Applicant Tracking System Software SMB Buyer Report – 2014

By: on November 23, 2015

Every year, Software Advice speaks to thousands of buyers in the market for applicant tracking system (ATS) software. The vast majority of these buyers are from small businesses (those with less than $100 million in annual revenue).

From these interactions, we’ve learn the top ATS software buyer trends of 2014, including what system buyers are currently using to track their applicant pool, why they’re seeking new software to replace that system and what pain points they’re experiencing with it. This provides us with unparalleled insight into their unique needs and motivations.

We recently analyzed a random selection of 385 interactions with small-business buyers over the past year-to-date to discover what they’re looking for in new software, and compared this with the data from our 2013 report. We also spoke to Hugo Pereira and Timoté Geimer of Alpsquare, an HR consulting firm, for additional insight into the trends we uncovered.

Key Findings

  1. The percentage of buyers using manual methods to track applicants has decreased since 2013.
  2. As compared to 2013, more buyers are seeking new ATS software in 2014 to support company growth.
  3. Forty percent of buyers want an ATS with the ability to automatically post jobs to social media and job boards.

More Buyers Used Manual Methods in 2013

Most buyers in 2014 (61 percent) are still using manual methods, such as email and spreadsheets, when managing their candidate pools. However, the percentage of buyers relying on manual methods decreased slightly from 2013, when 67 percent of buyers reported using this tactic. This is especially surprising since our data from 2013 was not exclusive to small businesses, but included buyers from all size ranges.

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods: 2013 vs. 2014

When we look at ATS buyers exclusively from 2014—the blue line in the chart above—we can see that manual methods were by far the most common way in which buyers were tracking job applicants. And while 30 percent of these buyers were using some form of software, only 15 percent were using commercially available software specifically intended for use as an ATS.

These findings are in line with Pereira and Geimer’s experience. According to them, they generally encounter a few specific buyer types.

“Very small companies [that] don’t have any software and are just using Excel spreadsheets,” are the first type, Pereira says. “When they start growing, they realize they need a solution.” Because the buyers in our sample represent small businesses, this seems to be the case for many of those we consulted.

On the other hand, Pereira speculates that those buyers looking to replace their current commercial ATS are likely shopping again because “the market is evolving so fast that at some point, they realize they need additional features.”

The most notable instance of this, Pereira notes, is the ability to automatically post open positions to social media and job boards—a feature that is becoming increasingly common in new ATS software, and (as we see below) is increasingly in demand.

In 2014, More Buyers Need Software to Support Growth

The need to increase efficiency and organization was still the top reason buyers provided for purchasing a new ATS—although fewer buyers gave this as their primary reason for seeking software in 2014 (37 percent of buyers) as compared to 2013 (45 percent).

Top Reasons for ATS Software Purchase

However, the percentage of buyers seeking software due to company growth almost doubled in 2014. In 2013, only 11 percent of buyers noted they were looking to purchase software because their current system was unable to support the growth of their business. In 2014, 18 percent of buyers said this was the case.

New ATS purchases necessitated by a growing number of new hires is likely correlated with decreasing unemployment rates in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since last year, unemployment is down 1.1 percent—meaning 1.7 million fewer people are unemployed.

Job Board Posting Most-Requested Feature in 2014

In 2014, we began asking asking ATS buyers what particular features they’d like their new software to have. As Pereira speculates above, many current owners of ATS software may realize they need a new feature that wasn’t available to them when they made their initial software purchase.

When we calculated what features buyers requested most often, our findings support Pereira’s hypothesis. As you can see below, for small-business ATS buyers, the ability to automatically post open positions to job boards and their company careers page through the software was the number-one requested feature—no matter what method they were currently using to track applicants through the hiring process.

Top-Requested ATS Software Features, 2014

About one-third of buyers (32 percent) also wanted their new ATS to have a searchable database of applicant profiles that they could sort through using specific keywords. In third and fourth place, respectively, were reporting capabilities (31 percent) and candidate tracking (29 percent).

Core HR Most Popular Application to Supplement ATS

In 2014, we also began asking ATS buyers what applications, in addition to an ATS, they were searching for. As you can see below, 17 percent noted they were looking exclusively for software that performed the functions of an ATS (a “best-of-breed” application).

Meanwhile, 1 percent noted they wanted an ATS as part of a fuller, “integrated suite” package, bundled with the vendor’s other HR software applications. And 82 percent noted they were looking for an assortment of applications in addition to an ATS, but that these applications did not need to be part of a package.

Integration Preferences, 2014

When we look at the data more closely, we find that, of the 82 percent of buyers seeking another application in addition to an ATS, almost one-quarter of them were looking to streamline two of HR’s core functions: personnel tracking and benefits administration.

Top-Requested Applications Supplementing ATS, 2014

As all of buyers in this study were from relatively small businesses and many were using manual methods to track candidates and employees—not to mention the fact that many businesses were experiencing growth—it makes sense that most would be seeking software to assist with such core functionality as personnel tracking and benefits administration.

On the other hand, because these businesses are still relatively small, more complex applications such as performance reviews or succession planning were understandably less popular: these are not crucial to ensuring a business functions day-to-day, and are often unnecessary until a company reaches a certain size.

Majority of Businesses Under $25 Million in Annual Revenue

As stated in the introduction, the buyers included in this analysis all represent organizations with $100 million or less in annual revenue. Because the data from our 2013 report included businesses of all sizes, a side-by-side demographic comparison isn’t possible.

That said, while our data only includes businesses with up to $100 million in annual revenue, in 2014, we found that the largest chunk of prospective ATS buyers came from even smaller companies. In fact, 50 percent of the businesses we spoke to that were seeking new ATS software represented organizations with $6 to $25 million in annual revenue.

Demographics: Prospective Buyer Size by Annual Revenue, 2014

When it came to the number of workers employed by these organizations, we found that 76 percent of buyers employed 500 or fewer employees—the threshold the U.S. Small Business Administration generally uses to define a small business.

Demographics: Prospective Buyer Size by Number of Employees, 2014

Finally, software/technology and manufacturing were the top two industry segments from which buyers came to us in search of a new ATS.

Recent analysis shows these industries to be among the fastest-growing in the U.S. When businesses grow, hiring rates also grow with them. The need to quickly increase their workforce in these industries has likely driven business owners and HR professionals to seek more efficient means of hiring.

Demographics: Prospective Buyers by Segment, 2014


The market for applicant tracking systems is mature. But while many vendors have mastered the basics of tracking communication with candidates through the hiring cycle, as well as the ability to store and search that data, buyers are seeking more: they want the latest and greatest innovations in this space.

In 2014, more buyers are seeking a new ATS to replace an existing solution. This is a change from 2013, when significantly more buyers were seeking software to replace the manual methods they had in place. Social recruitment is growing quickly, and the ability to post on job boards and social networks is a feature that an increasing number of buyers require in their new ATS purchase.

When it came to the number of workers employed by these organizations, we found that 76 percent of buyers employed 500 or fewer employees—the threshold the U.S. Small Business Administration generally uses to define a small business.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact

The detailed methodology for this report can be found here.


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