Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are becoming increasingly common in the staffing and recruiting industry as a whole, and we’ve already reached a point at which the ATS has become an essential tool in the arsenal of large and mid-size companies.

By 2012 the percentage of large companies leveraging an ATS was already in the high 90% range, and 89% of the respondents to a survey of over 1300 recruiting professionals conducted in 2013 consider recruiting technology to be important to their firm’s success.

The truth is, firms that leverage ATS systems have a tremendous advantage for reaching greater volumes of candidates, organizing and searching resumes, structuring recruiting and sales processes, and reducing internal operational costs. This is reflected by the fact that 49% of the total placements made by respondents to the 2013 survey were candidates from the firms’ ATS.

The question, then, is why haven’t some firms invested in an ATS? The stumbling block is often paralysis of choice and an uncertainty about how to actually leverage an ATS. There is an extraordinarily long list of systems out there, so sifting through them to determine the value they offer to your firm is indeed a daunting task.

In order to help simplify the decision, we boiled the intricacies of evaluating an ATS into 3 simple questions. The answers to these questions will tell you if you would benefit from using an ATS, and help inform your decision about which system will be the best fit for your needs (if you’d prefer to see a sample of what’s out there first before reading further, this site is a great place to start).


1. Is it easy to use?

User experience is increasingly important for tech as a whole, but it’s of particular importance for ATSes. The only systems that provide long term value have an interface that is straightforward, intuitive, and requires minimal training and instruction to use.

Recruiters and salespeople have notoriously short attention spans, and systems that look like a good fit can still end up gathering dust on the shelf because the people who were supposed to be using them never took the time to learn how.

Accordingly, you should leverage free trials and demos to see if a new workflow involving an ATS is easily adaptable, or if it presents hurdles that will mitigate the benefit of the new technology. It’s best to expose the team to new software as early as possible in the buying process to determine the utility they will get from it.

2. Will it actually make your life easier?

There are two factors at the heart of this question that will determine if you would benefit from an ATS—do you have a well-structured recruiting process in place, and do you need a system for organizing and leveraging data about candidates and clients?

You will benefit most from using an ATS if you already have a structured recruiting process (or plans to put a process in place) before you begin evaluating systems. Without a consistent internal process, the functionality (and therefore the utility) of the system is greatly reduced, and chances are that it will end up causing more of a headache than a benefit. Moreover, if there aren’t consistent steps already in place for tracking and recording the progression of candidates, you simply won’t be able to get your recruiters to begin using the ATS properly.

If you already have easy access to candidates, have full visibility into your team’s recruiting process, and don’t have plans to become more data-driven in your approach to recruiting, then an ATS won’t be the best solution for challenges you do face. By asking yourself and the ATS provider how the system will help with daily management responsibilities, you create a natural line of reasoning that streamlines your evaluation and matches the features of the system to your needs.

3. What can I do with it?

After you determine that an ATS evaluation should be to assess the specific functionality that your team needs from the software, and to learn how each provider will go about meeting your needs.

It’s essential that you have a short-list of features that are mission critical for your firm, and hunt down the system that is designed to be of particular value in those areas. Some systems are designed to have tighter back-end and payroll integration, others are designed to have a level of sales CRM functionality built-in, still others are more focused on integration with job-boards and social recruiting.

Most ATSes have an ecosystem of third-party providers that help bridge gaps in the native functionality, or in some cases provide professional services in addition to the basic offering. These alternative solutions are a great way to add specialization and sophistication in a particular area, but you are still best off making sure that the absolute essentials you need are covered from day 1.

But what about the $?

Obviously, there’s one major question we left off the list: how much will this cost me? The biggest mistake you can make when evaluating software is to dismiss a tool due to its cost alone. Don’t eliminate an ATS from your consideration purely due to price, because the cost of using an ATS that is not well suited for your firm’s needs will ultimately be much higher than paying more for a good fit.

To put this line of reasoning in context, think about buying running shoes. You may initially save money by purchasing a discount pair, but if they aren’t a good fit you end up injuring yourself by running in them, and the cost for medical bills far surpasses what you would have paid for better pair of shoes.

When it comes to applicant tracking systems, the “medical bills” you pay come in the form of failure to adapt the ATS, difficulty in entering and maintaining data, and loss of productivity when your team wastes time trying to leverage the ATS for functions that it is not equipped to handle. Yes, money will play a factor when it comes time to make a final decision, but it should be the last piece of the puzzle. Find an ATS that you team can easily adapt and fits your business, and you will find that it quickly pays for itself.


If you still aren’t sure if your firm is in a good position to benefit from using an ATS or not, this e-book lays out steps you should take to get to where you need to be.

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