ATS Quick Summary
With applicant tracking system (ATS) software, recruiters and other hiring personnel can use features such as customized hiring workflows, resume management and applicant scoring to lower recruiting costs and hire better employees, faster.
Benefits of ATS Software
ATS software provides businesses with a number of benefits over other methods, including:
Customized hiring workflows. No two companies evaluate and hire workers the same way. With an ATS, you can customize the hiring workflow for every role in your organization to standardize the steps in your recruiting process, including interviews and applicant assessments. Task lists, shared calendars and automated alerts ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Automated job posting. Many ATS platforms allow users to post job openings to their company careers page, social media accounts and popular job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn to be seen by interested job seekers. The ability to reuse job posting templates and schedule posts in advance can save users valuable time.
Candidate data management. As applicants from various sources submit their resumes to be considered for positions, ATS software can automatically import them into a secure database for safekeeping. Comprehensive candidate profiles can be created, searched through and filtered by a number of criteria (e.g., location, role, skills) to easily hone in on what you're looking for.
Applicant scoring and ranking. ATS software provides a centralized hub where recruiters, hiring managers and more can collaborate on evaluating job applicants. Standardized rubrics ensure everyone uses the same criteria for every candidate. Some systems can even rank candidates automatically based on what you value most in an employee at your organization for a given role.
Recruiting analytics and reporting. Where are candidates falling out in your recruiting process? Which online source sends your company the best job candidates? Embedded recruiting analytics in an ATS can answer these questions and highlight areas where your organization can improve. ATSs can also generate standardized reports for compliance purposes or to keep stakeholders up-to-date.
Competitive Advantages of Using ATS Software
Every business needs an edge over competitors when it comes to finding, attracting, evaluating and hiring the best workers. ATS software can give you that edge by helping you:
Hire people faster. A 2016 study by employment insight firm DHI Group found the average job vacancy in the U.S. is 29.2 days. The longer it takes for you to find and hire a qualified candidate, the longer it will take for them to become a productive employee. ATS software can help you diagnose bottlenecks in your hiring workflow to cut down the time it takes to fill your vacancies.
Lower cost per hire. It's not always easy to understand where your recruiting spend isn't providing the best return without the proper software to crunch the numbers. Using historical information and data visualization tools housed in an ATS platform, you can better streamline hiring processes and identify new areas for optimization to lower recruiting costs.
Identify top talent. Sometimes the unlikeliest of traits can predict worker success. With ATS software, you and your team can more consistently evaluate and rank applicants. After someone's hired, you can look at their performance metrics to better understand what job applicant qualities are most likely to translate well to specific roles within your organization.
Scale your business. You can get by by keeping track of applicants with manual methods like pen and paper or spreadsheets when you're really small or in the middle of a hiring drought, but that won't always be the case. Investing early is wise, because ATS software is a vital component to growing and optimizing your business.
Businesses Sizes Using ATS Software
ATS software buyers come from a wide variety of industries and sizes, and are generally categorized by how many employees they have in their organization:
Small business buyer. These buyers have anywhere from 1-50 employees and don't have a department dedicated to HR and recruiting initiatives.
Midsize business buyer. These buyers have anywhere from 51-500 employees and are experiencing rapid growth, prompting them to hire an internal recruiter.
Enterprise business buyer. These buyers have more than 500 employees, multiple recruiting personnel and a dedicated IT department.
When you choose to purchase ATS software will depend entirely on your hiring needs, but Software Advice sees peak adoption at 1,001 to 5,000 employees:
Buyers Requesting Applicant Tracking Software, by Number of Employees
Source: "Software Needs Cycle for HR"
Software Related to ATS
Here are some other types of software related to ATS platforms that can improve your recruiting efforts or your workforce as a whole:
Recruiting software: Extends beyond applicant tracking needs to help recruiters manage employer branding initiatives, improve the candidate experience, perform background checks and more.
Staffing agency software: Specializes in helping external recruiting and staffing agencies better manage clients and quickly fill roles with high-quality talent with features like time and expense tracking, back office management and email/calendar integration.
Onboarding software: Helps businesses automate processes to turn new hires into full-fledged employees. Features include new hire task assignment, digital signature capabilities and onboarding form management.
Talent management software: Allows HR personnel to manage the entire employee lifecycle, from attraction and hiring to management and development, with applications for applicant tracking, performance management and more.
HR apps: Gives HR personnel, managers, recruiters and employees the flexibility to complete important personnel tasks on their smartphone or tablet with features like mobile clock-in and out and one-click payroll runs.
A List of Common ATS Features
ATS software vendors can include a wide variety of features in their systems, but here are some of the most common ones to look out for:
Feature Details and Examples
Applicant tracking: Allows you to track where all of your applicants are in the hiring process (e.g., first interview, background screening) for a given role. As applicants are evaluated and pushed through to the next stage in your workflow or dropped from the running, the software automatically updates that person's status in your database.
Overview of candidates in Recruiterbox
Candidate profiles: This feature allows you to maintain comprehensive profiles of all of your organization's job candidates, including resumes, contact information, social media profiles, assessment scores, manager feedback, interview notes and more. Users can then search and filter for candidate profiles based on a number of criteria (e.g., location, role, experience, keywords etc.).
Candidate profile in Lever
Job posting: This feature allows you to create online job listings for your vacancies and post them to your company's careers page, social media profiles and job boards. You can often schedule posts in advance, optimize postings to appear on Google and purchase job board ads from services that partner with ATS vendors.
Job board posting in Newton
Applicant scoring and ranking: This feature allows you and your team to score job applicants based on a variety of customizable criteria related to skills, experience and personality. Once all scores are in, hiring managers can rank the remaining candidates for a position manually, or in some cases the software can do it automatically.
Candidate scorecard summary in Greenhouse
ATS Buyers' Top Requested Features
Unsurprisingly, the most common ATS software features also tend to be the most requested by buyers. According to internal Software Advice data, job posting, resume management and parsing, applicant scoring and ranking and a searchable applicant database are the top requested ATS software features among small and midsize businesses (i.e., SMBs, defined as those with $50 million or less in annual revenue).
Top Requested ATS Software Features
The ATS Software Features You Really Need
When evaluating ATS software systems, it's important to prioritize certain features over others depending on your needs. With that in mind, here are the most crucial ATS software features for different business sizes (see the "Business Sizes Using ATS Software" section of this guide for business size definitions):
For an accurate snapshot of what retail POS software costs, download our Applicant Tracking Systems Pricing Guide.
What Are the Key Functions of ATS Software?
As we covered in the Features Guide, ATSs provide a number of key functions for your business, including:
Applicant tracking. Track the progress of all applicants for open roles, from start to finish.
Candidate profiles. Upload resumes and manage candidate details and interactions in a searchable database.
Job posting. Post job openings to company careers pages, social network accounts and job boards.
Applicant scoring and ranking. Grade applicants on a variety of criteria and rank the remaining candidates for a role from best to worst.
Recruiting analytics and reporting. Analyze your historical data to discover deficiencies in your recruiting processes, and generate standardized reports for stakeholders.
What Questions Should I Ask Vendors When Evaluating ATS Products?
It can be easy for conversations with ATS software vendors to become one-sided. After all, they're trying to sell you on their system over the competition. It's important, though, to ask questions and understand everything before signing on the dotted line.
As we wrote about in "5 Questions To Answer Before Buying an Applicant Tracking System," some important questions to ask vendors are:
How is your system priced?
As we mentioned in the pricing section, ATS vendors use a lot of different methods to price their software. Know this information well ahead of time so you can budget accordingly.
Does this system work with our recruiting strategy?
If you rely on employee referrals for quality job candidates but your ATS focuses on sourcing from social media, that's a mismatch. Make sure you find software that conforms with your recruiting strategy—not the other way around.
Do I really need this feature?
It's common for buyers to purchase a popular ATS system that's way too big for their needs and pay a lot of money for functionality they don't use. Don't get distracted by bells and whistles.
Do you offer local, high-quality support?
No ATS product is perfect. Ask questions about support options so when you encounter a problem, you can be certain that you'll be able reach someone who can help you immediately.
Should I Purchase Standalone ATS Software or an Integrated Suite?
You can purchase ATS software by itself (e.g., Jobvite) or as part of an integrated HR suite with other applications for things like personnel tracking, payroll and time and attendance (e.g., BambooHR). According to internal Software Advice data, 56 percent of ATS software buyers choose the former while 43 percent choose the latter.
SMB ATS Buyer Integration Preferences
Which way you go will depend entirely on your needs. If your focus is on advanced recruiting functionality, choose a standalone product. If you have additional needs besides applicant tracking or value tight integration between your various HR processes, choose a suite.
Do ATS Software Vendors Update Their Products Often?
Because the ATS software market is highly competitive, and because the labor market and what employers value in their workforce are constantly in flux, ATS software vendors are constantly adding features to their flagship products to gain an edge and attract attention.
Stay on top of the latest functions to look out for with our article, "5 Recruiting Trends in 2017 (and the 9 ATS Features You Need to Capitalize on Them)."
What Are Some Drawbacks I Should Watch Out For?
Don't expect ATS software to be the cure-all for your hiring woes. While these systems can help you organize, streamline and scale your recruiting operation, they can't fix bad hiring strategies or an inferior employer brand.
Also keep in mind that a poorly chosen or implemented ATS can do significant damage to your online candidate experience—which can cause talented applicants to drop out of your hiring funnel. Take time to ensure this transition for job seekers into your system to apply for positions is seamless, regardless of device or web browser.
Tips & Tools
Build a Business Case for ATS Software
It can be tough to convince executives to invest in new software. When making your business case for ATS software, focus on these three ROI drivers:
Lower your cost per hire. Using embedded analytics, you can identify areas to refocus your recruiting budget and save your company money.
Hire people faster. Being able to discover bottlenecks in your hiring process can allow you and your team to evaluate and hire talent quicker, and fill empty seats faster.
Retain better talent. ATS software can help your team uncover which traits truly translate to role success, increasing worker productivity.
Here are some recent articles about ATS software you should check out:
Popular ATS Software Comparisons
Check out some recent articles comparing ATS software products:
Recent Events in the ATS Software Market
Here are some important recent events concerning ATS vendors and the ATS software market:
Google debuts Google Hire. In April 2017, a website went live for what's predicted to be Google's entry in the ATS software market: Google Hire. Details about the product are scarce, but Google is expected to reveal more information soon.
Microsoft debuts Dynamics 365 for Talent. In April 2017, Microsoft announced a new recruiter-focused offering in their popular Dynamics suite called Dynamics 365 for Talent. The platform integrates with LinkedIn, which Microsoft acquired in 2016.
Saba Software acquires Halogen Software. In February 2017, Saba Software announced that they had acquired ATS vendor Halogen Software, makers of Halogen Talent Acquisition.
Top Products - August 2017 FrontRunners
Our FrontRunners™ Quadrant
FrontRunners quadrants highlight the top software products for North American small businesses.
To create this quadrant, we evaluated over 315 ATS products. Only the top 25 to 30 products made the quadrant because they scored highest in capability (x axis) and value (y axis). Those scores are based largely on reviews from real software users, along with other product performance details (e.g., what features they offer, how many customers they have). You can download the full FrontRunners for Applicant Tracking report here.
Small businesses should use FrontRunners to make more informed decisions about which software is right for them. See our About FrontRunners page for more information.