Applicant Tracking System

The Ultimate Guide to Applicant Tracking Systems

With the internet bringing the whole world to your fingertips, you’d think that finding the perfect applicant would be easier than ever.

And yet filling a position with endless applicants can sometimes seem impossible. Within that huge applicant pool, there's at least one perfect candidate for the job—but how do you find them?

Luckily, applicant tracking systems (ATS) help you find great hires in a fraction of the time, and successful teams understand that. After all, there’s a reason why a staggering 99% of Fortune 500 companies already use one. Between saving money and providing a better experience for top applicants, these businesses understand that an ATS is critical to staying competitive in today’s market.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what an ATS is, how to know if you need one, and what to look for in your ATS solutions.

WHAT IS AN APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEM?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software system that acts as a centralized location for all hiring actions. This makes the hiring process simpler and smoother for both applicants and hiring managers. They can be sold individually or as part of a larger software, but will always include a host of tools that make every step of the hiring process easier. These features include:

Career Site Integration

When you create an open position on your ATS, you’ll be asked to input all the relevant information for that position in one place. Once it’s created, you’ll be able to post the same position to several different career sites at once. Then, when applicants find your position, they’ll apply directly through the ATS. Once they're done, every application will automatically appear in your ATS portal.

Application Forms

When a candidate decides to apply for a position that is advertised through an ATS, the first thing they’ll see is an application form. These are questions you write about the most critical qualifications you’re looking for. Candidates’ answers will easily be visible to the recruiter once the application is completed, giving you an instant indicator if a candidate is unqualified for the position.

AI Tools 

In the same vein, ATS software allows employers to select preferred experience, education, and skillsets. An AI tool then uses that criteria to scan applicants' resumes to automatically assign them ratings. This gives you an immediate indicator of which candidates show the most promise so you can allocate your time accordingly.

Applicant Tracking

An ATS will typically include a board that tracks where each candidate currently is in the hiring process. This gives everyone an at-a-glance view of who you've contacted, interviewed, or selected and keeps the entire team on the same page.

Most ATS software will also let you instantly find or filter candidates using search features so you can evaluate candidates who meet the exact needs of your business.

Candidate Profiles

An ATS automatically generates consistently-formatted candidate profiles for an applicant by pulling all the most important information from their resume. From a candidate’s profile, you can find their qualifications, send them direct communications, or leave a note for another team member.

Analytics

There are countless data points created throughout the hiring process that usually go unnoticed. You can transform them into more powerful hiring strategies by using analytics features to find out exactly which site is bringing in the best applicants, for example.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU NEED AN ATS

While you can always find great applicants without an ATS, adding this tool to your hiring arsenal can supercharge that process. In fact, using an ATS can save a small business up to $10,000 in hiring costs! Of course, those results are not universal, but if you notice any of the following, it could be a sign that your team will benefit more from an ATS than most:

You’re regularly filling new positions

Juggling multiple empty positions at one can be a challenge for even the best of teams. From constantly checking different job boards to keeping track of where each applicant applied, tensions (and potential slip-ups!) inevitably run high. An ATS prevents that by keeping all applications and communications for one position separate from the others.

You receive a large number of applications for each position

Let’s face it. Your attention span can only run for so long. And after sorting through three dozen unqualified candidates, you may miss the perfect applicant even when they're right in front of you. With an ATS, you can use application forms, then review the remaining applications sorted based on a certain set of traits you’re looking for. Suddenly, your ATS has cut a huge applicant pool down to a small group of the absolute best candidates.

You have a convoluted hiring process

When the process of hiring a candidate begins to feel like a marathon, things start falling apart pretty quickly. An ATS can smooth out this communication by creating a simple table with each applicant and where they are in the process. You can also communicate with other team members by leaving notes on a specific profile, keeping everyone on the same page without any extra emails.

You’re spending a lot of time on manual tasks

First, you’re entering the names of each applicant into a massive spreadsheet. Then, you’re carefully sifting through applications, trying to find that one applicant you were looking at the other day. Sometimes, it can feel like most of your job is just completing little organizational tasks. Luckily, these are precisely the types of tasks computers are great at doing quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively. By integrating an ATS into the hiring process, you let the ATS do the legwork so that you can get back to the part that matters—finding the right candidate.

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HOW MUCH DOES AN ATS COST?

Let’s get one thing straight: if you find an ATS that claims to be free, it probably won’t have the features and functionality you’re looking for. 

That said, how much should you expect to pay for an ATS? One study by G2 Stack found that the average business spends about $13,000 on solutions annually. However, it’s worth taking into account that prices will range wildly depending on a company’s size.

In general, the most comprehensive ATS solutions on the market range from about $15-$500 per month. We recommend using a free trial before signing up for the long run to ensure that you're satisfied with the software. Solutions like Manatal offer 14-day free trials that can get you started instantly with no credit card on file.

BENEFITS OF USING AN APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEM

Even if you don’t fit the descriptions above, any team—big or small—will see substantial benefit from an applicant tracking system. Specifically, an ATS can make the hiring process:

  • Fast. Between automated interview scheduling and uploading applicant information, an ATS can help eliminate all the drudgery of manual tasks and free up your time—time that could be spent conducting interviews, deciding between top candidates, and filling in positions.
  • Cost-Efficient. Naturally, when you cut the time it takes to hire, you’re cutting costs-per-hire as well. Not only does an ATS cut this cost, but it can also help calculate your total cost-per-hire using analytic tools, so you have a clear way to track what strategies are working most efficiently.
  • Legally-Compliant. Laws concerning location, industry, and position can feel like a constantly moving target, not to mention an extremely confusing one. ATS vendors use legal teams to make sure their services stay up-to-date with labor laws, allowing you to outsource the legal aspect while focusing all your attention on finding the right applicant.
  • Effective. Most importantly, an ATS makes it easier to find the highest quality candidates in any applicant pool. With knockout questions and candidate scores, an ATS makes it simple to find the top applicants instantly.

WHICH ATS SHOULD YOU USE?

As with anything, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to an ATS, and it’s important to find software that fits the specific needs of your team. Still, some features will universally improve the efficiency and workload necessary to find the right candidate. Here are some features to look for in an ATS:

Easy Application Process

Given that applicants will be applying directly through your ATS, you’ll need to ensure it provides the best experience possible to avoid frustrated candidates giving up on the position. After all, the bigger your applicant pool, the more likely you are to find the best candidates.

Integration with Job Boards

Your ATS should be doing the work for you—and if you’re still logging into eight job boards a day to check applications, it isn’t working hard enough. With job board integration, you’ll be able to distribute a job to multiple job boards and have all the applications sent directly to your ATS rather than having to log on to each site individually.

Collaboration Tools

You’re probably not the only one reviewing each candidate, so there’s no need to keep all your valuable notes to yourself! An ATS with proper collaboration tools such as email and calendar integration, shared notes, and the ability to invite people outside the team makes it easier to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Email Integration

As important as it is to communicate with your team, it’s even more important to communicate clearly with candidates themselves. With email integration, you can email applicants directly through the platform, which keeps each candidate’s communications separate and organized.

Some providers, like Manatal, even include mass email features, which you can learn more about in our post on effective mass email strategies.

Intuitive UI

You shouldn’t need a degree in computer science to operate an ATS. The best ATS will be easy and intuitive, ensuring that a) the team wants to use it and b) you don’t have to waste any extra time (or money!) learning to use the software.

Wholistic Candidate Information

If you’re jumping between three different tabs about the same candidate, you’re doing too much. The best ATS will give you all the information you need—such as their education, skills, and contact info—from a glance, plus allow you to keep track of any past communication and feedback.

Easy Implementation

An ATS should never require a team of IT specialists to implement. For the quickest implementation, look out for cloud-based ATS systems like Manatal, which you can set up yourself in just a few minutes.

Customization Options

Hiring applicants is a two-way street—as much as they’re selling themselves as great employees, you’re also selling your company as a great employer. That’s why an ATS should allow you to customize what applicants see at just about any step of the process, from beautiful career pages to intuitive application forms.

Browse through our collection of ready-to-use job description templates to ease your hiring.

WHICH ATS FEATURES SHOULD YOU AVOID?

As with anything, there are a few red flags to watch out for when it comes to ATS software. So, when you notice any of the following on an ATS vendor’s website, be sure to take an extra moment to re-evaluate their services:

Unclear Pricing

Sometimes, an ATS seems perfect—it’s got all the features you need plus easy implementation and all the customer support you could ask for. There’s only one thing missing: the price. If a site is making you jump through hoops to find out how much their services cost, it should be a sign that there’s something wrong.

Double that concern if the price seems suspiciously low. An ATS typically costs somewhere between $15-500/month. If a site is promising a comprehensive ATS at a fraction of that price, they’re likely chock-full of hidden fees and missing features.

Lack of Advanced Features

This isn’t 1998, and the expectations of an ATS have grown dramatically since they were first put on the market. So, if you see an ATS without advanced and modern features, they probably aren’t worth your time.

The most obvious example of these features is AI recommendation tools. AI features aren’t just reserved for large companies anymore—they’re the norm. And if you’re going to use an ATS to compete to find the best candidates, you should expect to have these tools in your arsenal. For example, Manatal offers AI recommendation features that are both effective and affordable that bring ideal candidates to the forefront of your search.

Login Requirements

Some ATS systems will ask candidates to create an account with the software to submit an application. This may not seem like a huge hurdle, but applicants will think twice before creating yet another account that could spam their email inbox. Letting candidates apply without login requirements lowers the barriers and allows for a wider applicant pool.

HOW TO USE AN ATS EFFECTIVELY

Even though most applicant tracking systems are easy to use, there are a few simple ways to make sure you’re getting the absolute most out of your ATS. Here are 4 tips to maximizing the time, energy, and resources saved by your software:

Train your team well

Yes, you shouldn’t need an IT background to use an ATS. But by making sure everyone understands its features and basic procedures, you can help minimize the amount of time spent back-tracking and make your team feel more comfortable using new software.

Luckily, some ATS vendors can complete this step for you. An ATS like Manatal offers free unlimited training.

Optimize your job posts

An ATS makes the process of posting/checking job listings much simpler, but all that is for nothing if your posts don’t rank well. By taking a little extra time to learn about optimizing your posts for search engines (and using your ATS to tweak all your listings at once), you can reach an even larger number of qualified applicants.

Create a simple application process

There’s a myth in recruiting that tells us that a more complicated application process helps weed out applicants who don’t care about the position. But here’s the thing: that’s completely wrong.

Great applicants know their time is valuable, and if they can apply to three other positions in the time it takes to apply to yours, they simply won’t complete the application. In fact, a study conducted by CareerBuilder found that 60% of applicants abandon applications because of their length. You can make sure that every talented applicant makes it to the finish line by using your ATS customization and integration tools to create a smooth and simple application process.

Screen Applicants Yourself

As innovative and exciting as some ATS features are, never forget that an ATS is a tool, not a person. Even if it can highlight and rank candidates with certain qualities, it takes real eyes on a resume to fully assess and evaluate which candidate is right for you.

These days, having the right ATS solution can be the key to staying competitive as an employer and business. To learn more about how Manatal can accelerate your recruitment efforts, book a demo with one of our experts or get started directly with a 14-day free trial (no credit card required).

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