Using ATS Software to Improve
the Candidate Experience
IndustryView | 2015

According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, a bad candidate experience can negatively impact a company’s ability to recruit quality hires, as well as its bottom line. Software Advice surveyed job seekers and recruiters to help employers understand what constitutes a good hiring experience, and how applicant tracking systems (ATSs) can help with the process.

Key Findings:

  1. Unclear application instructions are the primary cause of a bad candidate experience, cited by 93 percent of job seekers.
  3. Extremely long application forms are the second most common cause of a negative candidate experience, cited by 90 percent of job seekers.
  5. More than one-third of job seekers (34 percent) say that more communication during the hiring process would improve their candidate experience.
  7. The primary thing job seekers say would improve their candidate experience is a clear timeline of the hiring process (cited by 74 percent).
  9. Over one-quarter of recruiters (26 percent) say that using an ATS is a key factor in helping them provide candidates with a clear timeline of the hiring process.

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According to the aforementioned CareerBuilder research, approximately one-third of job applicants that had a bad candidate experience with a potential employer say they are less likely to purchase products from that company. Another 78 percent say they would share their bad experience with friends and family. In other words, a bad candidate experience can be bad for business.

In light of this information, Software Advice conducted two surveys: one asking job seekers about their past candidate experiences, and one asking recruiters what steps they take in order to provide the best possible experience to applicants.

The goal of this report is to help employers better understand what constitutes a positive hiring experience, and how recruiters can use ATS software to create this type of experience for candidates.

Unclear Instructions Are Primary Cause of Bad Candidate Experiences

Writing a job posting is something of an art that requires multiple steps in order to be successful. Beyond this, recruiters must ensure that the posting is written in a way that makes it easy to find through job board and Internet searches.

According to the job seekers we surveyed, this posting must also include two key elements if employers are to start off on the right foot with potential candidates: clear instructions, and an application of reasonable length.

In fact, 93 percent of respondents note that unclear information on how to apply would negatively impact their experience with a company. For instance, the posting may not say what specific materials the applicant should provide, or where applicants should send said materials.

Top Causes of Negative Candidate Experiences

Top Causes of Negative Candidate Experiences

Using software can help recruiters avoid this very simple mistake. Most ATSs allow businesses to store past job requisitions within the system, creating a database of postings. Recruiters can use the application instructions in these postings again verbatim, if nothing has changed, or use them as a template for future postings. This reduces room for error, and saves time—recruiters must only write directions once.

According to our survey, the second factor most likely to negatively impact the candidate experience is an unnecessarily long job application. Several job seekers note that part of what makes job applications so frustrating is the need to enter the same data repeatedly.

In fact, when we asked respondents for their suggestions on how the job application process could be improved, one had a simple suggestion: “Allow uploads of resumes and information, then DO NOT require that the exact same information be entered in a lengthy application process.”

New technology—namely, the integration of social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook with many ATSs—can help candidates avoid this particularly frustrating aspect of the application process. For example, Bullhorn’s ATS allows candidates to apply using their LinkedIn profile, which the system then uses to auto-populate much of a typical employment application.

Bullhorn’s LinkedIn

Bullhorn’s LinkedIn integration feature

Candidates Suggest Better Communication to Improve Hiring Process

While over one-third of job seekers (34 percent) note they would prefer more communication overall throughout the hiring process, 28 percent say the main piece of information that would improve their candidate experience is whether they were passed over for the position they applied for.

For example, one respondent notes: “Just an email would be sufficient ... to let the person know so they are not left wondering.”

Candidates’ Suggested Improvements to Application Process

Candidates’ Suggested Improvements to Application Process

Denni Oravec is the director of programs for The Talent Board—the nonprofit behind the annual Candidate Experience Awards, which recognizes companies for providing an exemplary experience for applicants. She says that communication during the application process is one key area where companies should strive to improve.

According to Oravec, the companies that consistently win Candidate Experience Awards share a specific quality: “Ensuring that the candidates are receiving some kind of feedback and are not just left hanging.” Even if it’s only a quick email to let applicants know they’re no longer being considered for a position, she notes, this can be extremely impactful to candidates.

Training and ATS Software Lead to Good Experiences, Recruiters Say

We next conducted a separate survey of recruiters in order to ascertain whether—from their perspective—applicants to their organizations have positive experiences, and why.

Among recruiters who think their company’s applicants have good experiences, the use of an ATS tops the list of contributing factors (cited by 26 percent), second only to excellent recruiter training.

Recruiter Perceptions of Top Causes of Positive Candidate Experiences

Recruiter Perceptions of Top Causes of Positive Candidate Experiences

When asked how their software is used to improve the candidate experience, many recruiters note that their ATS helps address job seekers’ number-one complaint: a lack of communication throughout the hiring process.

“Our software sends out automatic emails to applicants at different points in the review process, letting them know what is happening and the progress of our hiring decision,” one recruiter says.

Timeline of Hiring Process Contributes Most to Applicant Experience

We also asked the job applicants in our sample about the impact of three different communication methods recruiters often employ:

  1. Providing a timeline of the hiring process that outlines what steps are involved and how long candidates can expect the process to take.
  3. Sending a personalized email to the candidate to let them know that their application has been received.
  5. Sending an automated email to the candidate to let them know their application has been received.

Of these three methods, by far the most impactful for candidates is a clear timeline of the hiring process: 74 percent of job seekers say this tactic would “significantly improve” their candidate experience, while only 3 percent say it would have “no impact.”

Impact of Communication Methods on Candidate Experience

Impact of Communication Methods on Candidate Experience

Next, we decided to compare recruiters’ ability to communicate a clear timeline of the hiring process to candidates with the method they use for managing applicants. In doing so, we find that recruiters who use an ATS—even in conjunction with manual methods—more reliably provide timeline information to candidates than recruiters using non-ATS software, or nothing at all.

(Note that while 78 percent of recruiters using manual methods say they consistently communicate a timeline to candidates, only 37 recruiters in our overall sample of 191 employ this method, compared to 136 who use an ATS.)

Impact of Recruiting Methods on Ability to Provide Hiring Timeline

Impact of Recruiting Methods on Ability to Provide Hiring Timeline

However, providing a timeline and/or consistent status updates to candidates can be quite an undertaking. To explore this further, we decided to ask those recruiters who say they are only able to provide a timeline to candidates “sometimes” or “rarely” what their primary obstacle is.

In addition to an unsophisticated hiring process (cited by 46 percent), almost one-third (31 percent) of respondents say that an understaffed recruiting department is the culprit.

Obstacles to Providing Hiring Timeline

Obstacles to Providing Hiring Timeline

Many ATSs have built-in workflows, which can help those recruiters who say an unsophisticated hiring process prevents them from providing clear hiring timelines to candidates by keeping them organized and showing them the steps involved from start to finish.

Recruiterbox’s ATS, for example, breaks down the process into eight clear stages, which recruiters can use to inform the applicant about where they stand in the hiring process.

Recruiterbox workflow

Workflow stages and assignments in Recruiterbox

Recruiters whose primary obstacle to providing more information to candidates is an understaffed recruiting department may want to consider software that provides this timeline automatically, without any effort on their part.

Many ATSs now offer a candidate portal, where applicants can actually log in to the system to view the status of their application. This allows candidates to understand where they are in the timeline—even if the recruiter at the company they applied to doesn’t have time to respond to every applicant inquiry or provide individual status updates.

jobvite applicant status

Applicants’ statuses can be viewed in Jobvite

Copyright © 2009-2015 Jobvite, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Jobvite, the Jobvite, Inc. logos and all other Jobvite, Inc. product or service names are trademarks, servicemarks and/or registered trademarks of Jobvite, Inc. and are protected by the laws of the United States and other countries. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.

In fact, one recruiter in our sample who uses a commercial ATS notes that their software is even able to customize these hiring timelines for each individual applicant.

“We use the software to see where the applicant is in the process to better formulate a timeline for them,” the recruiter says. “By seeing how long it takes them in certain sections of the process we can … give a better estimation of how long [the whole process] will take, since everyone works at their own pace.”


The candidate experience is an integral part of the recruiting process that can impact how effectively a company is able to recruit quality candidates—and even impact the company’s bottom line. According to The Talent Board’s Oravec, companies that treat their applicants well benefit in a variety of measurable ways.

“Candidates who were not hired but were treated well are more likely to apply again, to refer others to apply and to remain a customer or an admirer of the company,” she notes.

In order to have a better experience, candidates say they want to receive more feedback from employers. Greater communication and shorter application forms are the primary suggestions for improving the application process among the job seekers we surveyed, and unclear application instructions are cited as a top contributor to a poor candidate experience.

These primary factors that can make or break a good candidate experience can be addressed with the use of ATS software. As we’ve seen, libraries of past, successful postings can help clear up the issue of unclear application instructions.

Many ATS solutions also now integrate with social media—allowing applicants to auto-populate key parts of their application with the push of a button and significantly shortening the amount of time spent on application forms.

Finally, candidates’ complaints regarding a lack of information about their application status can be ameliorated through the use of candidate portals; another increasingly common feature of ATS software.

Our survey of recruiters, meanwhile, finds that the most common impediments to providing the feedback candidates desire are understaffed recruiting departments and unsophisticated hiring processes. Here again, the use of ATS software can help by allowing recruiters—especially those in understaffed departments—to ensure that each applicant receives some type of feedback.

Automating the process with ATS solutions also saves time and effort for recruiters by modernizing and streamlining the applicant workflow while helping to ensure that no candidate has a negative experience.


To find the data in this report, we conducted two online surveys. The first was a survey of seven questions, gathering 379 responses from random people from around the world. We screened our sample to only include respondents who had applied to a full-time job in the last 12 months. The second was a survey of 11 questions, which gathered 191 responses from random respondents worldwide. We screened this sample to include only respondents whose primary job function was employee recruiting. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.

Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

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