What is an applicant tracking system (ATS)?

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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 the 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 gather and store feedback about candidates throughout the hiring process, such as the materials from their take-home assessments and notes the hiring team made based on their interviews.

Why you should invest in an ATS

There are several reasons that it makes sense to invest in 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 acquisition 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.

What to look for in an ATS

If you’re in the market for an ATS, Greenhouse President and Co-founder Jon Stross offers this helpful advice: “My recommendation to ATS buyers would be to truly understand what you’re trying to accomplish and find a system that will enable it.” Want to dig deeper into some of the specifics? Here’s an overview of the main criteria to evaluate.

  • Usability: Remember, it’s not just recruiters who will be interacting with your ATS, but candidates, hiring managers and employees who conduct interviews.
  • Sourcing: You’ll need a platform with a variety of sourcing features and integrations that easily highlight your top-performing sourcing channels per job to increase your return on investment.
  • Reviewing: Look for an ATS that makes it easy for you to quickly review and triage candidates. Does the software you’re considering have built-in tools to make reviewing actionable, letting you add notes about the candidate, contact them and advance/reject them as you go?
  • Running the interview process: With an ATS that’s focused on performance, hiring managers can collaborate with recruiting to create in-depth interview kits that guide every question an interviewer asks. Then, when the time comes for interviewers to give their feedback, the ATS should present a simple candidate scorecard that streamlines the assessment process and makes it easy to rate a candidate’s skills and alignment with company values.
  • Pipeline metrics: An ATS should offer built-in reports that give everyone a front-row seat on the hiring process. At a basic level, that means providing a complete picture of all the candidates who have been considered for a position, including outcomes from phone screens, interviews, take-home tests, and past rejections or offers, along with a run-down of hiring activities scheduled in the future.
  • Integration: Look for software that integrates with the applications you love, from scheduling apps to video-interviewing platforms and take-home testing systems.
  • Support and services: You’re going to have a lot of questions about whichever ATS you choose, especially in the first few months. Make sure your vendor takes support seriously.
  • Deployment: A new ATS will bring quite a few changes to your hiring process – getting it up and running typically includes a job board integration, data migration and a lot of staff training. There will be big differences in the level of setup assistance each ATS vendor provides.
  • Data and security: Your ATS will house some of your company’s most sensitive data, so keeping it safe is essential.

If you’re looking for more in-depth guidance to help you through the purchasing process, download your copy of A buyer’s guide to applicant tracking systems.

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