What is an applicant tracking system?

Applicant tracking systems, also known as applicant tracking software (ATS), are types of human resources (HR) software that automate hiring and onboarding processes. The acronym ATS is used in the industry for both the singular and the plural. Applicant tracking systems are similar to customer relationship management (CRM) platforms except they manage job applicants rather than customers or leads. The first ATS came on the market in the late 1990s. With the availability of cloud computing a few years later, most existing ATS vendors adopted the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. In addition, the niche exploded with hundreds of new providers which expanded the use of ATS as they were now affordable for companies of all sizes. In 2018, GlobalNewsWire reported the ATS market valued at 1.26 Billion, and projected a CAGR of 8.0%, for a valuation of 2.34 billion by 2026.

How does an applicant tracking system work?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) creates a database of candidate resumes and job applications that users can manage digitally. Users can set up workflows with task reminders for hiring team members, manage applications, communicate with candidates, post job advertisements to job boards, manage interviews and collaborate with their hiring team.

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software platform that enables human resources departments to manage the recruitment process. The ATS is both inward- and outward-facing; when an applicant sees a job posting on a third-party job board and clicks the link to apply, they will enter an ATS if the company uses one. An ATS can be used for corporate careers pages as well; users send and track emails and offer letters to candidates in an ATS.

What tools and features can an applicant tracking system offer?

  • Custom workflows with task reminders
  • Job requisition templates
  • Job description templates
  • Structured interview script templates
  • Single signon job board posting
  • Prescreening questionnaires
  • Branded recruitment marketing
  • Job board analytics
  • Email templates
  • In-application texting
  • Application/resume parsing
  • Hiring stage change triggers
  • Boolean resume/application searching (AND/OR syntax)

Third-party software integrations expand the capabilities of an applicant tracking system. Common integrations include job boards and job sourcing platforms, background screening services, video interviewing platforms, calendaring and scheduling tools, analytics platforms, and file storage programs. Of course, some ATSs have one or more of these tools built into the software.

Why do companies use ATS?

In recent years, many companies and staffing agencies have adopted Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) to find more candidates. The labor market has tightened since the Great Recession of 2008. A combination of low unemployment and skills gaps has contributed to the talent shortage. An ATS expands a company’s recruitment marketing by automating much of the recruiting process.

Improvements an ATS Can Make to the Hiring Process

Cloud-based ATS systems offer mobile-friendly hiring experiences that are important because a majority of job seekers use mobile devices in their employment search. ATS also helps recruiters regularly communicate with candidates using emails and texts. Mobile accessibility and frequent communication strengthens the company’s employer brand by providing an applicant-centric hiring process.

ATS enables companies to store hundreds of applications for multiple positions in one centralized database, helping them manage high-volume hiring.

As competition for talent has intensified, many companies have taken steps to shorten the hiring process. Automated screening and filtering have helped recruiters quickly isolate a pool of qualified candidates before hiring team members need to spend any time reading resumes. With an ATS, recruiters can then use these tools to move the promising candidates through the subsequent stages as quickly as possible.

An applicant tracking system can help companies comply with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations and others that govern hiring practices.

ATS analytics track time-to-hire and cost-per-hire data, as well as performance metrics of job boards, social media sites, and employee referral programs to identify the most effective hiring channels.

Who uses applicant tracking systems?

ATS work tech users include:

  • Independent recruiters
  • Staffing agencies
  • Executive search firms
  • Large enterprises
  • Small and medium-sized businesses (SMB)
  • Enterprise organizations

It is estimated that 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an applicant tracking system. Although adoption rates among small – medium-sized businesses are lower than those of large businesses, the rate of adoption is increasing steadily.

See also

Additional resources

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