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How an applicant tracking system can simplify hiring


Do you have an applicant tracking system to support your hiring process? If not, you should seriously consider it.

An applicant tracking system can save your company time and minimize the risk of losing a stellar candidate to simple human error.

To effectively implement one of these systems, it’s important to understand:

  • Why an applicant tracking system is superior to traditional recruiting methods
  • The features you should look for in an applicant tracking system
  • How to select an applicant tracking system
  • Potential downsides

First, let’s consider traditional recruiting methods and how new technology can improve them.

Traditional recruiting processes

Until recently, the process for finding and hiring a candidate was manual. It probably looked something like this:

  • Comb through resumes
  • Call and email back and forth with prospects
  • Schedule interviews
  • Maintain a log of where applicants are in the process

All of this information was likely documented in spreadsheets that must be updated several times a day.

If you have a team of recruiters, these spreadsheets then must be reconciled frequently, which is extremely time consuming and tedious.

If your company has multiple job openings and dozens – if not hundreds – of applicants for each position, that complexity quickly multiplies and can become overwhelming.

And, the fact is, we’re all human.

By conducting the recruiting process manually, things can slip through the cracks. For starters, strong candidates can be overlooked entirely because of the sheer volume of content your recruiters must wade through.

Applicants may not receive timely responses and, as a result, lose interest in the position. It’s a common complaint from candidates that “resumes go into a black hole” and they never hear anything, which can be discouraging.

Limited candidate communications can hurt your reputation and hinder your ability to hire the best talent in the least amount of time.

Jobs that remain open for longer than necessary can negatively impact your bottom line and can impact morale as other employees take on added responsibilities.

There’s a better, more efficient way to fill your company’s open jobs. It’s called an applicant tracking system.  

What is an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system uses software to aggregate the many parts of the recruiting process into one centralized location: an electronic database.

This includes:

  • Your company’s job postings
  • Candidate info (resume, cover letter and application)
  • Recruiter activity
  • Communication history between your company and candidates
  • Background checks
  • Assessment tests
  • Status updates

This information is updated in real time and accessible to all authorized personnel. At any time, a recruiter can search for and gain access to a candidate’s information and determine where a candidate is in the process.

Equally important, an applicant tracking system automates much of the recruiting process.

Why your business needs an applicant tracking system

Increasingly, companies of all sizes are leveraging the power of applicant tracking systems.

Five key reasons why:

  1. The recruiting process becomes more organized, streamlined and efficient.
  2. It saves time.
  3. Recruiters and hiring managers are free to focus on their core job functions, which helps prevent burnout and boredom and brings more value to your business.
  4. You can identify the most qualified candidates and fill positions faster.
  5. With each task automated, minimum input yields maximum output.

Applicant tracking system features

At a minimum, there are standard features you can expect to see in an applicant tracking system:

  • You can post jobs to your website.
  • Candidates can apply for jobs directly from your website.
  • Applications are housed in a database, where they are screened and parsed to determine alignment with position requirements.
  • Candidates receive automated emails confirming their status, or reminders about interviews and next steps in the process.
  • The system documents how each candidate moves through the hiring process, from initial contact through the interview and offer phases.
  • Recruiters can search the database for candidates based on keywords.
  • The system saves candidate data for future reference. This enables recruiters to search for previous applicants to determine whether they’re a good fit for a new position.

However, some applicant tracking systems offer more advanced functionality:

  • Automated posting of jobs to third-party sites and social networks
  • Automatic ranking of applications based on how well candidates align with position requirements
  • A configurable dashboard that shows the most important information
  • Branded career portals on your website
  • Ability to track and measure traffic in your career portal
  • Integration with LinkedIn and other resume sources
  • Integration with Microsoft Outlook to better track email communication and enable sharing appointments easily
  • Reporting capabilities that transform data into actionable information, which can improve your recruiting processes and help to better train personnel; for example:
    • How long was a position open?
    • Where are the most qualified candidates coming from?
    • What are the most effective recruiting activities?
    • How effective are referrals?
  • Predictive intelligence capabilities that can flag potential problems before they escalate

System selection

Once you decide to implement an applicant tracking system, you have to choose one out of hundreds of providers.

You can ask your industry peers for recommendations, but what works for one company may not work for yours. You need to find a solution that aligns with your company’s unique situation.

Things to consider when selecting an applicant tracking system:

  • How many people do you hire on a yearly basis?
  • Do you need your system to integrate with any other existing HR systems?
  • Do you need your system to integrate with any third-party systems, such as your preferred vendor systems for handling drug screenings, background checks and assessment tests?
  • What does your recruiting process currently look like? What tasks are required in your workflow? What could work better? What do you wish you were able to do?
  • How much automation do you need?
  • How many people need to access the system?
  • Do you need mobile capabilities?
  • Does your system need to be able to scale alongside your business?
  • What is your budget?

When you’ve identified a handful of applicant tracking systems that align with your needs and budget, request vendor demos so you can get an idea of how the systems work in the real world and how easy they are to operate.

Basic questions you should ask any provider of an applicant tracking system:

  • What are some strengths and shortcomings of this applicant tracking system for a business of your size, in your industry or with your type of hiring needs?
  • How do they think their system could be improved?
  • How often is their system updated or receives new features?
  • How do they keep data secure and control system access?
  • What is the availability of technical support?

A few downsides

There’s always a cost to implement new HR technology, and applicant tracking systems are no different. But consider your return on investment – utilizing an applicant tracking system creates efficiencies that can result in better quality hires while allowing your recruiters and hiring managers to spend more time on their core job functions.

If you don’t make sure the system is user-friendly and self-explanatory, which can be confirmed during pre-deployment user testing, your recruiters won’t be able to use it to its full effectiveness.

However, most of the downsides associated with applicant tracking systems are from the candidate perspective.

Depending on how the process is set up, these systems can, in some cases, create extra hurdles for candidates to apply for a job.

And because their function is to quickly screen candidates and narrow down the pool of qualified applicants, these systems often rely on algorithms when reviewing resumes. Usually, the system is looking for specific keywords to appear on resumes.

This process tends to reward applicants who are savvy about researching and incorporating the right keywords into their resumes and cover letters. But it can cause some well-qualified, but less savvy, candidates to be overlooked.

Summing it all up

Want to end your reliance on spreadsheets and stop keeping up with all your job applicants manually?

Then invest in an applicant tracking system.

You can simplify your recruiters’ and hiring managers’ jobs, better document and monitor the recruiting process, and improve the quality of candidates that you hire.

To learn more about how technology is essential to simplifying your recruiting efforts, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to HR technology.