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What to Look for in an Applicant Tracking System


An applicant tracking system (ATS) speeds up recruiting and hiring by serving as a central database for recruiters and job applicants. According to an article published by Jobvite, an ATS enables "businesses to collect information, organize prospects based on experience and skill set, and filter applicants."

Studies show that 73% of HR professionals use an ATS. In Fortune 500 companies, that number increases to over 90%.

Applicant tracking systems have come a long way since they were first introduced in the 1990s.

The first applicant tracking systems were used to parse and store resumes, but the latest models are far more than resume search and storage tools. These advancements make it easier for recruiters to attract and hire their ideal talent while improving the candidate experience.

According to an article published by the Society for Human Resources Management, modern applicant tracking systems have transformed outdated resume databases into "intuitive, end-to-end recruitment management tools that are more friend than foe in helping recruiters achieve their goals."

Capabilities of modern applicant tracking systems

All applicant tracking systems search and store resumes. Newer systems, however, have an assortment of features that are designed to maximize recruiter success.

Typically, a modern ATS lets recruiters do the following:

  • Create a dedicated careers webpage and an employee referral portal.   
  • Post vacancies to job boards, social media platforms and the company's website.
  • Manage job applications and resumes.
  • Screen resumes faster via keywords and keyphrases.
  • Weed out unqualified candidates.
  • Keep candidates informed on their application.
  • Choose the best person for the role.
  • Build a candidate pipeline to reduce time to hire.
  • Lower overall recruiting costs.
  • Assess recruiting effectiveness through analytics.

In a 2020 survey by HR Research Institute, respondents were asked which five capabilities they considered most essential for their ATS.

Here are the top five responses:

  1. Easily add and export candidate information, such as resumes (66%).
  2. Send and organize emails/messages to candidates (59%).
  3. Permit scheduling and calendaring (49%).
  4. Provide mobile device access (48%).
  5. Allow easy collaboration among talent acquisition team members (46%).

Additional responses include:

  • Integrate with other needed systems and applications (44%).
  • Allow enhanced search and matching (42%).
  • Consolidate and display authorized information on a given candidate (40%).
  • Distribute job advertisements (39%).
  • Facilitate employment branding (36%).

Modern applicant tracking systems may offer these features as well:

  • Multiple languages to accommodate a diverse pool of candidates.
  • Job openings posted automatically to free job boards.
  • Candidate data automatically captured from job boards.
  • Video-based job descriptions and interviewing.
  • Reference checks.
  • Automated offer letters and e-signatures.
  • Customizable new hire packets.
  • Current and historical data for each candidate.
  • Job description templates.
  • Text-based recruiting.
  • Dashboard to track recruiter activity and key performance indicators.

Although applicant tracking systems offer many benefits, they should not replace the human side of recruiting and hiring.  

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