A woman stands in a wide aisle inside a large warehouse and types something on a laptop. The woman has long blonde hair and is wearing a white collared shirt, tan blazer, and gray pants. Her laptop is on top of a large, waist-high box covered with a drop cloth. In the background, out of focus, two warehouse employees in neon yellow high-visibility jackets unload boxes from a metal dollie.
Your company's applicant tracking system should be inuitive and easy to navigate for users on all sides of the hiring process. — Getty Images/PixelsEffect

Recruiting and hiring challenges cause candidates to drop out of your talent pipeline — a drain on time and financial resources. An applicant tracking system (ATS) optimizes applicant experiences and frees hiring managers to focus on people, not paperwork.

The right applicant tracking software fits your budget and hiring volume. It may be a standalone tool or part of a human resource (HR) platform. Learn how to choose a candidate tracking platform for your business.

Define hiring and recruiting objectives

Before thinking about what features your team needs, consider what problems an ATS will solve. You can often find issues by mapping your hiring pipeline. Then, connect these aspects to the broader picture to see how it’ll help your business achieve its goals.

Suppose your current hiring process is inefficient. There have been some missed opportunities and less-than-desirable response times. You believe automated replies and alerts will improve outcomes. At a high level, these ATS features can reduce your time-to-hire rates.

Inconsistencies might be another issue. Perhaps your job postings, career page, and emails don't share the same branding elements, or answers to applicants' FAQs get vastly different replies. An ATS with templates, customizable career sites, and job post optimization tools can help. It also enables your business to attain a top-level objective, like strengthening your employer brand.

[Read more: 6 Smart and Inexpensive Recruiting Methods]

Consider company size, budget, and recruiting volume

Have an idea of how many people you want to hire, your budget, and how many people will use the software. A small business recruiting a few people rarely needs the advanced tools (and higher price tags) found on enterprise systems. On the other hand, a large organization will find that a basic platform lacks the integrations and customization options required to recruit and hire significant numbers of employees effectively.

Check out small business ATS software to see how pricing varies based on recruiting volume. You can also compare systems on sites like G2 and filter results by market size. This search technique gives you an idea of how many like-sized businesses use the product.

Also, consider who will use the system. For instance, staffing agencies and recruiters may prefer purpose-built solutions like Zoho Recruit and Recruit CRM. Both provide a candidate relationship management system (CRM) and ATS functionality with client submission and white labeling tools.

Don’t rule out ATS alternatives

ATS software comes in many shapes and forms. Mid-sized companies looking for workforce planning tools may prefer an HR system like HiBob. It centralizes staff data and lets you track current and future job positions.

Some payroll companies have native ATS tools on higher-priced subscriptions. Gusto offers a customizable ATS with job board posting and applicant tracking. It integrates seamlessly with Gusto’s onboarding and payroll software for simplified new hire processes.

Human resource information systems (HRIS) are another small business HR tool that may have ATS software. With software like Rippling, you can build a custom solution by choosing different modules, including recruiting, head count planning, and benefits administration.

Another alternative is Monday.com. It's a complete work management platform with templates and customizable forms suitable for ATS and recruitment CRM use. You can automate repetitive work, track recruitment pipelines and open positions, coordinate with hiring managers, and see real-time insights on dashboards.

[Read more: What Tools Do Hiring Managers Use?]

Before thinking about what features your team needs, consider what problems an ATS will solve.

Prioritize usability at every step

If you choose software based on price or features without putting usability first, you won’t get the desired return on investment (ROI). It will require more training, too many clicks to perform basic tasks, and could disrupt standard workflows beyond recognition. The purpose of ATS software is to give hiring teams more time to complete tasks requiring human input, not to make their job harder.

During product demonstrations, view tasks for each user type and look for:

  • Search tools' effectiveness and ease of use.
  • Mobile apps for hiring teams.
  • Kanban or pipeline views for optimal visibility.
  • Relevant user guides and guided product walkthroughs.
  • Email and text alerts.
  • Intuitive interfaces that make sense to business users, even infrequent ones.
  • Automations that complement current workflows.
  • Built-in collaboration tools.
  • Customizable templates.

Test services from the candidate’s point of view

Aside from automating administrative tasks, ATS software should provide an exceptional candidate experience. Consider the end-to-end hiring process and the role your ATS will play. Small businesses may connect email and calendars, whereas larger organizations may offer virtual interview links and online assessments.

Ask the vendor to walk you through the application process to look at the following aspects:

  • Test communication and self-scheduling capabilities.
  • Make sure job applications are easy to find and view on mobile devices.
  • Review the user interface for in-app messaging or video tools.
  • See if the system offers self-service portals for new hires.

Explore updates, support, and training options

Product sales reps should provide time estimates for implementation and training. But also look into how proactive the vendor is when updating the software and support articles. See what changed in the newest release and when the mobile app was last updated. Does the ATS provider have an update page, in-app announcements, or email alerts?

Check out the self-service knowledge base. Is it regularly updated? Help and training materials should be easy to read and contain GIFS, screenshots, or videos. Remember to confirm customer service availability — both hours and channels. See if all users can contact support or if it's restricted to administrators.

[Read more: Are You Too Small to Outsource Your IT? What to Consider.]

See how dashboards and reporting work

Organizations use ATS software to capture and learn from recruiting and hiring data. All platforms offer reports and dashboards for monitoring metrics and key performance indicators. However, some have advanced data sets for recruiters, whereas others prioritize workforce strategies.

Decide who needs reports and what questions they want answered. Then, look at how different ATS solutions visualize information and automate reporting.

Review ATS software integrations

Make sure that your ATS connects to the tools your hiring and HR teams use. These might include job board sites you’ve had great success with or a company-wide calendar system. Syncing an ATS with payroll or HR platforms lets you convert a candidate to a new hire smoothly.

Consider integrations, such as:

  • Email and calendars for communication and scheduling.
  • Background check services for pre-employment.
  • Zapier for workflow automation.
  • Website and career pages to use existing digital assets.
  • Social media channels to promote jobs on LinkedIn and more.
  • Job search engines for automatic job posting.
  • HR or payroll software to onboard new hires.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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