What Is An Applicant Tracking System? A Complete ATS Guide

Published by:
Rebecca Noori
January 9, 2023
min read

The Ultimate ATS Comparison Guide

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First, the bad news. An unpolished recruitment process gives off negative vibes about your employer brand, negatively impacting your ability to fill vacancies with quality candidates. 

Worse still, 72% of job applicants who receive a poor candidate experience share this either online or with someone directly, spreading the word that applying for a role at your company isn’t worth anyone’s time. 

From sloppy communication to bottlenecks along the way, a clunky user experience can make it hard to convince great talent to join your team. Yikes! 

The good news? All of this can be reversed when you invest in an applicant tracking system. But what is an applicant tracking system, anyway? Well, this guide breaks down everything you need to know: what it is, key features to look for, and the top 10 signs you need one for your next hiring campaign.

What is an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system or ATS is a software program designed to help employers, recruiters, and human resource teams efficiently process the large volume of job applications they receive for one or more vacancies.  An ATS will streamline your entire recruitment process and acts as a source of truth for your hiring funnel. 

Recruitment digitisation with applicant tracking systems is beneficial for organisations of any size. Some 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies rely on applicant tracking systems to find new hires. At the other end of the scale, 35% of smaller companies already use recruitment software, with the numbers continuing to grow.

How do applicant tracking systems work?

An ATS automates many of the repetitive tasks associated with recruiting, including: 

  • Posting job listings 
  • Sorting resumes 
  • Creating applicant profiles 
  • Tracking applicants throughout their recruitment journey 
  • Shortlisting the best candidates 
  • Communicating with candidates and internal recruiting teams 
  • Handling a wide range of administrative tasks associated with recruitment.

The ultimate aim of an applicant tracking system is to speed up the recruitment process and ensure hirers consider the most qualified external candidates. 

Why use an ATS during the hiring process?

Although humans still remain integral to the entire recruitment process, an application tracking system automates the process to source, review, test, and recruit the best candidates for roles. Not only will you cut back on time-consuming tasks, but you’ll also eliminate the type of bias that infiltrates manual processes. 

ATSs offer a myriad of benefits for both employers and candidates. Read more on the benefits of using an ATS here.

Key features of applicant tracking systems

No two applicant tracking systems are made equal, and there are plenty of software products in the market to handle your entire candidate journey. But you’ll come across some similar features in a quality ATS.

Create & post job ads 

Most recruiting software allows employers to quickly create and post job ads on multiple recruitment channels, including job boards and social media sites. This ensures that your listing reaches a large pool of potential applicants. 

More sophisticated models, such as Applied, also analyse your job description text to check you appeal to your target audience. The purpose is to ensure you aren't unwittingly dissuading any particular gender or ethnic group from applying for your role. 

Tired of manually posting open vacancies on multiple job boards and checking to see if they're still live? In just a few clicks, applicant tracking systems automatically post your job ad in multiple locations to maximise the reach of your recruitment campaign. 

User-friendly, centralised dashboards

A centralised dashboard is a defining feature of an ATS, giving hiring managers an at-a-glance overview of a recruitment campaign. From here, you'll have access to candidate contact and interview scheduling info, along with their specific stage in the hiring funnel. 

Easily share candidate profiles with other hiring team members, or add notes and scores to promising applicants when you need multiple stakeholders to collaborate. 

Skills testing

Cognitive, numerical skill assessments, and SIFT tests are increasingly popular, as employers want to understand the skills and competencies of potential candidates beyond those listed in their CVs. Add specific aptitude tests to the recruitment process with an ATS, then score them against predetermined criteria. Use the results as a filter to source candidates your competitors will envy. 

Store candidate profiles

An ATS should act as a database for the candidate application process. This means you can quickly search through applicants' profiles and drill down by location, date of application, and qualifications. It's handy for keeping track of multiple job postings and related applicants.  

Interview scheduling and communication management

An ATS radically simplifies candidate communication by storing contact information and reaching out with important application status updates. For example, your software will send automated emails informing people if they have progressed to the next stage, provide links for them to schedule interviews, or extend job offers to successful candidates. 

Analytics &  reporting

An ATS should provide insight into your recruitment process through analytics & reporting features. Applied’s ATS allows you to measure the impact of your recruitment efforts, helping you understand the effectiveness of your job postings, the stages at which candidates drop out most frequently, and the overall health of your talent pipeline.

Research shows there are numerous benefits to building diverse teams in the workplace. With Applied, organisations can view important metrics that help companies achieve their D&I goals, including the diversity of applicant pools and any potential biases in their hiring process.

Third-Party Integrations

Applicant tracking software can also be integrated with third-party tools in your existing HR tech stack to streamline your pre-screening and employee onboarding process. 

10 signs your hirers need an ATS 

But are applicant tracking systems for everyone? If you already have an established hiring process, or you're a brand-new startup not ready to scale, you might question whether an ATS is the right fit. 

Check out these top 10 signs you could benefit from a more advanced approach. You'll quickly see that applicant tracking solutions are valuable regardless of company size, niche, or age. 

1. Your time to fill open roles is too long 

75% of global companies report talent shortages which directly impacts time to fill metrics. Finding quality candidates to fill an open vacancy isn’t a quick process, and with some candidates receiving job offers from multiple employers, there are often a few bumps along the way. The current benchmark time to fill a role is 42 days, but this does vary by industry. Admin and customer service roles may take a shorter 33 to 34 days, while an engineering role takes up to 49 days. 

If your approach is consistently longer than these median times, recruiting tools can make the process smoother and locate new joiners to fill your roles quickly. In fact, Applied customers report a 66% reduced time to hire. 

2. You rely on spreadsheets and email templates  

Look at your current hiring process and consider if it belongs in a museum of antiquated recruitment practices. Telltale signs include pairing email chains with spreadsheet data to organise applicant details. 

From endless messages about interview scheduling to manually sorting and even printing CVs, it can be bedlam. And it’s even worse if you’re hiring for several open roles at once. 

Recruiting software provides a single, central location to store all the necessary information. It's cloud-based, so ideal for any distributed recruitment team. You'll log in anytime and from any location to view and manage the data you need. Set up notifications when you receive new job applications or alerts if an applicant has completed a mandatory skills test. 

3. You don’t have a talent pool to tap into

Another problem with the manual approach to applicant tracking is it's far harder to create a rich, highly-skilled talent pipeline to tap into when you most need it. But an ATS stores active and passive candidate details allowing you to match promising applicants to future positions.

Let's say Candidate A gets through to the job interview stage for a project manager role but is pipped to the post by Candidate B, who is better suited and is offered the position. Two months from now, another vacancy crops up that would be ideal for Candidate A. With applicant tracking software, use the candidate search function to access your applicant database and quickly review their details and skill set before reaching out with a job offer. 

4. You can’t identify your source of quality candidates

Not all hiring sources are a good fit for your role. And if you've published your job posts on several popular job boards and social platforms, it can take time to identify which channel delivers the best candidates and which aren't worth using in the future. 

Recruiting software makes it easy to track and understand your hiring sources. You'll pinpoint which sources yield the highest quality hires, so you can refine your recruitment activities and focus on the channels that work best for you.

5. You’re struggling to coordinate hiring decisions 

Consider how many people are involved in any collaborative hiring decision. Do you need multiple line managers, human resources teams, and executive stakeholders to sign off before offering a candidate the job? 

This is easy to achieve in an applicant tracking system where you can collaborate with fellow hirers and recruiters throughout screening activities and the interview process. If a candidate looks promising, send their details to the right people for their opinion or feedback. Quickly establish who has been consulted and view comments or questions in a single location. 

6. You’re not attracting a diverse selection of potential candidates 

Diversity, equity and inclusion is a top HR priority for leaders, but talking the talk no longer cuts it. Companies that want to position themselves as progressive employers must ensure they’re actively hiring external candidates from underrepresented groups. 

If you consistently fall short in this area, make sure your job descriptions and ads appeal to a diverse selection of candidates. To encourage their interest, use an ATS that crafts inclusive job descriptions

For example, masculine-coded language such as "competitive" or "champion" may prevent female applicants from getting in touch. Similarly, complex language in your listing may repel skilled applicants who assume you need a degree to receive a job offer. 

Applied has an in-built job description tool that uses artificial intelligence to highlight language that could convey a subconscious meaning. Use this tool to benefit from a 4x increase in ethnically diverse candidates. 

7. Your hires are too similar 

Attracting minority applicants is only the first stage of the process. The second is to ensure you hire a wide range of diverse candidates. If your new hires all look and sound the same, and went to the same college, then you likely have a problem with affinity bias at some stage in your hiring process. This is where recruiters subconsciously look for applicants similar to them in terms of education, background, or race. 

An ATS that uses anonymised applications resolves this issue by taking names, gender, and personal details out of the equation. Instead, it focuses on a skills-based methodology, including cognitive and numerical skills, to evaluate every candidate on their merits and nothing else.

8. Your candidates turn down your job offers 

In a candidate-driven job market, the tables have turned. It’s not enough to post a job, promise a competitive salary and expect your candidates to move through the hiring funnel without entertaining job offers elsewhere. Candidate experience is more important than ever.

If you consistently lose applicants at the offer stage, it may be you haven’t nurtured them effectively, and your candidate engagement scores are low. An ATS simplifies candidate communication, so they feel informed and engaged throughout the process. Your software aims to shorten the hiring cycle so your applicants stay interested and you hire the right person. 

By creating a seamless, candidate journey from job listing to offer letter, an ATS helps you retain the best talent.

9. You base hiring decisions on resume keywords

The working world has used CVs since Leonardo da Vinci sent a job request letter to the Regent of Milan in 1482. Since then, job seekers have used resumes to deliver a snapshot of their work history, qualifications, and experience. But times have moved on, and thanks to the wizardry of behavioural science, we understand that recruiters often completely overlook ideal candidates based on identifiers in their resumes. Recruiting teams may never contact some applicants due to their:

  • Name 
  • Gender 
  • Age 
  • Photo
  • Home address 
  • Previous employer 

If your recruiting strategy relies on searching for resume keywords, be aware this approach can screen out as many as 88% of qualified candidates because they haven’t used the right string of text.

We're not saying you need to eliminate resumes from your application process if you value past experience and education details. But be sure to anonymise the CVs, so you don't fall victim to bias. 

Using an ATS that removes personal information gives you a chance to focus on what matters. Not someone’s surname, religion, or the fact they'd be older than anyone else on the team. But simply if they have the necessary skills for your job! 

10. Your new hires are disappointing 

Recruitment isn't cheap, with CIPD estimating that the average cost per hire is £6,125 but reaching as high as £19,000 for managerial positions. The cost skyrockets further if you use recruitment agencies to source applicants. So, it's a real kicker if you shell out four or five figures only to be disappointed by the quality of hire. Or worse, for your new joiners to quit within a few months. 

Applicant tracking software protects your recruiting budget by using predictive analytics and skills-based testing to forecast how well a candidate is likely to perform in their new role. This potent combo means you can bid farewell to bad hires and only onboard candidates who add long-term value to your business. 

When you use Applied as your ATS, expect a 93% retention rate after a year and 3x as many suitable candidates compared to traditional hiring. 

Transform your recruitment process and predict the best hire with Applied

The message is loud and clear: applicant tracking systems produce results. 

Of course, you could still take a manual recruitment strategy approach, but why risk a headache? 

Applicant tracking systems: 

  • Save time and money 
  • Support your DEI initiatives 
  • Eliminate bias from your hiring funnel
  • Provide timely communication
  • Build an impressive pool of candidates for future-facing businesses 
  • Ensure your vacancies are filled with top-quality candidates

No matter your business size or sector, quality applicant tracking software maximises your recruiting efforts and accomplishes your goals. 

‍Applied is the best applicant tracking system for ethical and effective hiring. Built on the principles of behavioural science, our central platform uses anonymised applications and cognitive assessments to boost diversity and identify the best candidates in your industry. 

Start transforming your hiring now: book in a demo.

FAQ Summary

What is applicant tracking software?

Applicant tracking software (or ATS) is a software program designed to help employers, recruiters, and human resource teams efficiently process the large volume of job applications they receive for one or more vacancies. It automates many of the repetitive tasks associated with recruiting

What are the benefits of using an ATS?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) streamlines recruitment by automating tasks like resume screening and candidate communication. It improves efficiency, reduces manual effort, and ensures compliance with hiring regulations. ATS also provides valuable data insights for better decision-making, ultimately enhancing the overall recruitment process.

Who uses applicant tracking systems?

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are widely used by organisations of all sizes and industries to streamline their recruitment and hiring processes. These systems are key for HR professionals, hiring managers, recruiters, and talent acquisition teams in particular. They provide a centralised platform to source and manage candidates, facilitate interview scheduling, and oversee the onboarding process.

How much do applicant tracking systems cost?

The cost of applicant tracking systems varies depending on factors such as the features and scale of usage. You can find more information about pricing for the Applied platform here.

What is the difference between an ATS and a CRM?

While both applicant tracking systems (ATS) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems serve to manage information and interactions, they cater to different processes. 

  • An ATS is specifically designed to streamline the recruitment process, from sourcing candidates and managing resumes to interview scheduling and onboarding. It focuses on building and maintaining a talent pool, enhancing candidate experience, and ensuring efficient hiring workflows.

  • A CRM is primarily used to manage interactions with existing and potential customers. It helps organisations track customer communication, manage sales leads, and maintain customer relationships.

While there may be some overlap in features, an ATS is tailored to the needs of HR professionals and recruiters, whereas a CRM caters to sales and marketing teams.