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The Basics

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have become a common tool used by employers to manage the hiring process. An ATS is a software application that helps companies automate, streamline, and manage their recruitment process. It allows recruiters to manage resumes and job applications electronically, making it easier to find and identify the most qualified candidates for the job.

98% of Fortune 500 use an ATS

An average corporate job post receives 250 applications

What is an ATS or Applicant Tracking System?

An ATS provides two things at their most basic: 1) an entry point for people seeking to apply for jobs; 2) A way for HR departments to review applications and sort them electronically, then send them to key team members making hiring decisions.

Along the way any number of features have been added or improved to meet the desires of hiring professionals and HR people. That list would be too massive to replicate. Feature set bloat and percieved value is not unique to ATS. However in the case of ATS selection, feature sets can seem daunting, even to seasoned ATS users.

For this reason in particular, every current user of an ATS or anyone considering an ATS needs to make a hard stop and review where they are currently with their existing ATS, what works and what doesn’t work, and what features would make their work process better if automated. Here are some suggested questions when considering a new ATS:

What current features are actually adding value and efficiency to your work effort?

What current features are actually improving your hiring results?

If we had to weight these last two questions in terms of importance for any sized business, we’d weight the first as 20% and the later as 80%.

More about ATS:

All integrate in some way with job boards, Big Box and specialty boards.

All provide work flow and comments at the work flow step or candidate review point.

All have configuration capabilities that may be reasonably matched to your hiring hierarchy.

Most provide ways to communicate with applicants.

Most provide the means to filter and rank candidates.

Most provide interview scheduling fuctionality or calendar integrations.

Many offer white labled branding.

Many offer pre-qualification question builders, assessment integrations, and skills tests integrations.

Some put a Job Board interface of your website.

Some provide algorithmic rankings of applicants.

Some offer video calling or video interviewing.

The Real

Choosing an Applicant Tracking System a decade ago was a process. Today, any HR pro or small business operator can grab a free trial for any of our selections and have at it.  The time spent is worthwhile, but not for the reasons you may think.  Have an open mind when you do and be ready to learn.

ATS are generally in a race to offer the most features within the most user friendly UX.  Most require significant cost upgrades to integrate even modest advanced features.  As time has moved on this has created highly complex ecosystems to provide the functionality.

If you have become accustomed using spreadsheets to understand and manipulate your personnel data, future or current – any Applicant Tracking System will feel like an upgrade.

We’ve found that training is very limited and normally takes the length of the trial to complete at a minimal level.  By then you will have learned how to upload your candidate and personnel spreadsheets, and users, create a workflow process, brand it to your company colors, configure some of the email communication tools, integrate a few job board accounts, and prepare a few auto response letters.  You’ll be vested in the solution, if not mentally, emotionally.  Which we can’t help thinking makes you, the decision maker, more likely to grin and bear it long term.

Along the way you will encounter the limitations unique to each ATS, to be a bit more direct, you will come to realize the exaggerations that led you to this particular selection.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life these days with ATS systems. They all do similar things and take a significant time commitment from your team to get up and running.  In a way, as we alluded to before, the free trial is really a way to get you installed and emotionally committed for the ultimate sale.

Virtually all ATS providers offer your money back if, after a reasonable use period (tyipcally 60 days from initiation), you are unhappy. But they won’t pay for the time your team has spent learning to use the system, to set it up, or to find a replacement if you are unhappy. Given the mission critical nature of hiring, we’d like ATS companies in general to provide better training and support services at any price point.

All Have, Must Have, Nice to Have

Here are additional lists of features to consider when selecting an ATS that our

What they all have:

Resume Parsing via key word search.

Job postings, job boards and SEO features for your company website.

Auto-Compliance management (Equal Opportunity Hiring language).

Applicant sorting, tracking and ways to communicate with applicants.

The must have features:

Ability to post jobs on your preferred job boards and passive search sites like LinkedIn (through direct integration).

The ability to communicate with candidates directly via email or sms.

The ability to move candidates among a pre-determined hiring team.

The nice to have features:

Communication with candidates via Social Media Channels.

Integrated Chat for internal Team Members and Candidates.

SMS integration for candidate communication.

Out of box integration into important job boards like, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor.

Partner level pricing for premium listing on these important job boards, should you chose to use any or all of them.

Our Choice

Best for Enterprise

Another Great Choice

JazzHR

It’s among the only ATS we’ve tested and demo’d that is actually intuative to use. Clear pricing and excellent customer support.

ZOHO Recruit

You’ll never run out of important new to market features. Has it all plus leading edge tech and enterprise class security.

PrevueHR

Is high quality hiring important? PrevueHR is a full service ATS prioritizing candidate quality. It works. The price reflects that promise.

Our Recomendations 

An ATS that delights the senses and provides a more intuitive interface for HR Pros of large organizations and small organizations. A terrific integration list that is easy to find with single-click launch. Often add-ons have favorable partner price points. Its ease of use and logical workflows make you a better HR Pro and improves company brand awareness, really. JazzHR makes it easy to enhance and upgrade your hiring process. Over time you will find your team fine tuning their use and practice within this ATS and your hiring results will become significantly better. You feel good using this ATS. That alone may be reason to change to JazzHR.

Pros

Top customer service culture. That alone is reason to trial this ATS.

Feature set integration and alignment places candidates and staff first, data second.

Easy to get up and running.

We’d recommend the Pro package, which isn’t cheap but includes everything you need and will need.

Transparent pricing and real value at these pricing levels.

High ratings by candidates/applicants.

Cons

Don’t expect the world if job boards are your main recruiting tool – they are for most – if job boards are your main recruiting tool, your recruiting results will improve incrementally at first.

Seasoned HR pros should not only calculate the ATS cost, but the additional new must have features costs. Beyond job board listing upgrades (we don’t ever recommend these), things like integrated SMS communication can quickly get out of hand with larger organizations.

If you can handle these cons, then JazzHR is your choice.

 

An all you can eat self-managed feature set combined with excellent integrated sourcing and enterprise class security. Zoho has been in the CRM mix for quite a while to mixed reviews. With Zoho Recruit they’ve taken all that they have learned and built a stunning ATS.

Pros

Free Job Boards + International Reach.

Embedded Chat for user group conversations.

Simple for candidates to apply and register profiles, which also enables one click to apply within your job openings list.

Easy to add and configure recruiters from outside your organization.

Resume extractor enables passive recruiting.

New Zia Search enables skills matching to job openings.

Telephone, SMS and video integrations made easy.

Terrific interview scheduling tool.

Transparent Pricing – yes ZOHO CRM users, they heard you on this point.

Cons

So simple, archiving data overload may become a problem.

Free Job Board listings may still require higher costs at your favorite job board.

Customer service can get backed up at critical times of day.

Set Up onboarding is fast paced and can be difficult to follow.

3. PrevueHR

Although among the priciest choices, PrevueHR offers the most complete set of valuable features. By valuable, we mean results. When used by HR professionals, the speed and accuracy by which you can locate active candidates is unparalleled. On boarding and support is fantastic too. Using the Prevue ATS also grants you integrated access to their best in class assessments (these assesments actually work) plus international standard skills testing (these skills tests work).  We recommend these assessments and skills tests to our large scale and small business clients as a standalone service because they work. There are no claims of AI, and we find that refreshing. This ATS is for seasoned ATS users still searching for best performance. Be sure to read our pros and cons below the screenshot.

Pros

Huge number of job board integrations.

The best results from included job board integrations.

Top 3 candidate filtering abilities by result accuracy.

Superb posting forms to prevent errors (job board auto declines).

Fast Results.

Simple and clear pricing.

Cons

Wonky, old school UX interfaces.

Requires a real need for recruiting experience to understand and drive results properly.

Not very inutitive if you are just beginning your ATS journey. However the support staff are excellent, patient and include Four 1 hour on-boarding sessions (with homework assignments) in a sandboxed full featured version.

What we have learned

We’ve found that training is very limited and normally takes the length of the trial to complete at a minimal level.

By then you will have learned how to upload your candidate and personnel spreadsheets, and users, create a workflow process, brand it to your company colors, configure some of the email communication tools, integrate a few job board accounts, and prepare a few auto response letters.  You’ll be vested in the solution, if not mentally, emotionally.  Which we can’t help thinking makes you, the decision maker, more likely to grin and bear it long term.

Features are limited in the free trials regardless of what you may hear during an ATS demo. A dedicated adopter will outpace the trial features quickly. 

Along the way you will encounter the limitations unique to each ATS, to be a bit more direct, you will come to realize the exaggerations that led you to this particular selection.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life these days with ATS systems. They all do similar things and take a significant time commitment from your team to get up and running.  In a way, as we alluded to before, the free trial is really a way to get you installed and emotionally committed for the ultimate sale.

In the best cases, these feature claims may be purchased at additional rates that are easy to swallow for larger enterprises.  Smaller enterprises may feel a bit let down as their $150.00 expected monthly fees balloon quickly to $300, or $600 or to $2,000+.  As prices spiral, you may find yourself asking, “Wait, what is the advantage of this ATS anyway?”

That’s why it is important to consider the real reasons you want an ATS.  Spend some time understanding or thinking about what features you need, primarily what integrations you will need or want. With most ATS, these integrations require upgrades you may not have anticipated – both on the ATS side and the integrating partner side (like job boards or other HR related add-ons, like background checks, video interviews, benefits and pay roll tracking). Also, know what integrations are direct and which are available with a Zapier integration.

Pricing transparency is almost always an issue. 

While we don’t believe this to be intentional, these ATS are marketed as full featured and priced at very limited functionality levels.

Communication with applicants at scale is never easy and most ATS offer direct, automated response processes built in.

Link your email servers to the ATS and applicants will receive emails from your corporate account address. You use field based templates to both personalize responses or create your own company branded auto responses.

While this may seem the best and most professional way to communicate with large numbers of applicants, increasingly auto response emails are seen by applicants as “polite brush-offs” and chances are that too many auto  -responses end up in the spam bins – which really matters when it’s a candidate you would be interested in but have not had the time to review.

Better Communication Practices

We’ve learned that auto-response should only be used to notify that the application has been received. The auto response should also include a statement about next communication timing or steps and will come by way of an email from a “real person” account.

This is a people business after all and at this point we all know when a real email arrives vs. an auto response, regardless of field personalization.

Indeed is the current arbiter of on-line recruiting. They partner with many  ATS and then will overload your ATS with a mixed bag of unqualified and qualified applicants. Our ratios have been on the magnitude of 20:1, and that number is us being generous. Sure you’ll see numbers, but you’ll really need an ATS just to sort through the Indeed click-to-apply results. Understanding how to use filters and better job descriptions will help here. The point is you can not rely on Indeed to be your sourcing engine, so discount the Indeed free posting account if you have placed it in your pro’s column during the selection process.

How we make our recommendations

We’ve trialed or used each of the ATS recommended in this article. There are more that we have tested that never made the list.  We chose not to discuss them.

Our use cases represent 1000’s of people hours in trial, set up, training (when available) and real use cases. It’s that simple. You may know that we have also built ATS – yes coded them and sold them B2B – in years past. It’s something we know about.

We’ve also fallen for tech promises, affiliate sales people, free trials, opaque pricing, truck loads of data, fake resumes, stalking horses, purple squirrels, worms, trojans, viruses, ghosts. We are no different than you, except that maybe we’ve had the time to learn from experiences.

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