Search Savvy: Applicant tracking systems

Jul 05, 2013

It needs to be relevant, user-friendly and affordable but is well-worth the investment.

Recruiting is not so simple an enterprise anymore. Like it or not, recruiting has become increasingly sophisticated over the years – in part just to keep up with evolving technologies and compliance demands associated with employment law. Because that’s true, most firms have decided to integrate an applicant tracking system (ATS) into their recruiting methodology. For those readers unfamiliar with this terminology, an ATS is simply a central location and database for a company’s recruitment efforts. Not only does an ATS allow candidates to apply electronically to a particular opening via a company’s careers portal, and not only does it serve as a robust candidate repository for the firm, but it also effectively provides the ability for a firm to automate the recruitment process via a defined candidate workflow, and to maintain an electronic record of that workflow for purposes of establishing consistency and compliance. In short, an ATS will help you to receive, store, process and record all of your recruitment efforts from one central system. As you can imagine, this has become an attractive feature to many firms, both small and large. It goes without saying that violation of employment law regulations and compliance measures mandated by the OFCCP may subject your firm to stinging fines and/or sanctions, including suspension or cancellation of federal contracts in some cases. ATS’s are designed to drastically mitigate the potential for fines/sanctions by creating a portal through which candidates may be stored and progressed equitably during the selection process. The benefits of having an ATS are too numerous to go into within the limitations of this brief article. What I really want to address is how to go about determining which ATS is right for you. There are literally scores of options out there… and they all come with their own little bells and whistles. Here are the key features I recommend examining:
  • Relevance. Determine which system meets your needs now and over the next three years. There are some very sophisticated ATS platforms designed for a large number of users in a broad enterprise. If that doesn’t describe your firm, then there’s no need to shop for a “Cadillac.” Ask yourself: “How many users do I anticipate, and what do the users need to be able to do in the system?” At a minimum, the needs for smaller to mid-sized firms can be distilled to: collecting, sharing and documenting (we can throw progress reporting into the mix as well). Any system that does not allow you to perform these SIMPLY or allows you to do inordinately more than this is going to be cumbersome and unfriendly to use. That leads me to my next point…
  • User-friendliness. If the ATS is not easy to use, then your users will not use it (I know… ground-breaking, right?). Take time to explore the functionality of the system before you purchase. How easy is the login process? How accessible is it from a remote location? Can you use it on any/most devices? One thing I like to do is count the number of clicks necessary to accomplish a certain task. How many clicks does it take to apply through the system; How many clicks to search for a résumé; How many clicks to share a résumé with someone else; How many steps to post a job; How easy it is to document candidate progression – things like that. Find a system that’s functionally easy and enjoyable to use.
  • Cost. In my experience, a typical ATS will cost you about $100 to 200 per user. With that, you should get a dedicated technical or customer support rep and some good training resources. Cost-per-user tends to decrease as the number of users increases, but not always. If you’re paying more than $200/user, you’re paying too much or you have purchased a system where sophistication has eclipsed usability. Not a good tradeoff.
At any rate, an ATS is well worth the investment. In the end (with the right system) you’ll attain better user experience, better collaboration, and better recruiting compliance. Jeremy Clarke is the director of executive search consulting with ZweigWhite. Contact him at This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1014, originally published 7/8/2013. Copyright© 2013, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.