What is an ATS? The Better Than Wikipedia Guide

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I love Wikipedia. It’s an easy, convenient, and (usually) fairly reliable way to get basic information on any given topic.

But Wikipedia can’t do it all.

By giving a basic level of info on everything, it doesn’t go in depth on nearly anything. Most of it is written in dull, dry language that has you yawning before you get halfway down the page.

Wikipedia’s articles about tech often can’t keep pace with the latest developments—after all, who hears about tech news and thinks, “I better hurry off to update the wiki!”? That’s why I’m here to give you something better than Wikipedia.

what is an ATS

It’s a bold claim, I know. But, who better to give you real, accessible, insider knowledge about applicant tracking software than an industry expert who spends all day, every day, researching, writing, and talking about talent software? (That’s me!)

Let’s start with the basics.

What is an ATS?

ATS is an acronym for applicant tracking system (or software). Simply put: it’s software that makes the recruiting and hiring process easier.

Applicant tracking systems can improve the speed and efficiency of recruiting and hiring in a few ways:

  • They can help curate your open positions and post them to a variety of job boards across the internet.
  • They can parse resumes—a process that strips away unique resume formatting, leaving only the text—so you don’t have to do somersaults around odd graphics or confusing layouts.
  • They can schedule interviews, help you rate and score applicants, and automatically send rejection or acceptance emails.

Some ATSs have additional features to facilitate new employee onboarding, while others can manage the lifecycle of your entire staff and help with performance, promotion, and offboarding.

All of these features combine to make standard HR processes faster and easier for you, your applicants and new hires, and existing staff.

What does an ATS do?

(The images in this section come from the top five software options in Capterra’s “Top 20 Most Popular Applicant Tracking Software”).

The main function of an ATS is to track applicants. These systems allow candidates to upload their resumes and/or input resume information, all with the aim of making it easier for you to read the content.

A parsed resume in Bullhorn

A parsed resume in Bullhorn

A good ATS will also have a view that helps you keep track of your candidates. Their names, resume, and any notes you’ve logged about them will be shown on a dashboard so you can easily figure out who’s who.

Candidate tracker view in JobScore

Candidate tracker view in JobScore

Certain applicant tracking systems can help you schedule interviews or give you a template for your notes on each interview, so you can compare candidates in a methodological way.

Mobile interview scheduler in Jobvite

Mobile interview scheduler in Jobvite

Who typically uses an ATS?

Gartner’s 2017 “Top Technology Trends for SMBs Survey” found that hiring is the biggest challenge facing small businesses today. Because of this, 82% of recruiters have adopted an ATS or HR tech with hiring functions.

Applicant tracking software is one of those rare tech developments that helps everyone. The companies you love, your competitors, big businesses, and small businesses. There is almost no company that won’t benefit from an ATS; the main challenge is finding the right one for your business.

Do I have to have an ATS?

In my professional opinion, you must have an ATS to hire competitively in today’s job market.

Sure—technically—you can hire without one. You could receive all your resumes via email, email the applicants for further info, send messages back and forth until you schedule all those interviews, take a mess of notes and try to keep straight who said what, then individually write and send rejections and acceptances, all before delving into the negotiations and on and on and on … .

I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about that. By not using an ATS, you’re wasting hours of working time

If you don’t use an ATS, you’re working in a bygone tech era and making life harder for yourself. With so many free applicant tracking software options, there’s no reason not to have one.

What’s in the future for ATSs?

As they reach full, standard adoption, the main features of applicant tracking systems have become fairly stable. Innovation takes the form of more powerful features (that is, features that do more things and cover more ground than previous versions) or clever new features that add an extra boost to productivity (such as gamified recruitment features).

Savvy recruiters should start looking for ATSs that facilitate diversity hiring by publishing to a wider range of job boards, that attract more creative applicants, and that do away with clunky user interfaces.

If ATSs want to keep up with demand, they’ll allow for more interesting resumes in the parsing process (like a graphic designer submitting a resume that shows off their abilities), will be more generous with keywords, and will make sleeker, modernized, and user-friendly recruiter views.

Any questions about ATSs?

If so, you’re in the right place. Hit me up in the comments below or drop me a line on Twitter @CapterraHalden! I’m always happy to answer.

If you want to learn more about applicant tracking software and hiring tech, check out these great articles:

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.

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