Your Guide to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Everything you need to know about applicant tracking systems, the benefits of using an ATS, and what to look for in recruitment software platforms.
More and more, employers and HR leaders are using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to optimize the recruitment process in the current competitive hiring environment. For small- and mid-sized employers, these platforms help level the playing field, meaning you can better compete for top talent against big businesses.
Find out what an applicant tracking system is, detail the benefits of using an ATS, and what to look for when selecting a recruitment software solution.
What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?
Applicant Tracking System (ATS): A hiring software tool that manages the recruitment process using an online platform.
An ATS may be provided through a comprehensive Human Resource Information System (HRIS) or as a standalone tool.
Basic ATS functions include job post creation, job post sharing, collaborative candidate review, applicant communication, and job offering tools. HR leaders can attract candidates, manage applicants, make offers, and onboard new hires via one streamlined tool.
What Do Applicant Tracking Systems Do?
When hiring managers and HR use an ATS, they can streamline and centralize all hiring processes from a single digital hub. As a result, applicant tracking systems make recruiting more efficient and effective—and give smaller employers an opportunity to find the best talent.
In so doing, both management and human resources can spend less time on the administrative side of recruiting and more time finding the right people for the right roles.
How Do Employers Use Applicant Tracking Systems?
Employers use ATS platforms to optimize every stage of the recruiting process. In 2021, the best applicant tracking systems offer all or some of the following features:
- Job Post Creation: Users no longer need to post natively to each individual job board site.
- Job Post Sharing: From the same system, users can share the newly created post on various channels.
- Central Candidate Repository: All candidate information is found in one place, regardless of where they applied (via a post on Indeed, the company website, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)
- Collaborative Candidate Review: When someone applies for a job, an ATS allows all relevant decision-makers to easily collaborate when reviewing candidates.
- Applicant Communication: Similarly, hiring managers can communicate directly with job applicants using the same system—keeping everything in-house. Even better, HR can preload templated recruiting emails that make these communications more streamlined.
- Job Offering Tools: Once a company has decided to offer a role to a candidate, they can extend an offer using the ATS.
- Onboarding: With built-in functionality, onboarding can begin as soon as a candidate accepts the new job—even before their first day.
Why Use an Applicant Tracking System?
What Are the Pros and Cons of an Applicant Tracking System?
Consider the pros and cons of applicant tracking systems:
Pros of Applicant Tracking Systems
- Streamlined Recruitment: An ATS streamlines the hiring process and provides administrators with powerful applicant management tools.
- Job Board Integrations: As mentioned above, great ATS platforms integrate with the top job boards. The result? Less back-and-forth for candidates, which encourages applications.
- Onboarding: The best ATS platforms include built-in onboarding tools that help boost retention while saving time for hiring managers.
- Hiring Savings: ATS platforms help employers find better candidates faster. As a result, for a relatively small upfront cost, hiring managers spend less time searching for the right applicants, which reduces time-to-hire and brings teams to full productivity faster.
Cons of Applicant Tracking Systems
- Bad Training Equals Poor Results: ATS platforms typically require some training. When employers refuse to invest time and energy toward ATS training—and, in effect, reduce the effectiveness of the ATS—the results may disappoint.
- Keywords Can Be Key: Hiring managers that write vague or confusing job descriptions and titles may find that they aren’t receiving the best applicants. Most ATS platforms are only as effective as their uses. In other words, HR needs to work with hiring managers to ensure job postings are perfected before posting.
Managing the Hiring Process
With an ATS, employers can manage the hiring process in a single, intuitive portal. There, they can capture a new hire’s information at the first point of contact, organize applications and candidates communications, schedule interviews, and more.
Not only does this smooth out recruitment, but it also facilitates simple onboarding and employee benefits enrollment once a new hire is made. Combined, this optimized approach improves retention rates.
For example, BerniePortal Applicant Tracking is an online applicant tracking feature that is used to recruit applicants, manage candidates, and offer and onboard new hires to the company.
Applicant Tracking System Checklist: What to Look For in an ATS
Not all ATS platforms are created equal. While it’s generally best practice for employers and HR to select the right system for their team, the following four functions are commonly found in the best applicant tracking software:
1. No Login Required
Look for a system that doesn’t require applicants to create a login to submit an application. This can deter quality applicants from applying to open positions—and slow down your time-to-hire.
2. ATS Integrations with Job Search Tools
Integrating with job search websites such as Indeed empowers small and mid-sized employers to reach even more qualified candidates. For example, BerniePortal partnered with Indeed to enhance and optimize our recruiting so that when a hiring manager creates a job in the ATS, the posting is automatically available on Indeed via a direct integration.
BerniePortal and Indeed Partner to Enhance and Optimize Recruiting:
3. Internal Messaging
Hiring managers should be able to communicate directly with job candidates within the ATS. This cuts down on inbox overflow and centralizes all relevant interactions, making the hiring manager’s job even easier.
An all-in-one HRIS means new hires and administrators don’t have to use multiple sites with multiple logins to manage hiring, onboarding, benefits enrollment, etc. Plus, one simple system also means a one-stop-shop for support.
Three Common Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Mistakes
Smaller businesses typically have fewer—if any—official HR personnel, meaning hiring responsibilities are often spread across multiple team members. Because top applicants are often off the market within 10 days, organizations with a less optimized hiring process are typically falling behind bigger companies in the war for talent.
Consider three common mistakes HR might make when using ATS platforms:
1. Not Using an ATS
The first mistake most small businesses make is not using a system to manage the applicant tracking process. They can streamline recruitment by reducing bottlenecks and allowing multiple stakeholders to coordinate when candidates apply.
2. Skipping Job Boards
Some employers prefer to first post open positions via internal postings or on their website. The problem? Many organizations don’t maximize free tools like Indeed, which are available to spread the word about open positions.
If this is an employer’s strategy, they are almost certainly missing out on talent. Indeed reports more than 250 million unique visitors every month; reaching applicants where they are means taking advantage of these tools.
Indeed is free, and there are other options, too. Further, robust applicant tracking systems often integrate with one or more of these free job boards, which allow HR and hiring managers to take advantage of the visibility of job boards alongside the streamlined nature of using the ATS.
3. Not Considering the Full Employee Lifecycle
What happens to a candidate after they’ve been hired? For example, if the applicant tracking system doesn’t integrate with the solutions the organization uses for onboarding and benefits enrollment, the employee will be forced to manually enter the same information over and over again, making new logins and passwords—and potentially getting a poor first impression of your organization.
Because the onboarding period is crucial—data show employees who have a poor onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for a new job—organizations may want to prioritize a streamlined system that handles the full employee lifecycle. That way, the new hire’s personal information is already stored in the system from their application, facilitating simple onboarding and benefits enrollment.
Where to Find an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
Standalone Solution vs. an HRIS
The first question to ask when looking for an ATS is whether you need a standalone solution or if you want to access the technology through an all-in-one HRIS.
All-in-one platforms generally provide solutions for the full scope of HR—from applicant tracking, to onboarding, to benefits enrollment and more.
Standalone solutions address just one of these needs. For most small and mid-sized employers, an all-in-one system will provide more value than adopting one or more point solutions. Benefits of this approach include better connectivity across the HR ecosystem, as well as having just one system to learn and manage.
However, if your applicant tracking needs are very unique, you may need a more robust solution provided by standalone tech.
Where to Find Applicant Tracking System Software
The second question to ask is where to access the technology. Some HR platforms are marketed directly to small and mid-sized employers, while others are provided through value-added resellers, such as benefit brokers.
As brokers compete to better serve the needs of small and mid-sized employers, they are increasingly recognizing that to solve a clients’ benefits challenges, they need to provide a solution for the rest of the businesses’ HR needs. Many brokers also cover a portion of the cost. As a result, accessing an ATS via an HRIS provided through a broker typically represents a significantly lower-cost investment than systems marketed directly to employers.
How Much Does an ATS Cost?
Different applicant tracking systems use different pricing models. The most common ATS cost structures include:
- Flat Fee: Some ATS platforms can be purchased and accessed by paying a flat rate per month.
- Variable Monthly Cost: Many ATS platforms can be purchased and accessed by paying a monthly fee that’s calculated based on a few different factors. These include the number of jobs listed each month, the number of current employees on staff, or the number of recruiters an employer contracts.
Costs vary widely from organization to organization. With this in mind, some applicant tracking systems are packaged alongside HRIS platforms for free while others can cost anywhere between $27 per month to $250+ per month, depending on the features included in the software.