Understanding how to effectively select and operate your Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can make or break your recruiting success. Knowing which questions to ask and prioritize up front could be the difference between a long-lasting recruiting success versus repeating the process in the near future.
Recently, I worked with an RPO client who wanted to enhance how they were using their existing Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, after coming to terms with the fact that their recruiting needs were not being met. This didn’t happen overnight, but instead came from a number of systemic issues. To start, the hiring managers had a small laundry list of complaints. They felt as though the current tool was too time consuming to use, that it didn’t capture the “right” data, and that, in general, it was not yielding a sustainable ROI. Concurrently, it was becoming evident that the candidate experience was lacking based on the high number of applicants dropping off during the job apply process.
8 Pro-Tips to Configure a Zen-like ATS
When evaluating an ATS, it can be tempting to focus on the immediate recruiting needs. But, knowing how to balance both short-term goals with long-term ones will ensure you select an HR technology system that is both scalable and optimal for your organization's recruiting needs.
Categorize by Size
In my professional opinion, the first step of any ATS evaluation process is identifying where you stand in the HR technology marketplace. Typically, companies will fall into one of three buckets.
- Enterprise level organization
- Small to medium-size business
- Staffing provider
Compare Features & Benefits
Now that you’ve classified your organization, you’ve narrowed your list and can start to compare ATS features and benefits. Pay special mind to which ones come baked into the software and which are add-ons (that come with a price tag). From a baseline perspective, most ATS will isolate the average time-to-fill rate, analyze the number of candidates, and enable resume search functionality. Depending on your organization’s ability to interpret, leverage, and communicate data, you’ll want to prioritize the must-have and nice-to-have features based on how your organization recruits today. If you are newer to data analysis, ask the provider whether the software has the ability to scale as your sophistication matures.
Identify Your Recruiting Needs
Consider asking the following questions during the evaluation process:
- Are the dashboards customizable and can they change over time?
- Can these types of customizations and/or modifications be done internally or is this a paid request?
- Which features are free? Which come with additional cost?
- Does the provider plan to roll out any new features in the coming months/years? Which features are newer to the platform?
- What is the average training time for new users? Does this come with customer support resources?
Assign a Champion
With these questions in mind, you’ll want to assign an internal technology champion from your department. From the perspective of an RPO provider, a member of my team or myself will usually take on this role advising clients on such areas as which ATS to consider, how to establish benchmarks, and the steps to develop best practices. Regardless of who it is, it is important to have someone representing your organization’s best interests, as well as relaying new product features and best practices to your talent acquisition team.
Create an Experience
The next critical area to examine after evaluating the back-end components, is the front-end experience. How does the ATS function and more importantly (if replacing an existing ATS), how does it improve the candidate experience. Candidate experience is on trend to be one of the top differentiating factors in talent acquisition. Have the software company provide you with an in-depth drill down of the job apply process. The less clicks or steps, the greater your organization will be positioned to secure talent quickly and cost-effectively.
Automate for Success
Similarly, understanding the nuances of this automation tool is key. Yes, it is important to trigger auto-reply acknowledgements for common tasks like confirmation emails, profile completion, and so on but, automation in the 21st century continues to rapidly evolve, becoming more and more sophisticated. Will the ATS remind a candidate to complete an application? Can it catch mistakes and/or overlaps in your process and react accordingly? Can you monitor and track performance overtime, as well as make necessary adjustments on the fly?
Often an overlooked part of the evaluation process is examining the third-party integrations. Having multiple plug-ins to various job boards, social media sites, and niche recruiting sites are only useful when they are the preferred distribution channels to your company. Equally as important as selecting the appropriate sites is the performance metrics surrounding this function. Does the ATS have the capability to accurately source where candidates are coming from, and moreover, is it easy to identify?
Have a Contingency Plan
Finally, the last question to pose is the most uncomfortable one to ask. Evaluating any product or service is kind of like dating. You’re asking all of the questions up front to determine who in the end the best match is. Be prepared to get some push back when you ask what happens if we break up? I know, it’s like going immediately from the first date to signing the divorce papers, but it’s important to establish clear guidelines on who ultimately owns the data. Also, know how this data can be migrated should you decide to jump ship. Ask the top providers you are vetting for references of past clients and check online reviews. Knowing that this is the most coveted resource of your department, it’s far better to be safe than to be sorry.