What Is an ATS?

How do companies streamline their hiring and interview process, keep track of all their applicants and measure their sourcing and recruiting efforts? While some use spreadsheets or other systems, the majority of companies accomplish all this with an Applicant Tracking System, also known as an ATS. In this post, we’ll explore what exactly an ATS is and what it can do, why it’s important to have one and how you can decide on the best ATS for your company.

First Things First: What Is an ATS?

An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is the software that’s used to streamline your hiring process. At its essence, an ATS collects applications and stores data about applicants, such as which source they came from, which role they applied to and where they are in the application process. An ATS can also include a job board that shares open roles through various channels and collects the applications that these job listings attract. It’s also common for an ATS to collect feedback about candidates throughout the hiring process, such as when they conduct a take-home assessment or visit the office for an onsite interview.

Here’s a quick overview of what our ATS, Greenhouse Recruiting, has to offer:

  • Structured hiring tools to guide the interview and assessment process
  • Customized career pages and email templates to create a standout application and candidate experience
  • Reports and analytics to help you understand current activities and predict future hiring performance

HR tech companies are increasingly expanding their offerings from a simple ATS into a more robust talent acquisition suite that covers every stage from prospect to employee. A talent acquisition suite can include components such as candidate relationship management (CRM) tools that help recruiters build long-term relationships with prospective candidates, tools that reduce bias in hiring practices and onboarding tools that guide the process from candidates to new hires. Since the ATS is often considered the source of truth when it comes to candidates’ data, it’s well situated to integrate with various other types of software such as the Human Resources Information System (HRIS), scheduling software, video interview software and much more.

Why Do You Need an ATS?

There are a number of reasons you need an ATS. First and foremost, it helps to streamline your hiring process and ensure that you can easily track what’s happening with each candidate. This reduces errors, duplicated efforts and the chances of candidates getting lost in the shuffle – plus it helps recruiting teams act quickly and make accurate assessments. It also means candidates have a better experience, since an ATS makes it easy for recruiters to know where candidates are in the process and keep them informed. For the modern Talent team, metrics matter and an ATS can generate reports that track how many candidates are moving through the pipeline, which sources they’re coming from, how long they spend at each stage and much more.

Since hiring and retaining talent is at the forefront of most business leaders’ minds, an ATS is a valuable part of the HR tech stack. In addition to an ATS (which, as we’ve mentioned, can cover prospects through to new hires), many companies also use a Human Resources Information System, or HRIS, to store employee data, manage payroll and benefits, and track PTO. Additionally, companies often build out their HR tech stack with employee engagement, learning and development, and employee recognition offerings. For a great overview of the modern HR tech stack, check out this post from our friends at Culture Amp.

How Do You Choose an ATS?

Choosing an ATS is a major decision that’s likely to involve various stakeholders from your organization. Here’s a quick overview of some of the steps you’ll want to go through when choosing an ATS.

1. Outline your current pain points

    To make the case for adopting new technology, start by outlining what’s not working well with your current system. Common complaints include: a clunky online application process that makes the company look bad, no way to measure quality or efficiency of sourcing efforts, and decisions and offers not being documented in a systematic way. You can easily draw a connection between these pain points and an unsatisfactory candidate experience, which can hurt your company’s reputation and discourage future prospects from applying. Look for ways to connect your pain points with unsatisfactory business outcomes and you’ll increase your chances of getting buy-in from other decision-makers at your company.

    2. Create a list of the features and services that matter most

    Consider each stage of the application process and what you’d like your ATS to provide. For example, what are your priorities for sourcing, candidate/application review, interviews and measuring pipeline metrics? Don’t forget to think about the big picture. Besides recruiters, who else will be using the ATS? How easy or difficult will it be for them to familiarize themselves with this new software? What type of support will you need on an ongoing basis?

    3. Do your research

    Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, you’ll want to speak with vendors to learn more about their offerings, demo the products and get quotes to price out each option. During this stage, you may also find it helpful to get references from your top choice vendors. Ask to speak with companies that are at a similar size or stage of growth. Be sure to outline your list of questions ahead of time. Ask them about things like how long the set-up process took and how smoothly it went, whether employees find the software easy to use and whether there’s anything they wish they’d known about rollout and implementation ahead of time.



    Still feel like you could use a little support to help you choose your ATS? Download a copy of The ATS Buyer’s Guide. This comprehensive resource walks you through each step of evaluating and choosing vendors and includes a detailed evaluation worksheet to help you compare solutions.

    Melissa Suzuno

    Melissa Suzuno is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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