Applicant tracking systems (ATS) have never been more important than they are right now. As the Great Resignation has continued, with the U.S.’s quit rate reaching a 20-year high in November 2021, companies have found themselves needing to fill a lot of positions quickly. In fact, 84% of companies reported that they struggled with labor shortages in 2021. Alas, many recruiters simply can’t hire people quickly enough when they do everything manually.

Applicant tracking tools, which streamline the application, interview, and follow-up process, are critical to your company being able to act more quicky on qualified candidates, which gives you a distinct hiring advantage.

Table of Contents:

What is applicant tracking software?

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Applicant tracking system (ATS) software is an HR (human resources) tool that organizes, standardizes, and reports on a company’s entire hiring process. A business that implements an ATS benefits from a streamlined hiring workflow with job postings, career site builders, interview tools, approvals workflows, notifications, email integration, and analytics.

Moreover, applicant tracking systems give human resources an organized and standardized recruitment process to follow. A hiring manager approves the job description which a team member posts to the job board. Then, the software connects all relevant documents that candidates submit like résumés, cover letters, and notes to the job description, so hiring teams can make direct comparisons among candidates.

While the human resources team owns the software, hiring managers and interviewers also need access to the software. HR can access the full range of hiring tasks in a single interface from candidate sourcing through evaluation, hiring, and follow-up. Companies can track each part of the application and hiring process in the tool, from start to finish. However, applicant tracking systems do not typically provide onboarding tools.

Some ATS options use keyword matching or AI-powered résumé parsing to automatically filter unqualified candidates from the hiring pool. Team members review applications, make notes, message other team members, and record candidate feedback right in the software. With approval triggers, workflows, and document storage, HR reps automatically send offer letters, contracts, and follow-up emails to candidates based on approvals or rejections during the recruitment process.

Top applicant tracking systems comparison

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    • Pricing Tier
      Average
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      no
    • Mobile App
      yes
    • Free Trial
      Freemium
  • Product

    Zoho Recruit
    • Pricing Tier
      n/a
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      no
    • Mobile App
      yes
    • Free Trial
      yes
  • Product

    Jobvite
    • Pricing Tier
      Average
    • Job Board
      no
    • Onboarding
      yes
    • Mobile App
      no
    • Free Trial
      no
  • Product

    RecruiterBox
    • Pricing Tier
      Average
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      no
    • Mobile App
      no
    • Free Trial
      yes
  • Product

    Greenhouse
    • Pricing Tier
      n/a
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      yes
    • Mobile App
      yes
    • Free Trial
      no
  • Product

    iCIMS
    • Pricing Tier
      High-end
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      yes
    • Mobile App
      no
    • Free Trial
      no
  • Product

    Bullhorn
    • Pricing Tier
      High-end
    • Job Board
      no
    • Onboarding
      yes
    • Mobile App
      no
    • Free Trial
      no
  • Product

    Jazz
    • Pricing Tier
      Average
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      yes
    • Mobile App
      no
    • Free Trial
      yes
  • Product

    Workable
    • Pricing Tier
      Average
    • Job Board
      yes
    • Onboarding
      yes
    • Mobile App
      yes
    • Free Trial
      yes

Why do you need applicant tracking software?

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Applicant tracking systems can make recruiting vastly more efficient, allowing them to hire more people with less time and effort. These systems help employers dig through high volumes of résumés to quickly find candidates with the right qualifications, so hiring managers can spend their time qualifying candidates for soft skills not found on a résumé like creativity and collaboration. This is very important because 72% of HR departments cite a lack of qualified candidates as a major issue.

ATS tools can also help companies promote diversity initiatives by tracking key diversity metrics that provide insight into the tools and strategies that help the company hire a more diverse employee base. With Gartner naming DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) one of the top five HR trends for 2022, this will continue to be a focus for ATS platforms moving forward.

The software also helps companies respond quickly to job seekers, which increases overall candidate satisfaction. According to one 2020 survey of job applicants, 33% did not receive a follow-up email from the company they applied to, a problem easily fixed with automated workflows in an ATS.

 

How ATS systems work

Once a candidate completes a job application on the website, the ATS automatically parses and screens résumés according to previously determined keywords. The ATS passes along qualified talent to the recruiting team for follow-up by sending an email or in-app notification.

As the hiring team moves candidates through the recruiting process, the candidate’s résumé, interview answers, video interview recordings, and other key documents are saved in a single interface. Hiring managers can review the assets at their convenience, add notes, up- or down-vote the candidate, and send email or text message alerts to the candidate about their progress.

Many ATS systems also integrate with recruiters’ calendars to automatically schedule interviews for each qualified candidate. Offer letters and other document templates can be created to save time, and some systems may also provide background checks or verify paperwork during the onboarding process.

Finally, the ATS database saves the files of qualified applicants for future reference. This helps the recruiting team build a passive candidate pool for future openings.

Top ATS vendors, by market presence

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Major features of applicant tracking systems

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ATS systems are the company’s digital hub for hiring. It centralizes an organization’s recruitment database by housing all information on candidates, job openings, and placements. The following are key components that modern applicant tracking systems should offer.

Career site

An ATS system should include a brandable portal featuring job descriptions, customized input forms, pre-screening questions, automated résumé screening, candidate ranking, and email notifications. Good ATS systems also include a company-facing portal where employees can view job postings, apply, or refer outside candidates.

Keep in mind that while some ATS tools will let you host your own careers site on a page on your own website, others will require that your careers site will be hosted on their own platform. There are pros and cons to either option.

Advanced search

This powerful search and sorting feature lets recruiters quickly filter candidate listings by keywords, phrases, and skills or experience. Since an ATS works as a database of all potential candidates, this information can help HR professionals find the perfect fit for their current open position and understand the types of individuals who apply for their positions as well. Companies can also use this data to write better job applications to attract better candidates from the beginning.

Candidate profiles

Candidate profiles include the ability to upload interview notes, files, documents, and additional information to a candidate’s CV. Thus, assessment tools and reference checking are important components of this candidate information function. Some vendors may refer to the overall workflows of organizing applicant communications as candidate relationship management.

Interview tools

Automatic interview scheduling, video interviewing, and the ability to record and track notes from candidate interviews are becoming increasingly popular. Major ATS systems provide these options directly or through integrations with third-party tools to facilitate digital interviews.

Analytics and reporting

A digital, paperless recruiting process allows you to gather, store, and generate reports to help you pinpoint bottlenecks in your talent acquisition process. The system should let you track your social sourcing efforts to gain visibility for specific job openings, track listing engagement, and even manage advertising campaigns.

Other features

Additional functionality and workflow customizations will vary from system to system. These may include website integrations, job ads, document collaboration, event management, rules and permissions, and integrated marketing automation tools. Some vendors will include them as standard, while others may offer them as add-ons.

ATS software vs. recruiting software

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An applicant tracking system is a major component of recruiting software; though, recruiting software generally includes many other tools that increase its talent acquisition capabilities. Applicant tracking systems started as a way to scan paper résumés into a database. The technology evolved to filter, manage, and analyze candidates in the hiring workflow. You can find an ATS in nearly any HR software because it’s a useful tool for businesses of any size.

By comparison, recruiting software is best suited for recruiting agencies and enterprise businesses, as it equips users with tools to hire employees at scale: task management, social recruiting, public relations, CRM, billing, and a portal for clients.

Also Read: Recruiting Software Comparison: The Best Solutions For Enterprise, Medium, And Small Business

Compared to ATS systems, recruitment software is considered a complete solution for an organization’s hiring process. However, the market is changing rapidly and talent management software is at a crossroads. The line between system types is blurring, as vendors constantly release new features to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. These next-generation options swiftly become standard, and buyers are left with no obvious way to discern between systems.

Additionally, this constant market transformation creates a confusing lexicon with little standardization amongst providers. For example, you will find some vendors strictly call their solution an ATS, though it could be considered recruiting software since it covers sourcing, tracking, onboarding, and analytics. On the other hand, many vendors market their solution as recruiting software, despite only containing features of an in-house ATS.

The overwhelming number of features and ATS options available and the variety of names companies use to describe these options—hiring software, human capital management, talent life cycle management, recruiting software—makes performing an applicant tracking system comparison difficult.

There’s no denying that talent acquisition is a critical and strategic HR function. So, while the market fights over definitions and what to call features, we advise that you don’t get caught up on how vendors label themselves. Instead, keep your focus on the goals of your business, and learn what you want your system to do for you.

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Where can you streamline and automate your hiring process?
  • What is your old software missing?

Answering these questions will determine what you need from a new system, which means you get the best software for your business—whether it’s called ATS, workforce recruiting, talent acquisition, or something else entirely.

Applicant tracking software trends

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The hiring world is now focused on managing a company’s people network. Today’s HR teams use social media, in-person events, marketing tools, and hiring customer relationship management (CRM) solutions in addition to traditional résumé tools. The intersection of several key trends is driving ATS innovation.

Artificial intelligence

As one of the biggest trends driving ATS development, AI can help automate many of the repetitive tasks of the hiring process, freeing up precious time for recruiters to spend one more valuable activities. However, AI does have its drawbacks, including trained behavior mitigating diversity and inclusion efforts and missing qualified candidates. But with proper and unbiased training and some human oversight, AI can be  a powerful and useful element of any ATS system.

Candidate assessments

Can you tell if your candidates are qualified or just selling themselves? With online tests, you can validate skills and ensure your candidate is a good fit from the start. Hiring assessments can include skills tests completed in the ATS, personality tests from outside vendors, and custom questions provided by the hiring managers.

Also Read: The 5 Best Pre-Employment Testing Software Solutions

Social recruiting, employee referrals, and online talent networks

Social recruiting can draw on data from social networks and use personalized messaging, gamification, and automation to target active and passive candidates and improve candidate engagement. Recruiting is moving beyond job postings, so employers must develop a talent pool made up of fans, candidates, employees, alumni, and even customers. These connections can be used to gain employee referrals and find talent faster.

Also Read: Why Modern Recruitment Goes Past The Resume

Video interviewing

In addition to recruiting internationally, easing scheduling conflicts, and improving the candidate experience, video meetings and interviews guarantee authenticity and standardization in the selection process. All qualified job seekers or applicants will undergo the same interview process, and hiring groups can independently evaluate each candidate.

Also Read: A Short Guide to Video Conferencing Etiquette

Web-based and mobile-first platforms

Modern web-based software deployments and mobile-first platforms make hiring anytime and anywhere possible. The majority of Americans have a smartphone within reach 24/7, so mobile-optimized career pages allow candidates to apply and interview right from their phone. Additionally, HR managers can move away from desktops and laptops and recruit, manage interviews, and qualify candidates on tablets, phones, and other devices.

Building an end-to-end workforce management solution

An applicant tracking system is no longer simply a repository for résumés. Now that the entire hiring process has gone digital, companies know they can use recruiting data and analytics to optimize their processes. Recruiters can predict which candidates fit the position based on their application data. They can also analyze the recruitment marketing programs, candidate experience, mobile apps, and social media usage to increase the likelihood of finding the right candidates.

Since hiring transitions into onboarding and talent management, more and more companies seek an all-in-one system that handles other HR processes in addition to applicant tracking functionality. Vendors that offer a full HR suite can eliminate duplicate data and inefficient workforce management across an organization.

Applicant tracking software applications for different business sizes

It’s best to view choosing an applicant tracking system as finding a strategic business partner rather than just picking a software vendor. You’ll need a platform that sustains a long-term relationship and meets your changing business needs. Different business sizes and types may need additional tools, so it’s important to consider common ATS applications to ensure the vendor you choose is a good culture fit. The market is generally divided into three tiers:

Enterprise ATS systems

Large organizations need an applicant tracking system that integrates with existing HR or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Highly complex global enterprises also require strong collaboration, allowing recruiters to share applicant data and receive feedback from hiring managers. Large companies with legacy applications in desperate need of an upgrade should consider integrated suites from one vendor or ensure any new ATS will integrate seamlessly with existing systems.

Agency ATS tools

For high-volume recruiting, staffing agencies need many of the same options as enterprises. But agencies need additional features to handle client needs, such as customer relationship management (CRM) functionality. Moreover, agencies should consider industry-specific recruiting software. However, applicant tracking software quickly evolves, so software purchases should be based on functionality rather than labels.

SMB ATS solutions

Thanks to SaaS deployments, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can get the benefits of an enterprise ATS in a simpler and more economical format. SMBs should put scalability near the top of their requirements list. This can be judged based on the amount of available data storage, the pricing of additional job postings, or extra tools available at higher pricing tiers.

Some businesses with no HR department initially sign up for a free applicant tracking system with limited functionality. This can be a great option for startups, but growing companies will eventually need a paid solution to handle more positions, users, and tech support.

As an SMB scales, it can be tempting to upgrade with a vendor in order to circumvent data transfer to another system. But while the current vendor worked for previous hires, different tools may be needed to keep up with growth.

Applicant tracking software applications for different business sizes

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It’s best to view choosing an applicant tracking system as finding a strategic business partner rather than just picking a software vendor. You’ll need a vendor that sustains a long-term relationship and meets your changing business needs. Different business sizes and types may need additional tools, so it’s important to consider common ATS applications to ensure the vendor you choose is a good culture fit. The market is generally divided into three tiers:

Enterprise ATS software

Large organizations need an applicant tracking system that integrates with existing HR or ERP systems. Highly complex global enterprises also require strong collaboration, allowing recruiters to share applicant data and receive feedback from hiring managers. Large companies with legacy applications in desperate need of an upgrade should consider integrated suites from one vendor or ensure any new ATS will integrate seamlessly with existing systems.

Agency ATS tools

For high-volume recruiting, staffing agencies need many of the same options as enterprises. But agencies need additional features to handle client needs, such as customer relationship management (CRM) functionality. Agencies should consider industry-specific recruiting software. Keep in mind that applicant tracking software quickly evolves, so purchase software based on its functionality rather than its label.

SMB ATS solutions

Thanks to SaaS deployments, small- and medium-sized businesses can get the benefits of an enterprise ATS in a simpler and more economical format. SMBs should put scalability near the top of their requirements list. Judge this based on the amount of available data storage, the pricing of additional job postings, or extra tools available at higher pricing tiers.

Some businesses with no HR department initially sign up for a free applicant tracking system with limited functionality. This can be a great option for startups, but growing companies will eventually need a paid solution to handle more positions, users, and tech support.

As an SMB scales, it can be tempting to upgrade with a vendor in order to circumvent data transfer to another system. But while the current vendor worked for your previous hires, you may need different tools to keep up with your growth. Evaluate your company’s goals and growth projections to see if the vendor will continue to be a good fit moving forward.

How to create executive buy-in for an ATS system purchase

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Creating executive buy-in is one of the most challenging portions of the software adoption process. To overcome this obstacle, you’ll need to build a compelling proposal that addresses how individual departments, as well as the company as a whole, will benefit from the new ATS.

Executives invest in solutions that save or help make money, avoid risk, or serve long-term strategic purposes. To ensure successful adoption and long-term ROI, you must appeal to the differing pain points of your C-level audience, so they see the need for an ATS.

Applicant tracking systems streamline administrative tasks, simplify the hiring process for hiring managers, and create one central location for all your workforce data. To create a common language and shared perspective, you’ll need to connect the dots for other decision-makers. You should speak their language and use data to back up your proposal. Below are a few ways to align your initiative.

CTO/CIO

Talking to your technology leadership before a project starts may feel like overkill, but it’s important to involve them in new requests as early as possible. Your company’s IT department is constantly aligning company goals and infrastructure, security, downtime, data back-up, and so on. IT helps your business function efficiently and stay agile and competitive in the market. Therefore, you should seek their advice early and often to minimize implementation issues later.

Chief information officers (CIOs) can help ensure an ATS system aligns with the company’s growth and three to five year technology life cycle plan. They’ll likely be interested in solutions that reduce infrastructure requirements, updates, and support as well as the potential to reduce their needs for internal infrastructure. They’ll eventually manage your ATS anyway, so make the IT department your ally upfront. When HR and IT can stand together behind a new proposal, you’ll have a better chance of buy-in from other executives.

CEO

Your chief executive officer (CEO) is concerned about the big picture rather than the specific functionality an ATS offers. Talent and leadership shortages are a huge business challenge: Recruiting and hiring tied with HR data analytics as the No. 1 HR concern for 2022, per PWC’s annual HR Tech Survey. HR technology can alleviate these concerns.

With data the ATS generates, HR departments can provide key information on applicant conversion rates, how long it takes to review résumés, and interview-to-hire pipelines. These tools can also predict what skills will be needed and help HR plan for those changes. Time saved by automating hiring tasks can then be used to focus on improving strategic initiatives that attract and retain talent.

CFO

Before your initial meeting with the chief financial officer (CFO), you should know how much an ATS costs and how much it can save the company. Prices vary with inclusions and add-ons, but your shortlist isn’t the only item your CFO needs to see. You should be prepared with ways an ATS will give back to the company. Consider presenting the following metrics and how technology can improve or affect them:

  • Hours spent by HR per new hire
  • Turnover rate and loss of revenue per vacant position
  • Number of résumés received per job
  • Cost of ATS per year, per new hire, and per applicant
  • Time spent on old processes versus time spent with new ATS (this estimate may come from a free trial, demo, or case studies in your industry)

In short, you’ll need to know the potential ROI (return on investment) and prove that a modern system will allow you to continually measure new hire quality as well as use that information to fine-tune the recruiting process.

Choosing the best applicant tracking system

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Ready to find the best ATS system software for your business? From guides to reviews to side-by-side system comparisons, product information, and research articles—we’ve done the hard work for you. If you need guidance choosing a solution, we can help with free personalized product recommendations via our Product Selection Tool. Click the image below to get started.

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