Almost all companies face the same challenge: how to find and hire the best people for their business. An applicant tracking system (ATS), which is software that allows recruiters and hiring managers to track, organize and communicate with candidates, can help companies better address this challenge.
However, small businesses might not require all the bells and whistles offered by many paid systems. The good news is the ATS market has exploded in recent years, which means companies today have a wide range of options available—including free ATS software.
For many companies recruiting on a budget, free ATS tools are obviously an attractive option. But can a free system effectively meet your organization’s needs?
We spoke to some popular free ATS software companies to understand how these free systems work, what types of businesses they’re best suited for and the most important considerations while evaluating free versus paid systems.
How Do Free Software Vendors Make Their Money?
Vendors of free ATS software typically generate revenue in two ways:
- Charging customers for third-party services, such as job posting, candidate assessment or video interviews, and;
- Offering an introductory product at no cost to the end user, then charging for upgrades to additional features.
Generally, vendors will allow users to post as many job postings as they like to free job boards. But if you want to advertise your job openings on paid sites, such as Monster or LinkedIn, you’ll have to pay for the service.
The most popular free ATS solutions include:
All offer both free and paid options, except for Qandidate.com, which only offers a free version. The vendors have revenue–sharing agreements with various third-party service providers—meaning users can often get a discount on job board prices as a result—and take a cut of what the end user pays to use their services.
Additionally, some ATS vendors provide lists that help you shop for the right job boards. Many vendors even recommend which job boards will provide recruiters with the most candidates based on data they’ve compiled over time.
The second way these vendors make money is to offer a paid version of their software, hoping that many companies will find this version more attractive as their organization grows and requires more functionality. In essence, the free version is a way to get smaller companies in the door. As they expand, firms can easily upgrade to the paid version without having to transfer their data to a different ATS.
While capabilities in free versus paid versions will vary slightly, Dan Arkind at JobScore puts it simply: “What it really boils down to is if you need more advanced functionality, you’re going to need to pay.”
What Features Do These Systems Offer?
Most free ATS systems feature the essential components companies usually look for when seeking an applicant tracking system: application management, a resume database and job posting capabilities. (Don’t worry about the user interface—the free and paid versions of these systems are all virtually the same.)
Essentially, these free systems serve as relationship management systems. Once a candidate applies, the system creates a profile that serves as a repository for all information regarding that applicant. This includes storing resumes, correspondence with the candidate, their status in the hiring process and comments recruiters and/or hiring managers may make on how well suited they are for a position.
Screenshot of a candidate profile in iKrut
However, when it comes to advertising open positions, analyzing recruiting metrics and other bells and whistles, chances are you’ll have to pay. Below is a list of features each of these vendors offers for free.
|Email Tracking / Templates||X||X||X||X|
|Careers Website Integration||X||X||X|
|API and Integrations||X||X|
How Many Positions Are You Hiring For?
Every free ATS vendor representative I spoke with prides themselves on the ease of use and quick implementation time of their product, which makes their systems attractive for smaller companies.
Qandidate.com, for example, found that its product performs especially well among companies that lack an official recruiting department. According to Ralph Brasker, Qandidate.com’s director of marketing and product innovation, many of his company’s clients are “small and medium sized businesses that don’t have a dedicated professional recruiter.”
These are the types of companies that free ATS software is built to serve—small businesses that hire for only a few positions at once. In such cases, the office manager can handle the added workload with the help of a free ATS solution.
However, once you start hiring for more positions at the same time, most organizations will employ a designated recruiter. As JobScore’s Arkind pointed out, “In the event that you’re perpetually hiring five or more people at a time, it’s usually somebody’s job.” When that’s the case, it’s likely that your business has reached the point where you’ll require a paid solution.
On that note, while none of these free ATS solutions limit the number of users who can log in to the software, vendors note that the more users you have, the more likely you’ll need a paid version. They say that regardless of your business size, the decision is usually dictated by the number of users.
Do You Need Sophisticated Recruiting Reports?
The type of reporting capabilities your company needs will depend largely on its size. The larger you are, the more complicated your reporting needs become. As Arkind notes, “When you’re small, simple reports are fine.”
That’s good because most users of free ATS software are small organizations and most of the free ATS software include basic reporting capabilities. For example, JobScore’s free software offers four simple reports:
- Job posting activity: Where you’ve posted jobs, and how many applications you’ve received from those posts.
- Job sharing activity: How often the URL for your specific job posting has been shared or posted across social sites.
- Referral activity: How many referrals you’ve received for each of your open positions.
- Compliance reports: Whether your company is compliant with federal hiring regulations.
JobScore’s breakdown of candidates by source
The other free ATS vendors also offer similar reporting capabilities, with some offering slightly more or less advanced reports. For instance, iKrut allows users to track the source of candidates for each job, which they can compile over a 12-month period to see which job boards are working best. iKrut can also identify the number of applications you receive each month and your cost-per-hire for each job.
The types of reports offered in free systems are ideal if you’re hiring for only one or two jobs at one time. Once your company grows and multiple people start using your ATS to recruit for many positions at once, you need detailed analytics.
Vendors say that premium reports are better suited for enterprises as the reports filter the different jobs, locations and evaluation to gauge the performance of various sourcing channels. These reports target the heads of talent acquisition or VP of HR and provide a clean dashboard when companies are hiring for numerous positions at once.
If you need advanced reports, Arkind says, you’ll need to pay. For example, you’ll need to upgrade in JobScore if you want to know specific metrics, such as how quickly hiring managers are responding when you send them a resume or how long your candidates remain in each stage of the recruiting process.
Do You Need (or Want) Designated Support?
One of the most costly functions for any software vendor is support and training. As Nick Leigh-Morgan, the founder of iKrut says, “If we’re giving our system away free of charge, we can’t be in a situation where we’re going to get hundreds of phone calls and emails a week, so it’s essential for us that users can be up and running without the need for any help from us. But we still offer them support if they need it.”
While training is not included with any of these free systems, some offer limited support.
|Support Features||iKrut||JobScore||Qandidate.com||Zoho Recruit|
Also, many of these free systems are straightforward, so end users can figure them out in a matter of hours. The vendors we spoke with specially mentioned that they strive to create easy-to-use software, as it reduces the amount of time their staff devotes to helping users.
According to Brasker, Qandidate.com has “customers who receive their credentials in the morning, and in the afternoon they’re an advanced user, have created five requisitions and have the first candidates applying.”
Additional Information and Considerations
Transitioning Between Software Tools: If your company needs an ATS in a crunch, but can’t decide on a paid system, free ATS could help you out. All the solutions listed here ensure that you own your own data, so when—or if—you decide to change systems, you can easily export your information to a CSV file and upload it to your new ATS. However, do note that the vendors may charge a nominal fee for providing that data.
Social Recruiting: Recruiters are fully embracing the value of social media when sourcing candidates. Most ATS vendors now allow users to integrate their software with social sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Three of the four vendors highlighted here offer social recruiting—i.e., the ability to post job openings and track job applications from social networks.
Mobile Capabilities: If you’re looking for extensive mobile capabilities, you need a paid system. The abovementioned vendors did say that their systems can be accessed via a mobile browser. However, advanced mobile capabilities, such as the ability to text applicants updates with their progress, are generally included only in paid ATS systems.
HRIS Integration: The featured free ATS vendors offer integrations of varying degrees, but the most important integration you need is with your human resources information system (HRIS). These vendors offer application programming interfaces (APIs), but you may have to work directly with the vendor to integrate your HRIS and transfer your data.
If you’re on the lookout for an ATS, clearly distinguish the free features from the paid ones. Keep in mind that free solutions are usually best-suited for small companies. As your business expands, you’ll need more complexities from your ATS. It’s good to start with the free options, but only paid software provides the greater breadth and depth of functionality you’ll eventually need.