What Is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and How Can It Support Your Business?

November 7, 2019

In a study of talent professionals, GetApp, a comparison site for small business software, found that respondents who used an applicant tracking system (ATS) were seeing clear benefits — 86.1% said their ATS had increased the speed at which they hire and 78.3% said it had improved their quality of hire.

An ATS can help businesses of all sizes make it easier and faster for recruiting teams to manage their candidate pipelines and hire the right person for the job. If you’ve never used an ATS before but are considering adopting one, you might not know what to expect. That’s why we’ve created this handy guide to help you get started — including tips on choosing the right ATS for your company, getting leadership buy-in, training your team, and more. 

What is an ATS?

ATS solutions are a type of recruiting software designed to streamline your company’s hiring process. They serve as a centralized repository for your candidate data, including job applications, resumes, and any notes or feedback from your team. 

This makes it easier for team members to access the information they need, track important hiring metrics, and spot opportunities for improvement. Your ATS can also automate and standardize a number of time-consuming tasks, like scheduling interviews and filtering out candidates who aren’t qualified.

How to tell when you’re ready for an ATS

If your company is small or you only hire occasionally, you may not have felt the need for an ATS before now. But if your organization has gone through a period of growth, you may start to feel the strain. Managing multiple job openings and a high volume of candidates is not easy when you’re reliant on manual processes, and things can start to slip through the cracks. 

But sudden growth spurts aren’t the only sign that your company could benefit from adopting an ATS. This software can smooth out countless wrinkles recruiting teams face, from unnecessary inefficiencies to blind spots in your internal communication flow. 

Maybe you’ve found yourself losing out on great candidates because your process took too long and they were snapped up elsewhere. Maybe a hiring manager has grumbled about the lack of visibility in the process, making it hard for them to track the status of open roles. Or maybe you’re tired of spending too much time on tasks that don’t really add a lot of value to the process — like the endless back and forth of scheduling interviews, or the headache of shifting between multiple apps and tabs to get even the simplest things done. 

The truth is, any company that hires can benefit from using an ATS. Not only can they boost your team’s productivity, but they can offer invaluable insights into your recruiting process that allow you to continuously improve. 

How to convince leadership you need an ATS

Whether you’re diving right into using a paid ATS or are just dipping your toe into the water with a free version, it may take a little convincing to get your leaders on board. 

The first step is helping them understand what an ATS is and how it can help. They may not be familiar with the terminology or have an outdated understanding of what ATS platforms can do, so be sure to talk them through it in simple terms, avoiding jargon.

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Center your argument on the pain points your organization is struggling with the most, framing them in a way that will help your leaders understand the true damage they can cause to the business if left unchecked. If it takes you a very long time to hire, for example, you could explain that this is causing roles to be left vacant for longer, leading to a department-wide drop in productivity that is hurting customer satisfaction. Then, explain exactly how an ATS would solve this problem, allowing your team to move candidates through the process much faster to fill vacant roles in days or weeks, not months

If you can tie your case for an ATS back to the bottom line and the business’s overarching goals, your leaders will be more willing to hear you out — and allocate the resources you need. 

Knowing when to graduate from a free to a paid version 

While a free ATS can be a good starting point, helping your team familiarize themselves with the software and start gathering data around its impact (more on that in a moment), you may find you eventually outgrow this option.

All free ATS solutions will come with their share of limitations. You may have limited access to features that you really need, or be allowed a limited number of users. As your team scales and your number of open positions grows, the free software may start to become more of a hindrance than a help. 

When it’s the right moment to switch, your gut will know. If the system can no longer support your needs or is not delivering the benefits you hoped for, it’s time to upgrade.

Showing return on investment (ROI) for your ATS

Once you’ve determined you need to make the switch to a paid ATS, you’ll need to prove the return on investment (real or potential) to your leaders. 

Focus on the three core metrics an ATS is designed to improve: time to hire, cost per hire, and quality of hire. If you’ve been using a free ATS for a while, you’ll probably have some data around these metrics that you can share with your leaders to make your case. For example, it might have taken your team an average of two months to make a hire before you started using an ATS, but that time has dropped to six weeks since you implemented it. Those two weeks that you save are two weeks that the role isn’t sitting empty — and two weeks that your team can dedicate to other tasks. And since the process is quicker, the company is no longer losing top candidates to its competitors, giving your quality of hire a boost too. 

Showing the improvement that took place before and after you implemented the solution can help demonstrate the true potential of using a more powerful, paid version. You could make a case, for instance, that a paid ATS could help you cut down your time to hire by another two weeks — or more. 

Once you’ve adopted a paid ATS, you’ll be able to access even more detailed reports and analytics around your key metrics. This will make it easier to report back to your leaders and show the success of the upgrade — building their trust and making them more likely to back your initiatives in the future. 

Choosing the right ATS: Identifying the top ATS options for your company

No two ATS solutions are the same. There are a number of different features that may be included with your system, including job posting, reporting and analytics, interview scorecards, and bulk communication tools. This is a good thing, as it allows you to select the ATS that best suits your company’s unique hiring needs. But with so many options out there, it can be tricky to decide which ATS is right for you. 

Before you commit to one, sit down with your team to identify the ATS features you need the most. Start by creating a detailed outline of your current hiring process, including the different people involved and the roles they play, and the various tools you rely on to move candidates through the process efficiently. 

Next, make a list of the biggest challenges you’re facing. Make a note of which stages in the hiring process are taking the longest, and where your team feel like they’re personally wasting the most time. 

By looking at your list of pain points, you should be able to map out the features that could provide the most value to your team. List these out in order of priority, making a clear definition between features that are essential and those that would just be an added plus. Your list could include the following features (though this is by no means an exhaustive checklist): 

  • Job post management — Post open roles, keep track of applications, and view how your job posts are performing
  • Candidate sourcing — Search for and reach out to strong candidates without leaving the platform
  • Candidate recommendations — See an auto-populated list of candidates who might be a great fit for the role
  • Applicant auto-ranking — Focus on the most qualified applicants first with a list ranked based on how closely they match the job requirements
  • Pipeline trackingMove candidates seamlessly through each step of the hiring process and view where they are at a glance
  • Interview scheduling — Find a time that works for both your team and the candidate without the endless back-and-forth 
  • Internal collaboration tools — Communicate easily, share notes and feedback, and see which candidates teammates have already reached out to
  • Features for the hiring manager — Keep your hiring manager in the loop with the ability to view the progress of a req, give feedback about candidates, and more
  • Reporting dashboards — View a wealth of data about your hiring process that can help you make strategic adjustments 
  • Offer management — Extend offers to your top candidates directly through the platform 

Your list of must-have and nice-to-have features will provide you with a picture of your ideal ATS. To make sure this picture is realistic, assess your budget and determine exactly how many people will need access to the system. 

With all this information in hand, you can start researching your options. Be sure to take into account factors like monthly versus annual payments and fixed costs versus pay per feature. It’s also important to consider the long-term potential of the solution. If the vendor charges incremental fees, for example, the ATS may prove much more expensive than it seems on face value. And if it won’t be easy to scale the solution if your team grows, then you may need an option that gives you more room to breathe. 

Before you make your final decision, it’s worth asking for a demo of all your top options. Let the team work in each ATS and gather their feedback before you commit to buy. That way, they’ll already be somewhat comfortable with the new system you implement — and you can feel confident that you’ve made the right decision. 

Onboarding effectively: How to familiarize and train your team to use an ATS

After you’ve settled on your new ATS, it’s time to get the team up to speed and ready to rock and roll. The good news is, if they’ve already demoed the system, they’re probably already on board with the new way of working and excited to dive deeper. 

To ensure a smooth adoption period, create an implementation plan in advance. This will help keep your team on the same page about what they need to do to be successful. 

First, outline the different roles that each team member will play in your workflow, listing out the specific tasks and responsibilities they’ll be accountable for. This can be based on your pre-existing workflow, with small adjustments based on what can be automated or streamlined using the ATS. With these roles mapped out, it will be easier to assess what level of access to grant individual users to your system, as it’s likely that not everyone will need to see all your data all the time. 

Next, appoint someone to own the onboarding process (it could be you). Their job will be to familiarize themselves thoroughly with the system, be a mentor to other users, and act as a point of contact for any questions or issues that arise. 

Finally, remember that your vendor is there to help. If you’ve chosen a good partner, they’ll be invested in your long-term relationship and more than happy to offer support. Many can provide training materials, such as webinars, to help your team get comfortable with the system. Others may give you access to a dedicated representative who can also all your questions and offer personalized support. If you’re not sure what help is available to you, just ask. 

Consider LinkedIn Talent Hub: An all-in-one hiring solution

Choosing the right ATS for your team can be a challenge. As you weigh your options, don’t forget that LinkedIn Talent Hub is now live. 

Talent Hub, LinkedIn’s new ATS, allows you to manage your hiring process from sourcing to extending an offer — without ever leaving the platform. Built-in productivity and collaboration features ensure you won’t have to toggle between a dozen tabs, and your teammates and hiring managers will never be left in the dark. And thanks to insights from our 600+ million users, Talent Hub can help you develop a smarter, more data-driven hiring strategy — making it easier to find the right candidates for your jobs. 

To find out if Talent Hub is right for your team, request a demo today.

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