Best Practices for Buying an (ATS) Applicant Tracking System

So You’re Buying an ATS

An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is not just something we use to automatically reject everyone and let the robots make hiring decisions for us, it is a critical component to hiring, compliance, efficiency and organizational health. Ok, this is where we could really benefit from a sarcasm font, for anyone that just breezed over that first sentence… there are no ATS robots, there are no “automatic rejections” … The ATS is just a really misunderstood system.

 A good applicant tracking system makes hiring and onboarding organized and easy, a bad ATS makes working miserable. Seriously! There are nightmares associated with bad ATS’s, blogs dedicated to the worst offenders and hours of work/hires lost due to horrible workflows. I have seen hiring managers run away from using specific systems and refuse to review candidates and enter jobs because they are so clunky. Even worse than that, I have seen many candidates refuse to apply to jobs if they see the application is being run through a certain ATS (name withheld so we don’t get sued). Imagine spending tens of thousands to integrate a new ATS only to find out candidates hate it.

 In government contracting, we want our ATS to be everything – handle every HR and hiring function seamlessly, be instantly configurable and be impossibly easy to use. I have seen companies twist, configure, manipulate and customize systems to the point of no recognition, while making features obsolete and basically broken. I saw one system so customized that none of the internal reporting features would work anymore. Yikes!

Why does this happen? Well, simply put… we are bad at defining requirements and buying recruiting systems. In this blog we uncover what to avoid when integrating a new ATS.

Work Backwards

 The first step in this whole process is defining what you really want in your system, what integrations are must haves and what are nice to haves’. Our advice is before you do anything, see what already exists in the market. What is the point in sitting around and creating a list of what you want the system to do prior to going out into the market and seeing what is available?

Once you’ve done some poking around to learn about the features you like, create a standardized tracking sheet where you can easily tick the box of Y/N on key features and build a ranking system for those that are more nice to have verses must haves. Think of this tracking sheet as the baseline scoring system you are using so you can be sure you’re comparing the ATS equally and don’t let 1 exciting feature turn into a shiny object that steers you off into making the wrong overall decision.

 Pro-tip – Before you schedule demos, click through Youtube and find tutorials and online demos. This will save you hours of sales pitches and allow you to make those demos you do schedule more valuable.

Speaking of working backwards, analyze from the candidate point of view. How is the candidate experience? Is it easy to apply? Can they parse their resume in the system without duplicate data entry? We would suggest having a candidate experience advocate in the sales cycle that does nothing but analyze system usage from a candidate point of view. The ATS is most likely the candidates first experience with your company, and you want it to go very smoothly because they are taking note of the experience.

Don’t Customize… Compromise!

 ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.’ – Steve Jobs

Yeah, that is a super overused quote, but it applies so well here. Why are we buying systems and telling them what to do.. AKA breaking them. Most systems are customizable to a point but customizing your ATS is something that should be a last resort, not your default.

So here is the scenario, your company has had the same hiring process for the last 5 years because, well “that’s the way we do it”. When it comes time to buy a new system, get comfortable with the fact that this might/will also mean a new hiring process. This is a great time to break bad process and reinvent your hiring workflow, not try and get your new system to bend and confirm to your old process.

From going through this process, I can tell you firsthand, customizations lead to confusion down the road. “hey why can’t I see all the offers in the approval stage waiting for signature?” … “oh we bypassed that feature to add a second approver into the workflow”

Be prepared to change your process. This is a big one, how is the system built and how will that work with your current process? If it does not work, can you change your process to work with the system? If you are constantly trying to customize the ATS to fit with your system, you are going to end up with a mess. You either have to change your process or find a more suitable system.

Make your acquisition team small

“Hey, does Tommy from accounting really need to be here?”

Nothing will get you running down the rabbit hole quicker than having all of your department heads gather and try to decide which system to buy. I have seen it and it doesn’t end well.

We suggest making your acquisition team as small as possible. Yes, an ATS can touch multiple departments, but there are only a select few that depend on it to do their jobs on a daily basis. This is primarily your recruiting team and their interests should be heavily represented in the decision. Basically, what is going to help us source and recruit people quicker, everything else is secondary. I am not saying unimportant, I am saying secondary.

For example, is it more important that we are able to launch offer letters from the system, or have a tool that finds emails and phone numbers for candidates based on their Linkedin profiles? If you answered offer letters… you are not catching my drift.

“But my security, finance and compliance team want to make sure the system meets budget and standards.”

“Great! tell us what security and compliance standards the system must meet and how much budget we have, and we will make sure to check those boxes.”

Reporting… Reporting…. Reporting!

I cannot stress how important robust recruiting reports are when recruiting candidates with “security clearances”. Unfortunately, most public data and pricing tools do not take into account our government contracting space and the escalation we see for certifications and clearances. The good news is, your recruiting team is mining this data in real time, if only they had a place to store it.. wink wink!

Wouldn’t it be awesome to run a report and see how many TS/SCI System Engineers in Charleston there are with 5 years’ experience and would accept $125,000? That could be really useful when pricing bids, or writing staffing plans…

Your data governance along with the ability of your ATS to store and recall a variety of performance or market information is the real hidden secret to security clearance recruiting.

Reporting not only gives you great control of market data, it is the key to managing recruiter performance as well. Your ATS should be able to give you time-based data in regard to every stage of your hiring process as well as measurements on how effective your outreach is. This data can be used to hone your team’s skills, figure out your capacity and bandwidth as well as set benchmarks for performance/reward.

Features… Features… Features

We used to think of Applicant tracking systems as digital file cabinets, but they have grown into so much more.

A great ATS is going to:

  • Easily integrate with other technologies including your website
  • Make data storage, categorization and recall very easy
  • Include features for tasks, reminders and time blocking
  • Maximize automatic features like email campaigns, data parsing templated outreach, etc…
  • Have some bells and whistles like marketing outreach, social media integrations, contact finding resources, data mining, or an integrated employee referral portal
  • Be intuitive and easy to use for your staff and candidates

Basically, you are going to want a system that handles the basics of recruiting very well can provide robust data analysis and governance and offers some bells and whistles to help source a wider variety of candidates in a shorter amount of time.

An often-overlooked feature of an ATS is the job board functionality. The best option is when the system has an open API that you can pull onto your site and display/search in a way that is consistent with your branding. Many ATS’s offer 1 size fits all job boards and they can be painful to work with.

Think of the ATS as both the welcoming committee to your company and the lifeblood of your hiring team. It is one of the most used systems in your company and can either be a force for strategic hiring or a roadblock to growth. Don’t overcomplicate your search, but also make sure you have a good idea of the market offerings before you enter into a new agreement. Of course, if you are in the middle of a new ATS integration and have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Mount Indie.

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