How to evaluate an applicant tracking system


Unemployment is at 3.9%, a 17-year low. Competition for talent is fierce, especially when you’re trying to hire sellers, mid-level managers, professional staff and skilled labor. When hiring gets this tough, inefficiencies in your recruiting process that could otherwise be ignored will become code red emergencies.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are supposed to fix those problems. Some do; many don’t. To tell the difference, HR professionals must do their research. Here are the three most important questions to ask before you invest in an ATS.

1. Will the ATS help or hurt my employment brand? If you’re not an employee at Google or Apple, you’ve probably daydreamed about having your own nap pod in Silicon Valley or being toted around in an automated car. You know the amazing benefits and the free-spirited culture at these organizations. That’s employment brand. Granted, not every organization can hope for Google-level brand awareness, but every company — for better or worse — has a brand of their own, made up of every interaction and detail of the recruiting and hiring process.

You should know that most ATS are made by software engineers, not recruiters. The downside there is that most systems don’t deliver a candidate experience designed to convey an impression of what it would be like to work for your company. If your ATS isn’t helping bolster your employment brand, it’s not working hard enough.

See also: Positive employer branding will attract top-shelf talent

To ensure that candidates can get a feel for your company culture before they even submit an application, you’ll want to find an ATS that can offer fully-branded career pages that match your website. This means having the same colors, fonts, brand messaging and imaging will be crucial to your employment brand. And this is only the beginning. Your ideal ATS should allow you to integrate with major job boards and social media platforms (branding 101: Hang out with the cool kids), allow for one click application submission through mobile devices and keep the application process all in one browser No one wants their employment brand to be “clunky” and “unfriendly”.

2. Will the ATS help speed up the process or will it slow us down? Recruiters and hiring managers either love or hate their ATS. There’s not much middle ground. That’s because they often have to invent ingenious workarounds to use the system, which drives them crazy because it’s time wasted.

When searching for the right ATS system, make sure that it can provide customizable email templates for hiring teams during the recruiting process. It’s important to remember that the system should allow you to send those emails in bulk to potential candidates. You need to be able to set reminders and schedule alerts for users to follow up with candidates or completed tasks. This ensures that you’re saving time and no candidate gets lost in the ether.

Know that dashboards are a great way to get a bird’s eye view on the recruiting process but they’re not the end all. Plenty of HCM providers will have flashy demos and dashboards that seem to work flawlessly, but after implementation you’ll be left with a clunky and glitchy product.

To avoid that outcome, ask these questions during your search: Can we see the step-by-step process for reviewing applications, approving candidates, and moving them through interviews? Look beyond the demo screens. You want to see how the system really works, step by step. Can we import and export candidate information? How are potential candidates scored?

3. Does the ATS offer compliance and reporting capabilities? This one’s a biggie. Recruiting and hiring compliance is complex, and so reporting and analytics is a must-have. You need to be able to drive recruiting and hiring decisions in real-time with powerful analytics rather than sloppy excel sheets and poorly filed assessment papers. An ATS will allow you to quickly view the metrics that matter to you, see where your best candidates are coming from, find bottlenecks and catch missed opportunities. With clear and easy to use reporting features that captures all pre-hire compliance data in one place, you’ll never have to worry about fines or tarnishing your reputation.

Of course, there’s plenty more you could ask. Implementation, data security, mobile capabilities and ongoing service and support are all tires worth kicking. But this initial list of questions is a great place to start. Finding and hiring top talent requires lightning-fast action and decisions. When you’re shopping for an ATS, however, it pays to slow down long enough to get the facts.


Bill Neese

Bill Neese

Bill Neese is vice president of talent acquisition for Paycor.

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