Recruiting Talent Using Applicant Tracking Systems

As demographics, technology and social media change, so must approaches to recruiting talent.Companies who establish innovative recruiting practices will have a competitive advantage for attracting quality candidates. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are a key component of this. Their ability to provide an improved candidate experience leads to a greater talent pool from which to draw and, by automating routine recruiting activities, also provides Human Resource (HR) professionals and hiring managers time to focus on other aspects of recruiting. This article explores the benefits of Applicant Tracking Systems and considerations for choosing the right product for your organization.

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) help companies with the first stage of talent management—recruiting the right candidates. ATSs support recruiting by simplifying the candidate application process and storing the information collected in a database. Robust reporting, electronic candidate screening, automated ‘approval to hire’, candidate tracking, and onboarding processes are all typical features.

Benefits of Applicant Tracking Systems

Why invest the time and money to implement an ATS when organizations have recruited for many years without one?

  • Simple application process: When competing for scarce talent, it’s beneficial to have a simple candidate application process. Most systems allow candidates to upload resumes or LinkedIn profiles reducing the time required to apply. Profiles can be re-used making it easier for candidates to apply for other jobs. ATS social media tools allow job hunters to forward postings to their network broadening the reach of the search.
  • Searchable database: Applications reside in a searchable database eliminating the need for electronic or paper folders to store candidate information. Although ATSs cannot fully screen resumes, the level of automation narrows the candidate pool with standard screening questions, reducing the time needed to short list applications.
  • Automated processes: Most systems provide the capability to automate the approval to hire and onboarding processes saving the HR and hiring manager time required to complete these activities.Candidate tracking assists with record keeping and supports effective communication between HR and hiring managers.
  • Meeting expectations: As the use of ATSs increases, candidates expect a seamless application process. Relying on out-dated email or paper based applications will put the organization at a disadvantage and potentially reduce the applicant pool.

Determining your Needs—What can an ATS do for you?

Before implementing an ATS, you first need to determine what objectives you need it to fulfill, what processes and resources it will affect, and assess stakeholder needs. Here are some steps you can take.

  • Examine current recruiting practices. A complete understanding of the current process is needed to assess and select vendors.Document the process, list who is involved, time required and typical number of searches conducted per year. This highlights inefficiencies that may be addressed by an ATS, which is key to building a business case for investing in a system.
  • Define the outcome. What will be different about the recruiting process after implementation? This may include an improved candidate experience or reduced costs. Key stakeholders should help define and prioritize the benefits that are most important to the organization.
  • See a demonstration. Product demonstrations provide an overview of ATS capabilities to help compare the features most important to improving the recruiting process.
  • Identify Stakeholders. Make a list of stakeholders who will be impacted by implementing an ATS. The success of implementation depends on stakeholders’ ability to support the changes an ATS will bring to recruiting. Analyzing the impact to the stakeholders, and finding ways to involve them in the selection and implementation will facilitate this process.
  • Develop decision criteria. Before assessing vendors, list criteria for selecting the best product. This will include cost, implementation requirements, and the features most important to improving the recruiting process.
  • Assess HR support. ATSs have several features to support the recruiting process. Assess the time and expertise HR staff will need to take advantage of the system’s features and support hiring managers. ATSs have powerful reporting capabilities. Consider who will analyse reports and decide what to do with the data. Determine who will have accountability to maintain the system beyond day to day recruiting support.
  • Assess the return on investment. Cost structures for ATSs vary—some are based on the number of hires per year or number of recruiters. Determine if this is a worthwhile investment based on the number of searches conducted annually. There may be other recruiting investments such as changing the staff compliment or new approaches to sourcing candidates that would have a greater impact on recruiting outcomes.

5 Questions to ask Vendors

With the variety of options available, there are several considerations for selecting the right product for the organization.

  1. What resources are required to implement an ATS? Some vendors fully support product implementation. Other systems require assistance from in house Information Technology staff or external consultants with previous experience implementing the product. Depending on the size of the organization and budget for the project, this may narrow the list of ATSs for consideration.
  2. Who is the first point of contact for job candidates or internal users with questions about the system? There are a variety of approaches to post implementation, from full vendor support to internal super-users who manage enquiries. Another aspect of ongoing support includes changes to security access and support for software upgrades. It’s important to understand the support model, internal resources required and associated costs.
  3. Does the ATS need to link to the Human Resource Information System (HRIS) or Talent Management software? If linkages are required, explore vendors’ past experience with implementing links between systems in other organizations.
  4. Where is candidate information stored? Options include vendor provided web based storage or company provided servers. If the database is maintained by the vendor, ask about back-up systems, server location and applicable access to information and privacy laws. If the organization must store the database, assess the system and staffing impact of doing so.
  5. What other organizations use this product? Check references by networking with other organizations using the systems you are considering. They will have insight into how the ATS functions on a daily basis, along with suggestions for implementation and pitfalls to avoid.


There are many Applicant Tracking Systems on the market. Selecting the best product requires knowledge of internal processes, stakeholders and a thorough analysis of features and vendor support. As with any technology it will never completely replace the people in place that support the system but, when implemented correctly, an ATS can provide a better experience for applicants and wider pool of talent for the organization to consider.


About the Author

Lori Stewart

Lori Stewart is the Manager of Organizational Development and Learning at Queen’s Human Resources, where she supports university departments with organization design, organizational assessments, process reviews, and facilitation services. Lori teaches in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, Master of Industrial Relations Program and consults as a Team Performance Coach with MBA programs at the Queen’s School of Business. Lori holds a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Acadia University.

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