How To Choose an Applicant Tracking System
Choosing an applicant tracking system can be a daunting task. In fact, choosing any software is tough, but when it comes to applicant tracking systems, it's made worse by the fact that there are too many options. For every segment of the market—startups, small businesses, medium-sized businesses, enterprises—there are many options that you could potentially choose from, each with their own upsides and downsides.
Yet, it is undeniable that an applicant tracking system can make your life easier. As you try to scale up your hiring, a good ATS can keep everything under control and ensure that both candidates and the people hiring them have a good experience.
For most businesses, especially small businesses and startups, hiring often tends to be ad-hoc: you have an opening, you come up with a job description, you advertise in a few places, talk a few potential good candidates, and through a not-so-great process, you hire someone. It happens again in a few months and you follow the same process.
That works when you're hiring for a couple of positions every year, but if you try to hire more, it's easy to lose out on a lot of good candidates and make the process a nightmare for everyone involved. Things slip: there are candidates who never get a response, candidates who are ghosted during the interview process. Between all of this, the people who are managing recruitment have no idea what's going on.
A lot of those things are the signs of a broken hiring process. And let's be honest: no applicant tracking system will fix a broken hiring process. However, it can help you get organised, be consistent, and in turn it can help you focus on what needs your attention the most.
An ATS isn't just about organisation though. Modern applicant tracking systems are more akin to a recruitment CRM. Every job nowadays tends to receive a lot of applications and, of course, a lot of good ones. You probably have to pass some good candidates for every opening. With an ATS, you could build a talent pool, and, when you have a similar opening in the future, you could start by contacting some of those people.
Application tracking systems can help you build all the little pieces that make for a good hiring process. A clear hiring process, with each stage assigned to a particular person, the ability to set up a good referral process, the ability to increase your job's visibility on job sites and social media, and the ability to understand what's working and what's not working for you. Simply put, the right applicant tracking system can help you simplify and improve the process and cut costs.
Choosing the right ATS is important. But it can be a daunting process. More so nowadays when there are so many options to choose from. In this guide, we will look at some of the things you must ask yourself to choose the applicant tracking system that suits your business and your recruitment needs.
Do you need an applicant tracking system?
D’oh! You’re reading this because you need an ATS, of course. Or do you?
Although there’s no time too early to start improving your recruitment process, if you have a very small team (1-2 people) and don’t plan to hire more than a couple of people in the next year, an ATS is not going to make a major difference.
An ATS can be really helpful when you need it, but keep in mind that it’s yet another tool to learn, yet another tool to use, and yet another tool to keep up with. So, if you don’t really need it, don’t get one.
Start with the right expectations
Hiring is tough. There are many reasons why it’s tough. The difficulty in managing and overseeing a consistent and predictable process is just a part of the entire picture.
For example, if you are taking too long to fill a position, it may be that your pipeline is too long. Or, it may be that you’re not getting enough quality in the pipeline. That isn’t a problem an ATS can solve for you, although many systems will help you get your jobs to a wider audience.
Understand what an ATS can help you with and what it cannot. You will find that makes your search a lot easier.
Asking the right questions
In order to choose an applicant tracking system that's right for your business, you need to understand your hiring process well. As a small business, you don't want an ATS to add unnecessary formalities to a process that's lean by default. A slow moving job pipeline is frustrating for both candidates as well as the recruiters.
Ask yourself the right questions to understand what you need. I would recommend you start by making two lists:
- Features that are essential to you: things that you absolutely cannot do without (for example: search, careers sites, integrations), and
- Features that are nice-to-have but not essential: things that can improve your processes but aren’t exactly necessary (for example: in-depth reporting, automation).
Here are some examples:
- How many job openings do you regularly have? Do you close or pause job openings frequently? If so, you need your ATS to provide a way to manage these openings easily. A hosted careers site where applicants can look at the open jobs and apply to the ones they want. Most systems will offer this.
- Do you source candidates yourself? In that case, you will need your ATS to support sourcing. Many recruitment software, like enlist, provide you with sourcing features that allow you to add a candidate yourself or from sources like Github, StackOverflow, Dribbble, or LinkedIn.
- You might even want to receive applications via e-mails. A lot of systems support this, but it's a good thing to check nonetheless.
- Does your pipeline have several stages, or different stages for each job? Do you schedule a lot of interviews? You will want an ATS that offers you interview scheduling capabilities as well as the ability to customise your job pipeline. There are some that can offer you self-scheduling which takes away a lot of back and forth.
- How do your interviews work? Does your ATS help you manage your interviews? Are there external integrations with, say, calendar services? Anything else you need?
- Do you usually (or want to) follow up with candidates that get rejected? Do you send a lot of similar e-mails? You need your candidate tracking system to offer you canned responses (or e-mail templates) so that you don’t waste your time writing and re-writing the same emails over and over again.
- Is your team involved in your recruitment process? It should, if it isn’t. You want something that allows you to easily collaborate with your team and get feedback.
- What kind of reporting capabilities do you want? Some organisations may want in-depth reporting. Some may not need reporting all that much. Understand the things you want to report on, how often, and make sure that your ATS offers this.
- Are there any legal/compliance requirements? For example, every business needs an ATS that is GDPR compliant. Depending on where you are, you may need more. Make sure you understand your legal obligations and choose an ATS that can help you meet them.
- Are there any other things that you don't like about the way you hire right now? When you start shopping for an ATS, it might be a good time to take stock of your existing hiring process and see if you would like to improve something too.
- Do you need any special integrations? If you're using other services, such as, say, Slack, you might want to see if your recruitment software integrates with Slack. How about integrations with testing or background check services? Do you need API access?
- Do you need mobile apps? Some systems also have mobile apps that can help you hire on the go.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. A good software—of any kind—isn’t just a checklist of features. It’s the entire experience that either makes or breaks it for you. You don’t want an unintuitive, clunky software that makes you jump through hoops to get even the simplest of things done. You want one that’s carefully designed, from scratch, to help you simplify hiring.
Don't forget to ask your team! The people who are participating in day-to-day hiring activities will know a good deal about what they want and, ultimately, they will be the ones using whichever ATS you end up choosing.
How do you ensure that that’s the case? Let's explore that next.
Get a trial (or a demo)
When you are making a list of the things you need and a shortlist of applicant tracking systems that satisfy those requirements, it’s important to take them for a trial run.
What should you look for in a trial? Several things.
First and foremost, does the ATS satisfy your requirements? Does it have all that you need?
What does it look like for the candidate? Send an application as a candidate, send a couple of emails, and find out what the experience is like for a potential candidate. You don't want something that makes people jump through the hoops just to submit an application.
Is the support responsive? Good support is critical both when you’re just starting out and when you’re a regular user of a software product.
Does your team like it? It's important to get buy-in from everyone on your team. After all, it's them who need to use it. When it comes to purchasing software, there’s nothing worse than buying something that doesn’t get used.
Last, what does your future look like? Can the system grow with you or will you outgrow it soon enough? It's important to look for something that can support your growth beyond the short term. You don't want to be switching applicant tracking systems twelve months from now.
Once you have an answer to these questions, you can narrow down your list further. Then take each of them for a trial run, or get a demo, and see which ones you like using the most.
Pricing is a complex topic. You’ll find applicant tracking systems priced at the very low end, at the very high end, and everywhere in the middle.
There are applicant tracking systems that cost thousands of dollars for an annual license. You install it once, you train your team, and you are set up. Others are web-based that don’t require a contract. Many have pricing based on the number of active jobs you have.
One thing to keep in mind—when you're growing fast—is how long you can afford to run without an ATS. It's easy, perhaps even better, to run your recruitment on e-mail and spreadsheets when you're hiring for just one or two jobs. But if you're hiring for more than a couple of jobs, an applicant tracking system can offer a lot more than just organisation. A good system can help you optimise your recruitment, find bottlenecks and get things done a whole lot faster.
You cannot look at pricing in isolation. Ultimately, you have to weigh your budget, the value you are getting out of an ATS, and how the pricing will scale for you when you have more jobs. Last but not the least, the pricing must be flexible. You probably aren't hiring all the time, so it should be easy to switch between plan and even pause for a little while.
For many companies, especially the larger enterprises, high-end ATS software might be a good fit; for SMBs, on the other hand, applicant tracking systems that are more affordable and easier to get started with might be a better bet.
Do you already use another applicant tracking system? In that case, you also need to understand the migration options that are available to you.
Migrating your existing data can be tricky. It depends largely on what you want to move and the export capabilities of your existing ATS. Here are some of the things to consider:
- How would you export your data from your existing ATS? Do they provide an export functionality? Do they have an API that could be used to export your data?
- How well does your new ATS support importing data? What are the things that it can import? What does it need from you? What about the website? When you’re changing your ATS, you’ll need to update your website and integrate with your new careers site too. Can the new ATS help with that?
- Answering these questions will help you make the migration a lot easier. In any case, if you’re looking to migrate existing data, ask the ATS you’re looking at if they can help. Planning for it in advance will help mitigate any issues later.
- Last but probably the most important part of a migration: educating your team. Many systems will offer onboarding and customer training, so it’s not something to worry about, but you should ask nonetheless.
Choosing a new applicant tracking system—or moving to a different one—can be daunting. There's a lot to think of. It's an important choice for any growing business, so it's just as important to take your time and evaluate a few different systems and see what each one of them has to offer.
We hope this guide helped! At enlist, we can help you make the process seamless, whether you're trying an applicant tracking system for the first time or moving from some software. Interested in trying us out? Sign up yourself, or if you have any questions, let us know.