represent your true workflow.

Think about the specific reports you’ll need to generate and engineer the system backward from that. Empower those who use it to have a say in how you design it. Make it work for you. Time and time again we’ve helped our clients achieve amazing transformations once their ATS was redesigned with their process needs in mind. We can help you reach the same result.

› See how full cycle RPO can help you make the most of your ATS.

Avoid common pitfalls in your ATS implementation

Your ATS is the backbone of your talent acquisition function. But it can be the unsung hero or the villain. How you approach your ATS implementation and use can make or break your experience — not to mention your ROI. Let’s walk through common missteps and how to realize ROI by making the right moves from the start.