9 key considerations when choosing your Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

9 key considerations when choosing your Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software designed to manage the recruitment process efficiently, whilst creating a positive candidate and hiring manager experience, and ensuring a full audit trail of applicant data.

For many organisations, having access to the tracking, processing and reporting offered by an ATS, whilst also ensuring compliance to GDPR, is a necessity. That is, of course, unless the risky, messy alternative of spread sheets and inboxes appeals to you…

And it’s not just big businesses; we’re increasingly seeing SME businesses use ATS’ for compliance.

The growing importance and utilisation of ATS is reflected by the news published by GlobeNewswire last year that the ATS market is expected to grow from USD 1.26 Billion in 2018, to USD 2.34 Billion by 2026; almost doubling in less than 10 years.

With over 19 years’ experience working within the workforce solutions industry, delivering RPOs and MSPs alike, we have seen the ATS landscape grow and evolve immensely.

Many of the clients we’ve worked with have inherited their system from their predecessors or from a purchasing arm in a global parent company, leaving them with a system that isn’t suited to their needs. For those who are fortunate enough to be able to go through a procurement exercise for a new ATS, there are now a myriad of different platforms to choose from that cater for different priorities and needs.

But a lot of options doesn’t always make it easy to make the right decision.

As a workforce solutions provider, we work with our clients to select and implement whichever system suits their needs. We have therefore implemented a wide range of ATS platforms, including 4 of the top ATS’ listed by Fortune 500 companies by market share (according to ONGIG), which has enabled us to capture a wealth of insights into the benefits and challenges of the various platforms available.

Each ATS we’ve implemented has provided great benefits to our customers needing to ensure their recruitment process is uniform, monitored, compliant and transparent. However, selecting the wrong tool can mean continuing to use manual activities to enable tracking and transparency, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

So, what should you consider when choosing the right ATS for your organisation? We’ve compiled a list of 9 key questions that HR and Talent Acquisition (TA) teams should ask if they’re looking to smarten up their hiring processes.

1) What do you want your return on investment (ROI) to be?

The very first thing you should consider in selecting an ATS is return on investment (ROI). In other words, what quantifiable value do you expect to gain from investing in an ATS, in terms of reducing the time, cost and risk of your talent acquisition process, whilst enhancing the experience for candidates and hiring managers?

In order to understand that, you will first need to establish a baseline understanding, backed up wherever possible by facts and figures, of your current talent acquisition processes. By doing so, you will not only strengthen your business case immeasurably, but you will also gain valuable information to help you choose the right ATS within your budget to solve your problems.

Unfortunately, part of the reason most HR & TA teams are already considering an ATS is that they don’t have easy access to baseline performance figures in the first place. If this is the case, it’s not going to be easy to capture the baseline figures you need, but it will be worth it.

Although cost, quality and compliance should be vital considerations, the key statistic to establish for your baseline is your average time-to-hire; which typically means the time from when the vacancy was raised, through to when your successful candidate had their first day. However, if possible, it is well worth understanding this in more detail. For example, how long does it take on average to approve a vacancy, advertise, receive applications, establish shortlists, arrange interviews, make offers, negotiate, screen and onboard?

Through this upfront research, you will arm yourself with the knowledge required to ensure your investment case doesn’t fall at the first hurdle, and your partner selection is on-point.

2) Do you have your requirements defined for all areas of your business?

Whilst ‘one way’ of doing things across your whole business can be efficient, it is our experience that many organisations are unable to fit all parts of their business into one nice process flow. So your ATS has to be able to be configured to manage these variations. Otherwise, the ATS may end up being used only for certain business areas, locations or skill sets, which will mean that data is disparate and disjointed, and you won’t be able to see the total recruitment picture.

A good example of this is for screening requirements. Some roles may require extensive screening, but that doesn’t mean you should be required to crowbar all vacancies into the same process, just to suit the more comprehensive requirements. The ATS should be able to accommodate process variations when required whilst still enabling total visibility.

3) Does the system mirror your organisation?

The ATS market is a billion dollar industry, and each platform has its own capabilities, strengths, weaknesses and ‘bolt-on’ options, with this being reflected in the pricing. It goes without saying that the cost of the system has to fit within an organisation’s budget. Using the entire budget on the core system but not then having the ability to ‘turn-on’ additional functionality essential to your business or having the budget to commission bespoke alterations to the system will mean HR & TA teams will have to create manual workarounds. means having to jump in and out of the ATS to follow your organisation’s processes, which as well as being inefficient, can open up the door to double entry and human error in the system. Our advice? Take the time to understand the full capabilities and the true cost of the ATS you are considering.  Your selected system may look to be in budget, but if you need to add-on lots of functionality to make it work for your business, your system could get very expensive, very quickly.

4) Do you have the time and resource to implement an ATS?

Any change management programme requires some dedication of resource to ensure the programme is managed effectively and the change achieves the desired output. A new ATS is no different. Whether you’re able to manage this change in-house, or you will be able to lean on a workforce solutions partner; the implementation of your ATS will require dedicated resource. The time needs to be taken to review current recruitment process thoroughly, ideally prior to the purchase of the system. Lifting current manual processes and expecting an ATS to bend to the will of “that’s how we do it”, could mean you miss out on valuable functionality that will support greater user experiences and efficiencies to your process.

The dedicated resource implementing your ATS will need to focus on the details of the system, who will interact with the system and how best do they do this, what will the user experience be (candidate attraction being a key consideration in this) and ensuring the right data is being gathered to supporting current or new Management Information (MI) requirements. And that only covers some of the considerations.

This all takes time and are decisions that need to be made in a relatively short period, meaning implementing a new ATS when the TA team are working with a peak of recruitment activity will inevitability mean shortcuts will be taken to get the system ‘up and running’ with the bare minimum functionality. If you choose your timing carefully, and you’ve got the right amount of resource to support the project, you’re onto a winner.

5) Can the ATS integrate with your other systems?

A key consideration for any ATS purchase should be the requirement to integrate the ATS with HR systems, payroll systems or procurement systems. A lot of departments will buy technology in silos from each other as the requirements lists are very different, but in reality there are areas of crossover, where data needs to be passed from one system to next.

The question of integration may even prompt you to consider if you should be buying an ATS, or instead a total HRIS (HR Information System), that can incorporate Talent Acquisition.

Either way, having bespoke integrations is definitely an efficiency that organisations should consider building into their budget when choosing an ATS. Without it, TA teams can be left with no choice but to complete manual handover forms. Even if functionality within the ATS allows downloadable reports, to remove the manual element of completing a handover form; you’re just passing the problem to one of your colleagues, who will have to manually import data into the next system.

Integration to careers sites and job boards also needs to be considered. Candidate attraction is a vital resource to any organisation looking to secure the best talent, and a TA team’s toolkit needs to have a variety of avenues to attract talent, including job boards, careers sites and social media. But if each of these tools operates independently of your ATS, you’ll be spending more time administering each tool or manually entering data; eating into precious time that could be spent proactively engaging with candidates or working with the hiring community.

6) How does the ATS flex if your organisation changes?

Most organisations do not stand still for long; they restructure, enter new markets and realign themselves with new innovation. It’s important to identify the elements of the ATS that can easily be reconfigured to mirror these changes and those that may require the engagement of the provider’s technical team.

When buying an ATS, you should review the future development roadmap; without one it will quickly become out-of-date, leaving your TA teams to make other manual arrangements. It may be that you are required to have a development budget agreed internally and an approval process on where and when this should be spent, or the appropriate resource trained internally to make changes themselves. Both approaches will ensure you are continually working with the best innovation on the market and the system doesn’t become out of date.

7) What management information does the ATS provide and how will you manage it? (Hint: Rubbish in = rubbish out)

A key driver for purchasing an ATS is to provide that utopia of a clear view on recruitment trends within an organisation; what candidate attraction has worked well, where are the bottle necks in the system and so on.

An ATS will provide an element of ‘out the box’ reporting, or will provide the ability to have more detailed and sophisticated reporting functionality turned on or integrated. However, all the sexy graphs and pie charts will only tell a story if the data in the system is accurate.

A sentiment we frequently hear from our customers is that the data coming out of the system isn’t trustworthy, because the process built within the system isn’t fit for purpose. TA teams using manual workarounds to complete their activities is a direct reflection of the considerations mentioned throughout this article. If the system doesn’t provide an efficient user experience that gives the right outputs, as set out by the business, the TA team will have no choice but to find a different way of doing it.

The knock on effect is that data isn’t completed in real time, or worse isn’t completed at all, meaning worthless MI. This again results in the manual intervention of the TA team to provide reporting which takes time and is taking them away from engaging talent for your organisation.

8) Does the ATS support you to attract and engage talent?

As technology improves and candidate behaviours continue to shift, the days of candidates submitting a CV with a well-written cover letter are rapidly falling behind us, so it is well worth taking some time to consider how future proofed the tools available in the ATS are.

There are lots of questions you should ask yourself. Can your social media efforts be integrated with the ATS? How does the ATS it help you target your campaigns? Does the ATS allow candidates to apply in different ways? For example, can candidates submit a video application explaining why they are interested in the role and why they feel they are suitable instead of that cover letter you used to insist on? Does your ATS it have a candidate portal to allow prospective hires to review and manage applications they have made, schedule and manage assessment centres as well as interviews? And finally, can all of this be done virtually (which of course is even more important since the Coronavirus pandemic)?

And don’t forget, the more of the process you can keep within your ATS, the better. You’ll get more efficiency, a better experience, more trustworthy data and less opportunity for human error or manual workarounds.

9) Should your ATS replace human interaction?

Absolutely not. The ATS is there to support TA teams with the administration, collection, governance, compliance and processing of candidate applications, but it should not replace human connection. One-to-one connection is important - whether that’s in person, on the phone or virtually.

Organisations that attract the top talent do so focusing on the candidate experience. Candidates that spend their time only interacting with tech; whether that’s through a candidate portal, through online application forms or automated emails, may become disinterested. When considering candidate touchpoints, it is important that human connection with the candidate, and the hiring community also, are still considered a vital part of your hiring process.

The good news is, if the ATS is working effectively, then the TA team will have more time to pick up the phone.

Looking for more information?

So those are some of the key considerations you should make when reviewing your existing ATS or purchasing a new one.

If you would like to arrange a no-obligation discussion with one of our Workforce Solutions experts about your hiring and talent management challenges, please get in contact using the below form.

Otherwise, check out our Insights & Resources Centre for more information, or explore our Workforce Solutions.

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