Defend Your Desktop: Help Design Your Next Applicant Tracking System

Feb 26, 2004

[NOTE: This is an interactive article that includes an online survey. Visit my Applicant Tracking System Top Features Survey and cast your vote now on the essential features of the next generation of applicant tracking systems. In two weeks, I’ll publish the survey results and invite you to a personal online web conference. Get involved. Your future is at stake. ó Lou Adler] Making hiring top talent a systematic process requires some bold initiatives on the part of the HR/recruiting department. First, the department must ensure that the hiring and recruiting strategy a company uses maps directly to its business strategy (see my article Developing Hiring Strategies for more on this). At a more tactical level, it’s imperative that the company’s hiring processes, systems, and people are all singing from the same song sheet. Both are challenging objectives, but worth the time and effort given the impact top people can have on an organization. Much of this depends on the effectiveness of the applicant tracking system used (ATS). Some systems do quite a good job here; unfortunately, many don’t. You’ll now have an opportunity to help design the feature set for a world-class ATS. We’ll then benchmark all of the major ATSs against this standard. Many have already agreed to get involved. The results will be published in future articles. Following are features we’ve found to be most important in improving recruiter performance. After reading the article, take the survey. You’ll also be able to expand on this list and rank your own ATS. When completed, this will be great comparative information. Most of the ATS vendors are now listening, but sometimes you need to increase the decibel level to get heard. Here are the essential features for the “ATS of the Year” Award. Who will win? Stay tuned.

  1. Easy application process for the candidate. The ideal is the ability to just submit a resume as an attachment to an email. Next best is to cut and paste the whole thing without the applicant having to type in anything else, even a name. You’ll get more great candidates this way, especially if your advertising is visible and the jobs are compelling. The ability for the candidate to have multiple job agents and apply for jobs that don’t tie to a specific requisition is also important. Don’t let your systems drive your candidates away. Ask your candidates how “friendly” the application process was. Then track your opt-out ratios at each step to determine how well you do here.
  2. Overall ease of use for recruiter. This is the grown and moan factor. If you feel beaten down at the end of most days feeding the ATS beast, you’re working too hard to stay even. More clues that you have a system designed to make your life difficult: you don’t have time to complete all of the forms; you can only add reqs after an assignment is done; you do much of your reporting outside of the system; you delegate all of the data entry to someone else.
  3. Auto reformatting of resumes plus intelligent multi-dimensional searching. With this feature, every candidate’s resume is automatically reformatted and presented to the recruiter in a standardized, customizable view. Intelligent searching allows for resumes to be accurately ranked across a number of dimensions óincluding skills, performance, academics, industry, companies and job level. This way, you never again have to look at the resume of an unqualified person. Wow! Used properly, this feature can double your productivity.
  4. A customizable dashboard that drives your day forward. Most ATSs are designed around a requisition-based workflow. Recruiters don’t work this way. They manage their day based on the importance of the task. The best ATSs push all of your hot tasks to the desktop and allow for multiple customizable folders to organize your day your way. Setting all of this up is also a breeze. If you have to hunt to find your important stuff, you should be hunting for another ATS instead.
  5. Overall system speed in accessing data. If your ATS is slower than your ability to update records or search for resumes, it’s too slow. Many ASP models are too big for their britches ó and recruiters pay the price.
  6. Effortlessly coordinate interview scheduling and data exchange with the hiring manager and candidate. How much time is spent coordinating these activities, sending emails, and sharing information? Too much, by most accounts. Microsoft is pushing their Recruiter Accelerator to do some of this, but it’s even better if your ATS has this feature built-in. The best automatically pop up preformatted emails with all of the information a hiring manager or candidate would need once you change a candidate’s status. This means you can send an instant “no thanks” or “here’s your next star salesperson” without even pulling down a menu.
  7. Effectively manage all of your sourcing channels. This is big. Imagine being able to organize all of your sourcing channels independently, and also being able to determine in real time where the best candidates are coming from? With this feature, you’ll be able to more effectively manage cost per hire without sacrificing candidate quality. Then you’ll only need to expand sourcing to more costly channels when absolutely necessary.
  8. Provide personal productivity metrics. How did you do today? You might not want to know, but with this feature you’ll be able to come up with your excuses before your manager even calls. As a recruiter, you should be able to quickly see how you stand on each of your searches, and which assignments need more attention. If you’re sending out more than three or four candidates on any assignment, stop and recalibrate. You and your hiring manager client aren’t on the same page.
  9. Learning to use the system is a snap, crackle, pop. It’s worth spending time to learn how your system works, but it’s better if it isn’t necessary. Some of the latest systems are very intuitive, with self-populating forms and templates. Many naturally guide the recruiter along to the next step the instant a candidate’s status is changed. Unfortunately, some require mental gymnastics even to update a candidate’s record or open a requisition.
  10. Automatically call and screen candidates and network with them to get even more names. Only in your dreams. But this would be a great feature.
  11. Integrated interviewing and assessment tools. While I advocate a performance evaluation interviewing methodology, it’s important to have whatever tools your company uses instantly available. Getting everyone on the same page adds structure and reduces the chance of hiring on emotion and presentation, rather than ability.
  12. Tools for coaching and influencing hiring managers and candidates. Coaching hiring managers is an important part of a recruiter’s day. If you’re recruiting stronger less-active candidates (the best people, who are kind of looking but need convincing), much of your time is also spent overcoming their concerns. Few ATSs address this. If they did, you’d be able to submit fewer candidates and hire stronger people without paying unnecessary compensation premiums.
  13. Integrated testing, pre-screening questions, reference checking and background verification. This is a must-have just to be in the game.
  14. Add consistency to the offer-making process. This is another must-have. You should be able to automatically generate offers letter and manage everything that’s required to get to this point. This means getting quick approvals and checking off all of the prerequisites to make sure nothing has been overlooked. When done, you should have a complete candidate folder with every document signed, sealed and delivered (resume, job description, offer letter, reference checks, background verification, drug testing, test results, etc.).

A few key features have probably been overlooked, but this is a good start. I’ve seen a remarkable shift in what’s being offered and considered from some of the top ATS vendors. So now is a good time to get involved. Most vendors are now listening to what recruiters really need to be more productive. Take my Applicant Tracking System Top Features Survey and be heard. Your future is at stake.

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