Applicant Tracking Systems
At one point or another, most of us have completed an online application. Think back to when you were in the job market and had to fill out a series of job applications. You learned quickly how some applications are far easier to complete than others. All this depends on the type of Applicant Tracking System, also known as an ATS. Today, we’re going to explain what an ATS is and look at how it impacts hiring authorities and applicants alike. We will also learn more about how an ATS changes and streamlines a company’s recruitment process, and why it is just as important for companies to identify the right ATS as it is for them to select the right candidates. Let’s get started!
Let’s start by noting some recruiting practices from the past to help you understand what brought about the need for Applicant Tracking Systems.
At one time, companies looking to hire new employees had no forms of automation to expedite their recruitment process. They relied heavily on word of mouth, newspaper postings, and flyers which they would post in churches, universities, and even grocery stores. Interested applicants would either call the number listed in the publication for instructions on where to apply, or report to the address listed on flyers to complete a paper application. In some cases, applicants had to snail mail their applications. Once the hiring authority received a considerable amount of applications from those who were qualified, they would call the applicants of their choosing and set up interviews. By following this manual process, it could take several months to fill new positions, and that was if the company were fortunate enough to have had a pool of qualified applicants. If they didn’t, they would have to start from scratch and hope for the best. In the cases where they had a popular response with hundreds of applications, applications would have to be shuffled through, then a small fraction of applicants would be chosen to be screened for an interview.
This meant that many applications would be left unreviewed, never to be considered for positions for which the applicants were qualified. Depending on how organized the hiring authority was, some of the higher qualified applicants’ information may have been stored for later consideration of open positions. However, in other cases, this was rare.
As time went on, companies became overwhelmed with organizing a high volume of applications for their open positions. They also missed out on talented applicants due to the slow turn-around for receiving applications. Once employment screening and records retention laws were enacted, the responsibility of organizing and retaining applicants’ information had to become consistent and a top priority.
Enter the Applicant Tracking System! An ATS is a type of software that provides a central repository to store and manage applicant information. It acts as an automated gatekeeper for recruiters, streamlining the application, recruitment, and hiring process. They can sort thousands of resumes and retain hundreds of job descriptions for their openings.
Companies have many tracking systems to choose from, with each having their own unique offerings and functions. Some systems are all encompassing, tracking applicants and the entire selection process, as well as storing employee data. Others are less versatile, and only focus on recruitment and tracking. When you look at the applicants’ experience, some tracking systems require applicants to simply upload their resume and click “submit” to be considered for an opening. Others require setting up a profile, uploading a resume, and the completion of an online application.
If we think of how an ATS operates, we can look at it as having two sides: the back end and the front end. The back end applies to the hiring authorities who have the ability to create and post open positions.
Before a position can be posted for applicants to view and apply, hiring authorities will create a job posting based on the duties and responsibilities of the position. This information is pulled from a job description, which is a detailed breakdown of the minimum requirements for a position, such as special licenses, certificates, college degree, etc.; where the position is located; to whom it reports; all the responsibilities of the position; and any notable physical demands associated with the position.
Now let’s take a look at the functions of the back-end of an ATS.
CREATING A REQUISITION
Within the ATS, the information from the job description is transferred into a requisition, or open position, which hiring authorities set up in the ATS to allow for a job opening to be posted. The requisition can be solely posted as an internal position where only existing employees can apply, made public for external candidates to apply, or both. Either way, posting the position on the company’s career page has a two-sided advantage: It helps the company showcase its brand and culture so applicants can learn about the benefits of working for the company.
We talked about an ATS serving the purpose as a “gatekeeper.” Pre-Qualifying Questions act as a part of that filtering process. These questions help the recruiter save time by filtering out applicants who do not meet the minimum requirements of a position. If a job is created for an over-the-road truck driver, and the minimum requirement is for applicants to have a commercial driver’s license, a recruiter can set up a pre-qualifying question asking applicants if they have a commercial driver’s license. If the applicant answers, “Yes,” they are allowed to move on and complete the application. If they answer, “No,” they receive a screen notification that says they cannot complete the application since they do not meet the position’s minimum requirements.
POSTING A POSITION
Once all items within a requisition are fully reviewed and error-free, the position is ready to be posted. Depending on the ATS, the hiring authority must go through a guided wizard, which is a step-by-step process to check for any potential errors and make necessary changes. Along the way, the hiring authority can choose how long they wish for the position to remain open.
Since many tracking systems offer email notifications each time an application is completed, hiring authorities can determine if the opening is successfully gaining the attention of interested applicants. This is part of the tracking aspect of an Applicant Tracking System that helps recruiters in a great way, especially if there is more than one open position. Recruiters are savvy about where they post positions outside of their company’s career site, and if they notice a low response rate, they can reassess their recruitment strategy by posting their openings onto some popular employment job sites to target a wider audience.
For harder-to-fill positions, an Applicant Tracking System can further aide recruiters through keyword searches. If the company has an opening for a unique position with little to no applicants, the recruiter can search the entire ATS for applications or resumes containing keywords associated with the opening they are trying to fill. For example, if the company is searching for a software developer, the recruiter can enter the keywords, “software developer,” or “software engineer” to search the entire ATS for applications that contain those and other relevant keywords.
The same tool can be used if the over-the-road truck driver position was to be reopened due to a continued need. If the recruiter remembered that many of the qualified applicants who originally applied were not previously selected, the recruiter could perform a keyword search and pull from the previous applicant pool. This saves them time from having to start the cycle over by posting a new position.
Once an acceptable number of applications are received, the recruiter closes out the job opening. Some tracking systems can be linked to external job sites and positions can be opened and closed with just a click of a button.
Each applicant—qualified or not—are all associated with the job opening the recruiter originally created. All applicants’ personal information, resumes, and date each applied are all compiled within that one position so that if there is ever a request for recruitment records, the information is readily available. As for screening purposes, applicants can be sorted by their last name, first name, date applied, as well as qualified status. All this helps to keep the screening process highly organized.
At this point, qualified candidates can be contacted to set up an interview.
Okay, now let’s move on to the front-end ATS functions.
Earlier, we mentioned how some applications can be more complicated to complete than others, and this leads us to examine the applicants’ experience. As we explained earlier, a position can be listed on a job site, or directly on the company’s web page. The applicant can follow either link to be directed to the site where they can submit their application. The job posting lists all the data loaded from the requisition for the job opening, and the applicant can hit “apply” to start the process.
SUBMITTING AN APPLICATION
In a more detailed, or what some may refer to as more complicated, ATS, an applicant may first be prompted to set up a profile, which will ask them to upload their resume and enter basic information, such as their name, phone number, email, and positions of interest. The purpose of the profile ties in with the keywords, because it stores the applicant’s information and preferences in a set area that recruiters can refer to at any time to find applicants interested in new positions. After the applicant completes their profile, they may be directed to a new page which will allow them to search for the position of their choosing. At that time, they can apply for the position by entering all employment and education history as requested until they reach the end of the application. Then, they receive a screen notification acknowledging receipt of their application which is usually emailed to them as well.
In a different ATS where its application process is less itemized, an applicant can also refer to an external site, or the company’s career page to submit their application. But this time, everything they need to complete is all on one page. Even better, the requested information is simple: name, address, email, phone number, and uploaded resume. Once they hit “submit,” they will receive a receipt acknowledgement and will have completed the process.
Let’s recap before we go:
We looked back at recruitment practices before applicant tracking systems and discovered how they’ve relieved hiring authorities of several liabilities, like organization and records retention. We talked about the definition of an ATS and the different designs available, which can improve or complicate the recruitment process. We touched on pre-qualifying questions and how they make a direct impact on funneling qualified applicants for consideration. We also covered the keywords and how they can help simplify recruiting and screening. And these are just a few of the reasons we’d pointed out earlier why companies should screen their ATS systems as thoroughly as they do their potential employees. When you think of it, both decisions involve a long-term financial commitment that is expected to be operative and fruitful, while meeting the needs of end-users.
That’s all for this review of applicant tracking systems! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!