How to Choose a Next-Generation Applicant Tracking System

By Dave Zielinski Jul 20, 2015
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Hiring rates are up, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) survey for July 2015, and recruiters are finding it difficult to find the best talent. Many may rely on an applicant tracking system (ATS) to help them find the most qualified candidates.

But how do you choose the right ATS?

If you’re looking to replace an outdated ATS in what’s become a saturated technology market, recruiting experts say it pays to use some key criteria to ensure you select a modern ATS that fits your needs.

“Today companies are enhancing what they have and starting the ATS replacement cycle," Elaine Orler, CEO of Talent Function, a talent acquisition consulting firm in San Diego, told SHRM Online. “There are probably three times the number of conversations and deals happening this year than three years ago. I estimate that one in every eight companies is considering a change to their recruiting core ATS solution."

Known also as a candidate management system, the ATS was first introduced more than two decades ago to streamline the recruitment process by automating the processing and storing of resumes. By providing greater consistency in hiring practices, they have also helped to protect companies against lawsuits.

Today, ATS innovations have improved resume parsing, helped streamline the job application process, and, through new reporting metrics, enabled HR leaders to identify the best job applicants and save money on recruitment.

Here are some key concepts to keep in mind when embarking on the task of selecting an ATS:

Limited bottlenecks. Use scripted demonstrations to help identify where system bottlenecks might occur for recruiters, hiring managers or candidates. “You’ll want to see what the workflow looks like, the process for reviewing and approving candidates, and how candidates move through the funnel,” said Matt Singer, vice president of marketing for Jobvite, which sells social media recruiting and ATS systems. “Determine where all your stakeholders might get stuck in the system. Those bottlenecks are the biggest crippling force in the recruiting process.”

It’s also important to test system speed and search capabilities, Singer said, since it’s not a given that searching will be fast and accurate or that processing speed will be at next-generation levels.

Ease of customization. How easily can you configure a system to fit your organization’s unique recruiting workflows or changing hiring needs? Will you be able to customize an ATS on your own, or must the vendor do it at additional cost and with a potential time delay?

“Investigate how adaptable a system is,” said James Mills, an HR manager with ZF North America Inc., an automotive technology company. “Can you change how candidates move through the system so the process works as effectively in a manufacturing facility as it does in corporate headquarters?”

Compliance tracking. Ensure the ATS is equipped to track equal employment opportunities or comply with other legal requirements when you’re recruiting in foreign markets or when conducting business with the federal government, which requires meeting the standards of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Lynnette Vollink, director of human resources for automotive supplier Federal-Mogul’s Powertrain division, said her ATS makes it easy to stay compliant with employment laws in the many countries where the company does business. “We post to many different job boards around the world and the ATS ensures we comply with varying labor laws in those countries, sometimes even in particular cities,” Vollink said.

Candidate experience. Have your finalist vendors walk you through the process of applying for jobs and uploading resumes or social media profiles to their systems.

How easy is it for candidates to apply from mobile devices, and what’s the vendor’s drop-off rate for mobile applications? Do people start to apply on mobile phones but abandon the process because it’s too cumbersome? Does the system have modern auto-reply or other communication tools that make it easy for recruiters to let candidates know resumes have been received, respond to questions or inform applicants where they stand in the review process?

Integration capability. Many ATS providers tout their ability to integrate with partners like video-interviewing providers, prehire assessment platforms or payroll companies. Understand the technology used to make those connections and the resources a vendor might provide for such integrations. “One of the main things we looked at in evaluating different systems was how well they perform custom integrations,” said Mills.

Joel Passen, co-founder and head of marketing for Newton Software, a technology company that designs applicant tracking software for small and medium-sized employers, says these integrations should appear seamless to end users.

“If integrating with a background checking provider, for example, you’ll want one-click capability in the software that produces reports on prospects without making you leave the screen or move to a separate integration stage,” he says.

Looking for more information on ATS providers? The October issue of HR Magazine will explore the topic in depth. Keep an eye out!

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business journalist in Minneapolis.

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