When you're looking for a new ATS system, you should consider which features and criteria are going to be most important for you.

Almost every major corporation and organization uses an ATS in one way or another, so it’s important to understand the basics and they work while seeking out the best for your company.

Because of the ubiquity of Applicant Tracking Software systems, you are more than likely looking to switch to a new applicant tracking system.

But before doing so, what are you actually looking for?

Buying new ATS? Get the Recruiting Software Evaluation Matrix for your team. 

What Is An Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

As employers become flooded with job applications from several different departments for different jobs, they need a way to organize all of this information.

Here are the primary functions of an ATS:

  1. Track candidate information
  2. Track open positions
  3. Track candidates in each hiring stage for those positions

From there, hiring managers can chip in and comment on their impressions of each candidate, record interview notes and leave any other feedback.

The information stored in the system helps recruiters manage the candidate through the process, including setting up interviews, assessments and offer letters.

Once a candidate sees a job posting, it is usually linked to their applicant tracking system. This form will capture all of the pertinent information for a candidate. This will include their contact info, cover letter and resume which will then be processed through the ATS.

The ATS condenses all of this information into a searchable database. From here, recruiters can set up certain screening criteria, such as years of experience or a specific skill set, and alert them to various candidates.

The candidate information is still available and recruiters can review any resume at any time. Because of these specific filters and screens, some companies prefer to have a wider open hiring policy to surface new and interesting candidates. Many times this happens if the initial screening process did not lead to many quality applicants.

Applicant Tracking Software also simplifies the eprocess of reconsidering a candidate for future roles. Since your company is probably only hiring a limited number of people for a role, this is a great way to tap into candidates for other or future positions.

Referral sources

One of the advantages of an applicant tracking system is the ability to see referral sources. They will often point back to the job site, marketplace or social media post where an applicant found your position.

From this data, recruiters can make an educated decision about where to use their recruitment marketing dollars. IT will also quickly show which channels are overperforming or underperforming for particular jobs and positions.

Some jobs may be better filled on LinkedIn than targeted message boards and vice versa.

Key Features In Your ATS

1. Candidate ranking

Many advanced ATS systems have features to prioritize and filter through candidates that match your job description.

Ranking features with an ATS will match the candidates’ experience and resume with your job description and then highlight who they believe best fits your job description.

The danger is that too much automation or a singular focus on only skill sets or only on certain keywords will limit a lot of great creative candidates from ever reaching the review stage. Review the suggestions made in the automatic ranking systems to ensure that they fit the candidate profiles you're looking for.

2. Keyword filtering

Another great feature of many ATS systems is filtering by keywords in a resume. With a keyword search, you can automatically see candidates from the past and current candidates who may have specific skills. For example, search “iOS development” or “JavaScript” and see all the candidates who have that skill. If you're looking for a series of skills, you could use a Boolean search to list several of those skills and find candidates with that experience.

However, you can’t put all of your trust in the algorithm. Some ATS systems will parse resumes but could miss if the submitted resume is not formatted to the liking of the ATS. And a great candidate could slip through.

Always take a moment to view a candidate's resume especially if they do match a few keywords because they may match for even more of the skills that you’re looking for.

ATS factors

3. Career page customization and employer branding

Another important part of any applicant tracking software system is the ability to connect the company career page with the specific job descriptions and roles to your applicant tracking system.

You can publish job posts directly from most ATS systems to popular job boards and then remove job posts once they've been filled.

For consistent employee branding, add photos, logos or social sharing capabilities right alongside your job posting. The career page and job description functions as your landing page from other job sites. Your page should look sharp and functional to put your best foot forward for candidates.

For solid employer branding, your career page should support your brand and look like your company. A good applicant tracking system will give you the tools and resources to promote your brand.

4. Post to multiple sites

Another important benefit of applicant tracking systems is the ability to publish to multiple job sites and marketplaces in a single click. Many of the large job sites that you're familiar with such as CareerBuilder or Indeed will have API connections to most of the major applicant tracking systems. If the system you choose does not have that capability, there are some easy integrations that you can put in place to make sure that you published as many sites as possible.

It’s valuable to learn how to do this on your own, because chances are you’ll want to post on sites beyond the massive ones. Niche sites provide a unique opportunity to reach targeted audiences. You’ll want job descriptions that target them specifically as well.

An ATS can track which job boards were the most successful for you and provide valuable analytics for your future efforts.

5. Single solution or all-in-one HR hub?

This benefit usually goes unstated, but it is a very important feature for you to think about. Do you need an integrated HR solution to manage all of your functions or a single ATS solution?

An integrated applicant tracking system allows you to have all of the information that you need for a candidate. A few clicks and you can keep all of the information in one platform.

This is especially valuable if you have candidates that are applying for many positions or if you think a candidate may be a better fit in a different role than what they applied for. A single platform--often called a Human Resources Information System (HRIS)--provides access to all of that information in your database.

A dedicated system--such as an ATS--will usually give you more functionality and customization, because they are focused on the ATS experience. It will usually be less expensive than a more comprehensive solution and an ATS can provide dedicated service directly related to applicant tracking rather than the general experience of an HRIS.

6. Interview scheduler

Once you hit the interview stage of hiring process you will appreciate your applicant tracking system even more because it allows simple coordination between hiring managers, applicants, and the recruiters.

An ATS is the place for notes and feedback that people have on each of the candidates. Many of the systems--such as a Lever or Workable will connect directly to calendars for managers and employees and see if they're available.

Then if you have a whole team of people needing to interview a certain candidate, you do not have to message each of them individually to determine availability. Instead, you can do it all through your applicant tracking system.

This cuts down a lot on the back and forth that you're having, not only with the candidate but also with your internal employees.

Incorporating the interview scheduling feature eliminates those headaches.

It will even send automated reminders for any upcoming interviews which is great when you're trying to schedule interviews back to back. This saves a lot of energy.

Get support in your ATS system

7. Onboarding

Do you want your applicant tracking system to also function as your onboarding system?

If you want all of the information centralized then it may make sense to go with an applicant tracking system that also has onboarding available. That way the information is easily transferable from one system to another, from one step in the process to the next, and you will not have to worry about the different logins and information.

However, onboarding-specific systems usually have more customization or more robust training modules and this may prove to be an advantage, and may not want to combine that with your applicant tracking system.

8. Importing and exporting

If you are searching for a new applicant tracking system, you need an easy process for importing and exporting contacts either from a resume, from another CRM, from a spreadsheet, or from another applicant tracking system. Finding a system that can do that well for you may be an important consideration especially if you have a lot of data or if you've used an ad-hoc system in the past.

9. Customized workflow

Think about your company’s workflow and the steps in your hiring process. Compared to other companies in your market, this could be a competitive edge. Hiring is an advantage for the most innovative companies and you don't want your applicant tracking system to work against you; instead you want it to work for you.

To accommodate your uniqueness, you need a customized workflow that will free you. Look for customized templates and capabilities so that you don't have to jump through hoops only because it’s the next option in the ATS.

Many applicant tracking systems can communicate and send messages on your behalf. Implement automated triggers to complete the next step in the process, such as automatically requesting an interview or messaging the next person in the hiring process. This can help streamline your communication.

10. Support

With an applicant tracking system, you are still buying software and there will be an adjustment period to any new software.

Is the support that the ATS offers what you need? How is that experience beyond the sales call and demo? Your implementation will influence your experience. Once you start receiving hundreds of resumes for various positions, you will want to be comfortable with its functionality and have the ATS work to your benefit.

ATS features

The 9 Most Highly Reviewed ATS Systems

The top 3 rated ATS in Capterra

1. Built For Teams

Capterra Verified Review: “It’s very simple and easy to use. Customer service is great and they always respond in a timely manner.”

2. Recooty

Capterra Verified Review: “Intuitive design and solid performance. The social media and Google jobs integrations are superb.”

3. Comeet

Capterra Verified Review: [Comeet] streamlines the entire process of how candidates are interviewed and how they progress throughout the interview process. It brings a sense of social collaboration to hiring. Love that they incorporated sharing of jobs on LinkedIn and other social media, along with employee referral capability.

Best reviewed ATS tools

The top 3 rated ATS in G2Crowd

4. ADP Workforce Now

G2Crowd Review: “Recruiting has been impacted the most with managers having access to a resume database, ability to track applicants, post positions and complete the hiring process online.”

5. Zoho Recruit

G2Crowd Review: “I have been recruiting for 25+ years and since ATS systems have been used I have used several and have found that Zoho has allowed me the flexibility to use what I need and adapt things to my specific needs without needing to spend a lot of time learning how to do things or worse yet having to adapt how I do things to their system. Also, the price is easy to justify!”

6. iCIMS Talent Management Platform

G2Crowd Review: “I liked that we could configure iCIMS to fit into our recruiting process. The plug-ins with our background screening and drug screening save us a ton of time, and iForms allowed us to move from paper applications to e-signature. We will never outgrow iCIMS with all of the technology it allows us to use to make the candidate experience better.”

The top 3 rated ATS in GetApp

7. Workable

GetApp Review: “The software is well thought out, and by far the ONLY affordable option we found on the market. The fact that our employment ads, once on Workable, automatically go out to many FREE job sites without any further action on our part is a huge plus and has led to our being able to have more applications to review…”

8. Crelate

GetApp Review“The metrics available are endless and are quickly and easily accessible. The data provided empowers me to track performance and lead more effectively. Crelate's ridiculously easy customization across the board ensures that Crelate molds to our needs without headaches.”

9. Vincere

GetAppReview“With Vincere.io it's been a really straightforward experience from day 1: I was able to easily import my data by myself, using their data import system and was up and running within a couple of hours.”

Conclusion: Considerations For Your ATS

Beyond the features of what the ATS system can actually do, don’t forget those “intangibles” that really make working with new software a pleasure for you and your team.

Just because a software application checks all of your feature boxes does not mean that it is a joy to use.

In the end, if you or your team doesn’t want to utilize your new ATS then your search was a waste. Those other factors matter, too.

So think about…

  1. The company’s reputation. Are they trustworthy and reliable? How are their reviews from other users?

  2. What is their product roadmap? If the company does not have the features you are looking for today, will they in the near future?

  3. Will your workflow be improved? Will recruiting and talent management be easier with this ATS system or be more difficult? This is a tricky question, because the adoption process could be hard, but then prove to be worth it in the end.

  4. Does it have the flexibility and customization that you need? Each applicant tracking software will be built slightly different. Some will have customization options and some won’t. You’ll need to thoroughly research the capabilities of each ATS system to understand how it will fit your needs...or not.

  5. Does it fit your budget? Your recruiting team may progress from starter tools to larger enterprise-level tools as your team grows. Find one that meets your team needs for now, with room to grow.

To help you, get this Recruiting Software Evaluation Matrix to prioritize your top needs.