Talent Acquisition

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

By Mike Baumgarten

Last updated: Mar 17, 2023

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is one of the best tools you can get for recruiting and hiring. Read all about applicant tracking systems in this article.

Whether you’re a small business or a big org, getting the right talent on board is the most important part of hiring. To do it, you need the right tools in your kit — and an applicant tracking system is one of the best tools you can get.

An applicant tracking system can help you optimize your recruitment and hiring, provide a better candidate experience, and ensure legal compliance throughout the recruitment process. This enables you to spend less time on tedious, repetitive tasks and more time on the most important part of recruiting: finding, getting to know, and hiring the best talent.

In this article, we’re delving into applicant tracking systems. We’ll cover:

  • What is an applicant tracking system?
  • Benefits of using an applicant tracking system
  • How to choose the right ATS for your company

Let’s jump into it.

What is an applicant tracking system (ATS)?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software application that recruiters and hiring managers can use to structure and customize their recruitment and hiring process.

An ATS functions as a centralized platform where recruiters and hiring managers can collect and view applicants, track their progress, and filter them based on their qualifications.

Applicant tracking systems are becoming increasingly popular among HR professionals. The main reason for this is that an ATS allows recruiters and hiring managers to optimize nearly every step in the recruitment process. An ATS automates processes that would otherwise be manual, allowing you to do more with a smaller team — something which is particularly valuable for small businesses and startups.

Recruitment steps that an ATS can help you optimize include:

  • Sourcing candidates. An applicant tracking system offers automated job posting, making it fast and easy to post jobs. Some solutions can even post to multiple job boards with just one click. An ATS also offers application pages that integrate into the candidate database, as well as tools for employer brand management.
  • Managing candidates. An ATS automatically uploads candidate information and application documents into a central database. This allows you to easily add scheduling and screening information to candidate profiles and store current and past candidates. This helps you build a talent pipeline — a candidate database and funnel for future open roles.
  • Pre-screening candidates. An applicant tracking system can automatically parse resumes and cover letters. This makes it much easier to pre-screen candidates and automatically sort candidates based on their qualifications. Once you’ve found the right candidates, the ATS also offers automated outreach and tools for interview scheduling.
  • Screening and interviewing candidates. With an applicant tracking system, you can manage and host video interviews and online tests and add screening results to candidate profiles.
  • Sending job offers. With an ATS, you can generate and send job offer letters, collect signed documents from candidates, and add these documents to their files.
  • Onboarding employees. An applicant tracking system allows you to easily assign onboarding materials to new hires, track completion of onboarding tasks, and ensure that all compliance documentation is completed.

And much, much more. In fact, the features above represent only the most common capabilities of most applicant tracking systems today.

Benefits of using an applicant tracking system

There are many benefits to using an application tracking system in your recruiting process. In this section, we’ll delve into three important things an ATS allows you to do:

  1. Create a more efficient recruitment process
  2. Provide a better candidate experience
  3. Ensure legal compliance and an equitable recruitment process

1. Create a more efficient recruitment process

An ATS can help recruiters and hiring managers save a lot of time in the recruitment process by automating steps that would otherwise be manual.

We’ve already touched on some of these above, including uploading job postings to job boards. collecting, storing, and accumulating candidate information, and recording screening and interview results.

On top of helping you reduce the time you spend on manual processes, an applicant tracking system can also help you create a more efficient recruitment process.

Some of the features that facilitate this include:

  • Collaborative hiring. Hiring is rarely a one-person job. With an ATS, recruitment team members can collaborate on candidate profiles, making it much easier for everyone to stay aligned throughout the recruitment, interview, and candidate selection process.
  • Tracking and reporting on recruitment metrics. With an applicant tracking system, you can track established KPIs to quickly identify issues within your recruitment process and implement solutions using reliable data.
  • Process insights. An applicant tracking system can help recruiters identify which recruitment initiatives are working well and which need to be improved. This enables them to make informed decisions about which initiatives to scrap or move forward with.

These features can help you create a significantly more efficient recruitment process. This helps improve your chances of succeeding in what really matters: getting the best talent on board.

2. Provide a better candidate experience

One of the most important things you can do to make sure that the best talent wants to work with you is to provide a good candidate experience. A good candidate experience not only shows candidates that your organization is professional, but also that you care about your most important asset: your people.

An applicant tracking system can help you provide a better candidate experience via:

  • Seamless communication with candidates. An ATS automates crucial communication steps, ensuring consistent, timely communication with candidates at all stages of the recruitment process. This efficient communication allows candidates to move through the hiring process faster and get timely updates if they’re chosen or rejected. This keeps the candidate experience as transparent as possible and shows candidates that you value and respect their time.
  • A fair hiring process. Keeping candidates in the loop about what’s happening during the screening process allows them to feel comfortable and confident that they’re being treated fairly. It also enables them to make informed decisions about their next move — something any candidate will appreciate.

Providing a good candidate experience is just as beneficial for your company as it is for candidates. After all, candidates talk. Candidates who might not be familiar with you will hear of the experience other candidates have had with your org. You want that experience to be positive — even if the candidate didn’t get the job.

Note: One way to enhance the candidate experience is to show candidates exactly how they fit into your organization. With The Org, you can automatically import jobs from your ATS to your company’s org chart. Set up your company page and provide a better, more transparent candidate experience with The Org.

How to choose the right ATS for your company

When choosing an ATS, the first step is to know your company type and size. Applicant tracking systems vary in scope and complexity depending on what company type and size they cater to.

Company type and size typically include the following three categories:

  1. Enterprise. Large corporations — typically with 5,000+ employees. Enterprises operate in multiple locations and usually have complex requirements for recruitment and data management.
  2. Small or medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Small businesses generally have fewer than 100 employees, while medium-sized businesses typically have between 100 and 999 employees. SMBs typically require less powerful data storage options than Enterprises.
  3. Agency. Agencies tend to have high volumes of applicants, meaning they typically need large amounts of data storage, as well as strong applicant processing capabilities.

Once you know your company type and size, there are a few questions you should be ready to answer:

  • What is your budget?
  • Are you hiring globally?
  • How many roles are you looking to fill?
  • What kind of support model does your company need?
  • Does the solution’s UX work for everyone who’ll be using it?
  • Does the solution integrate with other HR systems and tools you use?

These questions can help you narrow down the scope of your search to solutions that best match your company profile.

Tip: Some HRIS’ may already have an ATS module. If yours does, you need to decide if the module offers enough functionality for your company. A standalone ATS is likely more robust and customizable than an HRIS module, so depending on your needs you may want to consider a standalone solution.

5 applicant tracking systems for SMBs

With thousands of different recruitment software platforms available, choosing the right ATS can seem a daunting task.

To help give you an idea of your options, we’ve compiled a list of five applicant tracking systems that are great for SMBs — and easy to scale as your org grows.

1. Greenhouse

Greenhouse is the fastest growing provider of recruitment software. The Greenhouse ATS is a complete recruitment solution suitable for small, medium, and large companies.

This solution is a collaborative ATS designed to be used by everyone in the company. It gives all team members — recruiters, hiring managers, interviewers, and execs — the tools they need to make better hires, faster.

Benefits of Greenhouse include:

  • Improved candidate experience. The solution offers branded email templates, consistent custom Interview Kits and scorecards to mitigate bias, and the opportunity to provide feedback through surveys.
  • Customizable hiring plans. Hiring plans can be customized for each role and further personalized for each member of the hiring team.
  • Integrations. Greenhouse integrates with 150+ technology partners.

2. Lever

Lever is a leading Talent Acquisition Suite that helps talent teams reach their hiring goals and to connect companies with top talent.

Lever provides talent acquisition leaders from all sized companies with a complete applicant tracking system and robust candidate relationship management (LeverCRM) platform in a single solution.

Benefits of Lever include:

  • Improved candidate experience. The solution features options to personalize communications to every candidate you reach out to.
  • Visual Insights. This feature gives access to comprehensive dashboards that offer predictive analytics to help easily track recruiting efforts.
  • Diversity and inclusion tools. Thorough data collection and reporting makes it easy to see the diversity of past and current candidate pools.

3. Workable

Workable is a cloud-based applicant tracking system that allows hiring teams to easily collaborate, find candidates, and track applicants.

The solution is accessible, intuitive, and easy to navigate. It’s particularly well suited for small to medium-sized businesses, enabling them to coordinate, streamline, and ultimately scale their recruitment processes.

Benefits of Workable include:

  • Improved candidate sourcing. The solution offers one-click job posting to 200+ sites, AI-powered sourcing, employee referrals, and more, helping you to fill your talent pipeline quickly.
  • Collaboration features. Workable enables recruiters and hiring teams to collaborate on evaluating applicants, gathering feedback, and making hiring decisions.
  • Fast global support. The Workable support team can be reached in quickly by phone or chat.

4. Zoho Recruit

Zoho Recruit has been awarded the best applicant tracking software by leading review platforms. Zoho Recruit offers complete solutions for both in-house recruiters and staffing agencies to help you source, track, and hire the best candidates.

The full suite ATS solution is easy to use, customizable, and has excellent search capabilities. It also comes with a small price tag, making it a great option for small businesses.

Benefits of Zoho Recruit include:

  • Reduced time-to-fill. Zoho Recruit offers tools to build an effective talent pipeline, harness valuable data, and source candidates faster to help reduce your time-to-fill.
  • AI assistant. From identifying talent to mapping candidate behavioral assessments, Zoho Recruit’s AI-powered recruiting assistant helps select the right talent.
  • Recruit on the go. The solution’s app enables you to manage candidates, clients, and contacts effortlessly and schedule interviews with a tap.

5. Breezy HR

Breezy HR is an end-to-end recruitment solution to streamline your entire hiring process. Breezy HR automates tasks like pre-screening candidates, sending emails, scheduling interviews, and collecting feedback from your team, allowing you to focus on hiring rather than tedious, repetitive tasks.

The solution is typically used by small and medium-sized businesses and offers several different payment plans — including “Bootstrap,” which is free.

Benefits of Breezy HR include:

  • Best-in-class customer support. Breezy HR offers personalized service and regular free webinars to their customers.
  • Integrations. The solution offers integrations for everything from running background checks and personality assessments to integrating with your own employee management system.
  • Free templates and resources. Breezy HR offers more than 800 HR and recruiting templates, as well as recruiting resources via the Breezy Help Center and Hire Learning Blog.

Tips for choosing your applicant tracking system

The applicant tracking systems above are only a handful of solutions available on the market.

To help you narrow down your search even further, here are a few tips for evaluating and comparing different ATS options to find the right fit for your company.

  • Involve others. Hiring is rarely a one-person job — so choosing your ATS shouldn’t be either. Talk to team leaders and hiring managers who will be using the platform and ask them what they want in an ATS.
  • Focus on your business needs. If you’re only going to hire for one or two roles in the next 12 months, now probably isn’t the right time to invest in a complex ATS.
  • Test reporting capabilities. Make sure the solution aligns with your reporting needs.
  • Get a demo. Many providers offer demos of their products. Ask questions — and make sure you understand the solution’s integrations and existing tools.
  • Consider complexity. A complex solution takes longer to implement. If you choose a complex ATS, make sure you have the resources to implement it.
  • Get a second opinion. Read reviews, and speak to current customers about their experience with the solution you’re considering.

And finally, make sure the solution you choose has the right integrations. Does the solution integrate with your calendar software, your preferred sourcing channels, and the job boards you use? Does it integrate with your HRIS to make onboarding easier? You want a solution that “plays nice” with your existing systems — so make sure to confirm that it does.

Key takeaways

Applicant tracking systems are becoming increasingly popular among HR professionals. An ATS allows recruiters and hiring managers to optimize nearly every step in the recruitment process. It automates processes that would otherwise be manual, allowing you to do more with a smaller team.

There are many benefits to using an ATS in your organization. In this article, we’ve covered three important areas.

  1. Creating a more efficient recruitment process
  2. Providing a better candidate experience
  3. Ensuring legal compliance throughout the recruitment process

When choosing an applicant tracking system, make sure to choose a solution that fits your company type and size. Consider your budget, how many roles you’re looking to fill, and if you’re hiring globally. You should also take the solution’s support model into consideration — especially if you’re new to using an ATS.

Finally, remember to talk to the people who’ll be using the applicant tracking system. You want a solution that works for everyone — and that means you need to know what your recruiters, hiring managers, and team leaders need in an ATS.

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