Updated: June 2020
What You’ll Learn In This Guide
- How to Plot a Course for Your New ATS
- How to Get the Most From Your ATS Research
- How to Evaluate ATS Vendor Offerings and Your Needs
- How to Involve Others in Your ATS Selection
Choosing the right Applicant Tracking System is one of the most important decisions you can make as a Recruiting or HR leader. Chosen properly to fit your needs, it can contribute to building better candidate and manager relationships, expedite your time to hire, increase engagement, elevate your department and company reputation, and even help your company achieve its mission. Chosen poorly, it can create a disjointed and decentralized hiring process that may leave candidates and hiring managers to question your expertise. Having been involved in the design of three proprietary ATS systems, the implementation of three others, and selected on the ATS evaluation team for two additional companies, I’m sharing my top tips here for getting it right.
The Planning Stage
- Seek out an ATS that will enable, and even aid you, in becoming a more strategic partner to your business. In my opinion, this is the most important decision to consider when implementing a new ATS. Specifically, you should be searching for platforms that seamlessly facilitate competency-based hiring by having:
- a built-in library of competencies for the roles you hire, combined with corresponding interview questions that will provide insight into those competencies, and
- a mission-based scorecard that drives decision-makers to evaluate interview performance based on those key competencies as they relate to the objectives of the department and position.
With this functionality, just by utilizing the platform, you begin to train managers on the proper methodology to interview, evaluate, and select A Players, positioning your HR organization as subject matter experts and strategic consultants to the business. Without this functionality, chances are you are deciding on an ATS based purely on the efficiency its feature set provides. If you are simply automating processes, and you end up having turnover issues in your business, your ATS will only help you to automate that churn.
- Determine your implementation timeline. Before shopping for a platform, set a project plan to include your decision timeframe, as well as the time and budget you can afford for implementation, data transfer, and training. You will want to be armed with this knowledge when doing discovery calls with providers to learn how flexible, efficient, and methodical they are in hitting your desired go-live date.
Do a thorough evaluation of what is working and not working with your existing ATS. You should also solicit feedback from all stakeholders including recruiters, new employees, and hiring managers. This can provide you a matrix of comparison, and eventually buy-in, depending on how many of the key requirements a prospective platform is hitting for your team. Within your matrix, you can break this down further into “nice-to-have” or “must-have” features.
In one organization I worked for, a Recruiting Manager was made the point-person for switching to a new ATS. Based on his expertise, and for the sake of time, he made the call to move forward without consulting stakeholders. After the purchase and data transfer, teams were convened to walk through functionality with our new Customer Success Manager. Our team was so disappointed in the lack of what they perceived to be “must-have” features, that we had to cancel the purchase, go back to our old ATS, and start recording data from scratch as the previous company deleted our records.
Assess the behaviors and future of your workforce. In conjunction with your implementation plan, you should evaluate the following long-term, macro attributes of a prospective platform:
- Mobile compatibility requirements. I feel the more mobile capability the better, but evaluate the behaviors of your workforce, candidates, and industry to determine upfront how critical mobility is to your decision. Do a large percentage of your staff travel, work on client sites, or work remotely? Will you most likely need to conduct remote interviews or have a need for recorded video applications? Are key stakeholders often unavailable in the office to make decisions on candidates’ next steps or to sign off on employment offers?
- Scalability and talent management capabilities. Seek out an ATS platform that is designed to handle the volume and efficiency your business requires today but can scale harmoniously with you as you grow. Look two to three years down the road. If you are seeking only an ATS today, can you foresee needing a paperless onboarding tool in the future? If so, would you want a platform that can seamlessly incorporate your existing candidates and new hires with the flip of a switch, or would you want a separate onboarding tool requiring another data import, a second Customer Success Manager, and an entirely different support team? I’ll take the instant unification. Look for tools with full platform talent management capabilities that can support you immediately, when the need arises, with:
- Remote and Paperless Onboarding
- Device & Equipment Management
- Goal Setting
- Performance Management
- Background check and assessment test integrations
- Payroll and benefit integrations
- Workforce Planning
- Analyze the size of your organization? Many categorize small businesses as 50 employees or less, mid-market as 50-5000, and Enterprise as >5000, but this will vary. Understand how you classify the size of your organization and incorporate your growth plans. Then compare with what ATS providers support.
- Are you purchasing for an in-house HR & Recruiting team or as a staffing agency? Some platforms are designed specifically for staffing agency usage which are engineered to support applicant management of a multitude of client organizations. As a result, many of the internal Talent Management, Performance Review, and HR feature sets may be irrelevant to them. Likewise, a corporate HR & Recruiting team may need much more robust hiring manager collaboration, candidate engagement, and performance evaluation toolsets that an agency ATS is not designed to deliver. However, it is possible that you are a staffing agency that is seeking a blend of efficient candidate management for multiple customers while achieving better selection, engagement, and retention of your own team of A-level Account Managers and Recruiters. Evaluate your needs, and research accordingly.
Document required compliance and reporting features such as:
- Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and AA (Affirmative Action) Compliance. This affects companies with 15 or more employees and any company that receives federal funds or does business with the federal government. Federal regulations require employers to maintain hiring data, including information on hiring practices and online applicants. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces these laws under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) compliance and reporting. The agency encourages employers to engage in self-audits of their employment practices and achieve maximum leverage of resources to protect the greatest number of workers from discrimination.
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance. This is the toughest privacy and security law in the world. Though it was drafted and passed by the European Union (EU), it imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The regulation was put into effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR will levy harsh fines against those who violate its privacy and security standards, with penalties reaching into the tens of millions of euros. For a more comprehensive review, read How To Use HR Technology To Comply With GDPR.
- Analytic and reporting requirements. I will cover this in detail in the next section but evaluate the specific recruitment metrics your organization will require and search for an ATS that saves you time by automatically generating reporting from your existing actions within the platform.
- California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) compliance. The CCPA is a new privacy law in California that gives consumers more rights to view, delete, and opt-out of having their personal information sold by a business. If you conduct business in California and you fall into one of these three categories you’ll more than likely need to comply with CCPA.
- Has $25M+ in annual revenue, or
- Derives 50%+ of its revenue from selling consumer data, or
- Annually buys, receives for the business’ commercial purposes, sells, or shares for commercial purposes, alone or in combination, the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices.
For a more thorough analysis, read How HR Data Fits Within CCPA.
Determine your budget. The first thing you should do is to evaluate not only what you’re currently spending on an existing ATS (if you have one), but assess how much the lack of a proper ATS is costing you in man-hours, spend, and profits. Break down costs such as:
- Cost of existing ATS or other candidate management tools
- Agency spend, which is typically 20% of each hire’s salary
- Cost for any job boards or databases you currently subscribe to
- Salaries of hiring stakeholders such as recruiters, coordinators, and hiring managers
- Time spent managing internal hiring spreadsheets, manually posting to multiple job sites, and time-to-fill your requisitions. Note how this timeline has impacted current hiring goals or upcoming, critical hiring targets
- Your recruiting team’s involvement in hiring wins that had a direct and visible impact on profitability such as Sales Executive or Leadership hiring, or development staff that created a successful product innovation
- Revenue left on the table for inefficiencies in your existing tools and processes
From here, you can calculate your cost per hire by adding up your recruiting expenses and dividing by the number of candidates hired. Compare your cost per hire to the outcomes on profitability and revenue left on the table in the current state. Now begin to determine how much a new ATS that meets your specific needs can improve your cost per hire and desired outcomes. You might project that you can shift from using 4 tools to 1, cutting time to fill and cost per hire in half, while increasing profits by 20%.
This can develop a pretty compelling argument for maximizing available spend on your new ATS. However, when you develop your presentation to leadership do so with their pain points in mind. Recruiters might focus heavily on the improvement to candidate experience, whereas executives may be purely concerned with time-to-fill or ability to hit an upcoming high volume hiring goal. Invite a conversation with leadership to understand their concerns, and when making your final pitch for the budget be sure to include metrics on how the improvements will impact the entire business, not just make things easier on the recruiting team.
The Research Stage
Now that you know your requirements framework for a prospective platform, you can begin to do research by checking independent review sites and networking with colleagues and industry leaders to explore options tailored to your needs. Additionally, you can build your matrix of providers hitting your must-have or nice-to-have functionality. For guidance, let’s dig deeper into the specific feature sets that I have found to be most pivotal throughout my years as an ATS power user.
- An integrated competency library. To reiterate, automation is not the biggest challenge HR and Recruiting organizations typically face. Hiring accurately, engaging, and retaining those A Players is. Look for an integrated competency modeling and scoring toolset that will guide your hiring stakeholders through a proven methodology for success. For example, HRSG’s CompetencyCore technology integrates competency modeling of role creation, job descriptions, interview questions, interview scoring, and performance reviews. Efficiency in hiring should not be ignored, but if hiring automation is the central benefit of your platform, it will only magnify HR challenges that arise, such as increased turnover or lack of engagement.
- Quick search capability. Recruiters and Hiring Managers will need to do constant status checks on candidates, requisitions, and even new hires. Your ATS user interface should have an ever-present search bar that auto-populates as you type and facilitates quick and accurate retrieval of candidates. It should also allow you to quickly toggle between requisition and existing employee searches.
- Advanced search capabilities. In addition to quick-search, your ATS should provide advanced query capabilities such as keyword, boolean, location, role, hiring stage, date applied, and interview score to quickly mine your existing database. Especially important is “tagging” capability which allows you to apply default and custom descriptors or “tags” for the creation of specific talent communities or quick retrieval of A Players that you did not have a role for previously. Look for external search capabilities as well. Having a built-in sourcing tool with advanced search features that can locate candidates outside of your existing database from a variety of social media and job sites will really amplify your success.
- A “command center” styled recruiter interface. Your platform should allow remote management and visibility into your entire recruiting operation in as few clicks as possible. Do you have to exit the platform to track down candidate emails and texts or manager communications? Do you have to copy/paste candidate information into a separate calendar tool to schedule interviews? Would you have to create and manage internal and referral programs separately? Start with a view of an individual candidate profile. You should be able to take notes while viewing a candidate’s profile and resume, @tag managers on your notes to notify them in real-time if you have an A Player on the line, and see notes from other roles they applied to. You should be able to see in a click or two the timeline of emails, texts, scheduled interviews, interview scorecards, interview stage, and corresponding requisition details.
- Internal hiring and referral program capabilities. Internal recruiting shouldn’t be an afterthought. When considering employee engagement, upward mobility and opportunity are paramount. Your ATS should provide a feature to advertise openings to your internal audience only and capture confidential applications from your employee base. Additionally, your platform should provide a mechanism for allowing employees to add their referrals, which will timestamp the entry and save you the time of manual entry while providing you the ability to manage a formal program.
- Hiring process customization. Hiring processes and workflows are changing constantly. One process may not be working. You adjust and tweak. Maybe your company is now fully remote and changes are needed. You should be in control of how many interview stages you identify and what you label them. This will vary by industry as well, so an ATS that confines you to a predetermined set of interview stages, terminology, or process steps isn’t going to cut it. Your ATS should adapt to your needs, not the other way around.
- Team collaboration. Recruiting is as much about building a relationship with your managers as it is your candidates. Many platforms focus heavily on the candidate experience and neglect the manager and stakeholder experience. Seek an ATS that is inclusive to your entire hiring team and stakeholders with features such as:
- Notes with @tagging or similar chat-style functionality allowing for 2-way communication and capture of those conversations for future reference
- A timeline that shows all communications and actions for a given candidate. This allows a central status check for all stakeholders and eliminates recruiters spending excessive time building and pulling reports to show their work and the current state
- A login specifically for managers with corresponding permissions. Join forces with your hiring managers and look for an inclusive ATS which invites them into the process, allowing you to cultivate lasting, consultative relationships
- Templating and bulk messaging. Templating your written communications is critical for volume hiring, efficiency, and consistency in messaging. Seek a platform that combines creativity with personalization in its template design, and can be applied at all critical stages of the process. In conjunction with templates, you need to be able to bulk message entire talent communities or multiple candidates simultaneously to expedite your activity. Lastly, double-check to make sure you can add calendar or informational company web links to your templates which will save you a ton of time in scheduling your initial screens and educating prospects on your company.
- Candidate texting. Text messages have a 200% higher response rate compared to email or phone, and 90% of them are read within 3 minutes. You may opt to only use text after some rapport is established with a candidate but texting can be a great tool for your initial outreach, following up with unresponsive candidates, or even hiring managers rescheduling interviews directly and on-the-fly with candidates. Some key features you should look for with texting are the ability to:
- Mask recruiters’ personal cell numbers
- Continue the conversation from both inside the platform or from your mobile device
- Save the conversation for a future record within the platform
- Have candidates apply to your openings via a simple text message
- A flexible, candidate-friendly application process. Many companies approach the application process from a standpoint of “what do we need?” In other words, these companies believe that the application is a company or recruiter-driven process. They think, “We have a job. If you want to be considered, here’s what you have to do.” However, it is the candidate that makes the decision to invest their time and apply. Therefore, in reality, this is an applicant-driven process. As such, and to achieve the best results, you should seek a versatile platform that can quickly adapt to meet the needs of a diverse talent community where they are. Efficiency is also key. Lengthy application processes get fewer results. Here are some questions to consider asking a prospective ATS provider:
- Passive candidates may only be casually interested in hearing about a new opportunity and therefore not willing to invest time upfront in updating their resume. Does your platform allow a quick-apply with an existing LinkedIn profile, the ability for a recruiter to quickly import one, or an option to manually build a profile for them?
- Is the platform mobile-friendly allowing for quick-apply when not at a computer?
- Do you offer a text-to-apply option? If so, do you only offer shortcodes at a premium or will I receive free or less expensive 10-digit codes with my subscription? Is it a shared model where I have to share text codes with other companies - and potentially my competitors - or will I have the freedom to create custom codes that can be applied to each of my requisitions? Can candidates apply via text by answering 3-4 questions, or will they need to answer 10 to 20 questions to apply to a job?
- Am I in control of how many steps it takes for candidates to complete an application? Can I create custom application profiles to apply to specific requisitions? Do I have the option to craft templated messaging with embedded application links to broadcast to talent communities? Can I send a quick reminder-to-apply with a link via text or email to candidates who only partially completed an application?
- Do I have admin controls that allow me to update the process across the organization? For example, if a candidate video is required as part of the application process, but we’re seeing minimal results, can I change the video to “optional” and quickly replicate that change across every open requisition?
- Automated req approval
- Requisition management and auto-fill features
- Single click post to multiple job boards
- Automated offer approval and delivery with the ability to attach supporting documents
- Templates that auto-update candidates’ workflow stage upon sending
- Dashboards that show all candidates or outstanding candidates currently in process
- Career site integration and administration
12. Job post automation and social sharing.
Gone are the days of having your recruiters or coordinators spend an entire afternoon logging into job boards, filling out manual fields, and cutting/pasting job descriptions. Look for solutions that provide single-click execution of job postings to a multitude of desired job sites. Further, your ATS should track the source of these applications and allow you to set up custom job sites unique to your company and industry so you can track the source of additional sites you post to on the regular. Lastly, your ATS should provide you the ability to auto-post to popular social sites like LinkedIn or Glassdoor with the added benefit of sharing posts via LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. If an ATS provides the ability to manage and configure your careers site, you should be able to add social network buttons to your job posts that will not only allow you and your employees to quickly share but for candidates to share with their networks as well.
13. Vendor management
If you use staffing agencies or foresee heavy growth in the future that might include even a small fraction of outside help to meet your numbers, consider an ATS with vendor management capabilities. For those of us who have worked with agencies, we know just how time-consuming this can be. If you don’t have vendor management capabilities you will be fielding all submissions via email, querying your database to make sure these submittals aren’t duplicates, and manually entering each candidate into your system to remain compliant, consistent, and on top of your process.
Look for a system that allows the creation of your vendor as a custom source but also automatically creates a portal for these agency partners. This way, they can submit and manage their own candidates and the system will notify them if it’s a duplicate. Additionally, when they submit a candidate, it will automatically show within the applicant queue in your requisition, identifying that agency as the source. You can then seamlessly integrate these agency submittals into your process, either declining them or moving them forward after your review. As a bonus, and similar to candidate applications, seek a system that allows a quick submit process. Your vendor may be discouraged to send their top prospect if it’s going to take an hour to submit her through your platform.
- Reports that generate from actions your recruiters, candidates, and hiring managers are already taking in the platform. There are so many process steps to recruiting. If you are adding steps to your stakeholders’ plates in the hopes of executing on analytics it’s not going to work. At the end of the day what recruiters will be evaluated on first is filling the required roles, and that is where their core efforts will remain.
- Reports that do the calculations for you on industry-standard metrics. If a general recruitment activity report spits out massive rows and columns at you about every process step, time stamp, and result, but leaves you to sift through the output to determine your interview-to-offer ratio or diversity in applicants, it’s not doing its job. Seek an analytics platform that provides you instantly with the output you wish to evaluate, such as the source of hire, time-to-hire, gender diversity in pipeline, and funnel analysis (applicants-to-interview, interview-to-accept, and offer-to-accept ratios, etc).
- Workforce Planning and reporting capabilities bring together Finance and HR to put you in a proactive state of recruiting and allow you to thrive through changing business cycles. Imagine the ability to build models to forecast talent through periods of expansion or contraction that provide insight into the implications of unique actions like salary cuts, furloughs, or hiring delays. Look for a platform that allows you to adjust assumptions and workforce variables per role like turnover, tenure, staffing reductions or increases, compensation adjustments, and ramp times. Having this functionality will increase your budget and forecasting accuracy, help you hit your hiring plan every time, and develop a more strategic relationship with your CFO and the business.
However, I would recommend a more selective approach in the data you import to your new ATS. Your existing provider should be able to export all of your data and we always suggest taking this with you. It can then be accessed for any remaining reporting you require, but you do not then have to import all of that data into your new ATS. In my experience, getting candidate profiles, requisitions, and their corresponding fields to map perfectly from one product to the other is futile and can even decrease the versatility of your new tool. The result is an extensive time investment from you in charting the migration fields from your existing ATS. Additionally, this sets you up for more data cleanups after the migration, the potential for false positives in your candidate search queries, and it simply may cost more.
Here are a few other options to look for from a prospective provider:
- A simple, customizable, and universal import file structure like Comma Separated Values (CSV) files. This allows the transfer of complex data in a simplified format that is easily accessible in the text-editing and spreadsheet programs like Notepad, Excel, and Google Sheets
- At a minimum, 5,000 free resume imports
- Automated batch upload of bulk resumes from a job fair for example
- Resume import service for large scale batch uploadEmail-based resume upload
- Individual resume upload
- Manual resume creation
The Evaluation Stage
By this stage, you will have done research on a variety of providers and mapped their offerings to your requirements matrix.
Narrow Your ListDon’t put all your eggs in one basket. Narrow your search to 2 or 3 providers. Even though there may be a standout provider that seems to hit on most or all of your requirements, you may find during product demos that a must-have tool does not function to your team’s requirements. On the flip side of that coin, you should not be evaluating 5 or more providers at this stage. This will make comparison and consensus more challenging, prolong coordination of the demo sessions required between stakeholders, significantly delay your go-live date, and could ultimately put you behind in hitting your hiring objectives.
Here are 2 vital services you should look for in an ATS provider to help you narrow your search:
- Dedicated implementation, product support, and customer success teams. The most mutually beneficial activity that you and your ATS provider can engage in is the adoption of the platform.
- Seek an ATS provider that will build an implementation project plan specific to your organization's size and needs. They should consult with you on an appropriate go-live date that incorporates stakeholder training to get your team off on the right foot.
- Secondly, search for a vendor that provides dedicated product support with service level agreements in place to ensure any functionality issues or feature questions are resolved timely to keep your team productive.
- Lastly, find a provider that will assign you a dedicated Customer Success Manager to guide you toward proper adoption and ultimately your strategic organizational objectives. Without this support, you may have the power of the platform at your fingertips but end up scrapping it for lack of know-how in fully exploiting its capabilities.
- Educational Resources. In conjunction with #2, you want a provider that is investing back in your workforce through access to meaningful educational information including, not only videos and guidelines on how to use the ATS but content from subject matter experts and best practices in Recruiting and HR. These materials will merge the human elements of successful Talent Management with proper execution inside the platform, therefore enabling the fulfillment of your strategic objectives. In other words, you should have a partner in achieving the mission of your business, not just an ATS vendor.
Participate In Introductory or Discovery Calls
Before requesting to jump straight into a product demo, reach out to prospective providers for some initial discovery. When you submit a demo request, ATS providers will typically have a Business Development Representative (BDR) follow up to schedule a discovery call. This call is designed to save you time by determining if a demo is an appropriate next step. By taking 10-20 minutes to determine general fit upfront, you are saving the entire evaluation team from investing 60-120 minutes for an in-depth demo that may hit a dead end. At this stage, you want to begin to quickly narrow to your most fitting options before engaging your entire platform evaluation team.
Discovery calls are similar to a pre-screen interview. It is a high-level call to determine a few key details such as:
- What are your major pain points as an organization that have led you to search for a new ATS platform?
- What other problems have you encountered, or what are the top goals you are looking to achieve with a new ATS?
- What is the size of your organization and your industry? This is important as different size companies and industries will have different pain points, and should there be a match, BDRs will want to pair you with the most appropriate product expert to walk you through a demo.
- Your budget. It is preferred to know your budget at the point of your discovery calls because time is money. You don’t want to go through a series of discovery calls and demos only to find that you are way off on price. If you do not know your budget, the discovery reps can provide you with an estimation. From there, you should determine if there is a match before proceeding to the demo stage.
- What is your team’s availability for a demo? If there is a mutual fit, come prepared with the availability of your team so you can keep discussions progressing quickly.
You and your BDR will begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together to determine if a fit exists. Your BDR may also evaluate the future needs to see if a discussion on other features or add-ons is required. For example, you might be seeking an ATS only, but based on your needs you might want to consider paperless onboarding or a full talent platform solution.
The Selection Stage
After narrowing the list through your research and discovery calls, you are ready to walk through final product demos. Whereas your BDR acts as the storyteller in evaluating needs, sharing potential solutions, and evaluating initial fit, the product specialist providing your demo is the illustrator. She will walk you step by step through the platform functionality specific to your needs and your business size.
There are a variety of directions you can take with respect to questions to ask these vendors. You may develop questions based on some of the key functionalities listed above, and your stakeholders may have specific features they wish to see in action. For examples of a variety of questions you might ask during a demo, click here.
Make The Most Of Product Demos
It is critical to get buy-in from stakeholders before you purchase. As I mentioned, you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you have to scrap the new ATS after implementation. If you haven’t done so already, create an ATS evaluation team consisting of the following:
- 2 of your top recruiters
- A recent hire or you could select one of your recruiters to evaluate from a candidate’s perspective.
- 2 hiring managers
- An executive-level HR representative
- A company representative with purchasing power. If this is not your executive-level HR Representative, add this person to your evaluation team.
It would be wise to bring together a diverse team at this stage so you can benefit from varying perspectives on how the platform may hinder or help hiring and candidate experience with respect to inclusion. When you have these perspectives, you will be surprised at the detailed questions that will surface when covering your must-have features. You might find out that the actual functionality is a deal-breaker for your organization.
Check References And Reviews
Finally, if you are now leaning towards specific providers, ask them for references that match your organization’s size and industry. Also, check online reviews and hone in on ratings around ease of use or other specific functionality your evaluation team has deemed critical.
ClearCompany has created a convenient buyer’s guide to help you find the best applicant tracking system for your needs. To learn more about the ClearCompany ATS software and what it can do for your recruiting and hiring process, reach out to our experts today and schedule a free demo.