HRIS & ATS: Diametrically Opposed?

Somewhere on the HR technical landscape of many medium- to large-sized corporations sit two distinct employment-related systems:

  1. A company’s crown jewel HR system, the Human Resource Information System (HRIS), which helps manage and track employee data and perform key employee-related transactions.
  2. Just down the cyber-hallway, the applicant tracking system (ATS), specifically used as a productivity and tracking tool for the recruiting process.

Typically, the HRIS houses key data on an organization’s employees, including compensation, position histories, performance appraisal results, management tiers, payroll data, and in some cases a version of an “internal resume.” The system also stores organizational tables to standardize the information: such as job codes with standardized job descriptions, standard titles, job categories, job level codes, division and department codes, salary bands with market reference points, management tables, location tables, cost centers, and more. An ATS, on the other hand, houses information on job openings, prospective candidates, hired candidates, recruiter assignments, source codes, histories of requisition activity and applicant flow steps (and data) in the hiring process. Different Information or Different Terms? To date, organizations that have not taken a “one-size-fits-all” approach to these two distinct information needs (or found a solution that meets that need) are faced with integrating these two systems on an informational as well as technical level. Front-end integration is needed to help job requisition data correspond sensibly to how an organization identifies its work roles for both internal and external audiences. On the back end of the hiring process, the hires made in the ATS need to port into the HRIS for payroll and employment tracking. Why can’t all the hard work to create and store data in the HRIS be leveraged in the ATS and visa versa? Because, in terms of the informational integration, the HRIS and the ATS have opposing informational objectives. Let’s look at three areas where what the HRIS delivers vs. what the ATS needs affect the recruiting process: 1. Job Descriptions The HRIS delivers a standardized job description that is internally focused. The content is often general and non-specific, not to mention lacking a “marketing” focus for external audiences. References to “company knowledge” or specific homegrown systems/processes are often embedded in these internal descriptions. They serve the internal objectives of keeping a consistent and organized account of basic roles within the company and giving employees a general reference on various jobs. The ATS needs externally-focused job descriptions (in addition to the internal) that clearly describe the specific role and are written to market the opportunity and the company in the best light. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Since this serves the recruiting objectives of “attraction” and “job fit” for potential candidates, external job descriptions often have to be written from scratch. 2. Titles The HRIS delivers job titles that often correspond to internal “trees” which help internals identify career progression such as Consultant 1, Consultant 2, etc. This serves the internal objective of planning career moves and easily identifying positions for management reporting. The ATS needs unique titles that stand out and entice job seekers to “click through” when faced with a job list of 50 “programmers.” Internet studies have shown unique titles generate far more views than standardized titles. 3. Locations The HRIS delivers locations consisting of country, state/province, city, site address and postal code in most cases. This basic location data serves the needs of attaching an employee to one company site for payroll and headcount purposes. The ATS needs the ability to have one job posted to multiple locations, even if these locations are not at an official company site, but a region of states (e.g. for a “sales manager” or the growing option of “virtual office” locations). Since “location” is the most popular search criteria for external job seekers, search functionality needs to be flexible on the company Web site and produce relevant job listings that don’t omit possible location matches. How to Better Integrate What can be done to help these two systems become better aligned to leverage informational integration?

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  • Include a lead player from the HRIS management team in recruiting business/technology discussions to increase collaboration and system efficiencies.
  • Work with internal compensation, career development and line management to develop “externally-friendly” job descriptions.
  • Work with customizable areas in the ATS to enhance information coming from the HRIS like standard job titles. For example: have a field for “external job title” used in external postings; have areas for both an internal and external job description; provide for multi-selection location listings.
  • Specify hire data elements in the ATS that directly correspond w/ requirements needed for HRIS input at the time of hire. Use screen shots and menu lists to mirror these two areas as closely as possible.
  • Maximize HRIS standard information by uploading tables such as job codes and categories into the ATS wherever possible.

So what effect does all this integration have on the recruiting process? The ultimate goal is to enable the technology to increase recruiting effectiveness for your organization. If the words “manual input,” “cut and paste,” and “workaround” are familiar in your recruiting technology environment, then chances are recruiters and support roles are spending too much time overcompensating for the lack of integration between these two systems. This impact also extends to reporting and influences an organization’s ability to attract candidates.

Gretchen Sturm ( is Knowledge Manager of Services with Recruitsoft, the leading provider of Internet-based recruiting solutions for major corporations. She manages the implementation, eLearning and product knowledge transfer for Recruitsoft's consulting services and global client base. Her career has focused on integrating technology into the full hiring cycle and establishing effective Internet recruiting strategies. Previously, Sturm managed the recruitment technology and online recruiting areas of the Unisys worldwide recruiting team and oversaw recruiting technology and sourcing for CIGNA Corporation's US-based operations.