A look at the development of the applicant tracking system, how it can help you achieve your organisational goals, and exert tips for picking the right platform for you.
Why is it called an Applicant Tracking System? I mean it sounds like a tool for managing applicants and that’s it – right?
Yet, many of the ATSs out there have many features beyond managing applicants – these are things like posting ads to job boards, request-to-hire approval workflow and even onboarding in some cases.
OK, as you can guess, it all started long time ago, when posting and even online advertising didn’t even exist and so it was all about sorting candidates in different stages of the process and adding some comments against them – that’s what the early applicant tracking systems did – a very primitive CRM for candidates and hence the name. Let’s take a look at the evolution:
The DVD era
As you can imagine the early ATSs were Microsoft Windows based where you’d buy the DVDs install them and start to use them.
The network and client-server
The next generation network based (client server architecture) ATS brought a significant improvement in terms of sharing data and having multiple users working on the same data. It meant that the entire company can now a lot easily share a single database that was typically sitting somewhere in the same building onto a hardware server of some kind. But you still had to install the client-side of the system on each of the user’s computer.
The browser based
After the client-server model, came the browser-based architecture which was great because companies no longer have to install and maintain an install-based software on each user’s computer. Although it was a progress, however the database was still (in most of cases) sitting it the same building of where the users resided. Slowly some of these early adopters started to move the database to their own servers (server cages) in a datacenter near them – so this reduced the amount of install and maintenance required which was a huge cost and risk for those early adopter organisations.
Lipstick on a pig
When the appetite for cloud-based and SAAS-based solutions started to increase, many of the traditional ATS providers started to migrate their services to the so called “CLOUD”. But to so many of these client-server providers, this cosmetic transition was like trying to put lipstick on a pig to make it look like a proper cloud-based solution. It simply wasn’t designed from the ground up, and so, they were found out and they struggled to compete against the pure cloud-systems who were built in the CLOUD-era and were built from the ground up to serve this access from anywhere and from any browser purpose.
The CLOUD and SaaS era
In this era and specifically since 2000, a few new vendors popped up on the market using the latest infrastructure technologies like, PHP and ASP (Active Server Pages) from Microsoft. The key issue in this era is that the early adopters is that those early web-infrastructures like PHP and ASP were very primitive in their ability to allow developers to create well engineered systems and so those early system were build with spaghetti-like code that’s in many cases, built by the entrepreneurs themselves because the languages like ASP and the UX-based building tools that came with it made look easy and made them think they can do it themselves. After a few years the JAVA-based web platforms like J2EE came on the market and allowed developers to build well engineered systems.
The Enterprise-grade ATS of CLOUD-based era
After five years or so since their birth, the web programming languages and infrastructure tools, started to mature and allowed proper software engineering practices to be applied when building web-based systems. To be honest, from the beginning the java-based J2EE allowed for a proper software engineering practices, it’s just the Microsoft platform ASP that was an absolute disaster and lead to the creation of millions of applications world-wide that simply a few years after their inception, simply came to a halt and couldn’t scale. The same is true for the PHP-based applications that were built in the early 2000s – they didn’t scale well – just millions and millions of lines of code with no engineering and very poor level of reuse.
The top 10 tips
Tip #1 – modern platform
- Comes with a genuine free-plan (Freemium pricing model) – A true modern platform comes with a free-plan that has enough capabilities for you to test it at your own time, and without being chased by sales people
- Free Setup, training and support – a modern platform should come with a free setup, training & support
- Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and with no hidden fees – whenever you’re getting a quote for the cost, make sure that the cost is provided as Total Cost of Ownership. This ensures that you won’t be hit with hidden fees after the you sign up
- Self-service – A modern platform should come with the self-service paradigm. This should mean once the client success people set you up, you shouldn’t have to go back to them everytime you need to make a small change – so you should be able customise it and fine-tune it as you go without having to keep waiting on someone to do simple changes for you
- Pure-cloud hosting where you don’t need to worry about hosting, upgrading and all the maintenance nightmare that comes with it. It also means that it truly be accessed from anywhere and any device.
- Enterprise-grade – in some cases, there are requirements for structuring a client account into multiple and interconnected nodes in order to reflect the multiple divisions, brands and or locations a company might have. This capability is critical if the company wants to have data and user segregation for the divisions, while still able to have an eagle eye view and reporting over the entire hierarchy
I have written a good blog about the difference between a ‘Modern Recruitment Software Platform’ and a ‘Traditional Applicant Tracking System’ – check it out here if you’re interested:
Tip #2 – security and mobile-enabled
Security – This is a big subject that not even 3 separate articles can do it a justice, and so I picked a few important points that you should include on top of your list:
- Ask for an up-to-date penetration test (pen test) by a reputable company
- Make sure that the sensitive data is encrypted both in transit and at rest – the encryption in transit will secure your data in the event that communication packets between your browser and the server was intercepted. Encryption at rest refers to the fact that even if someone is able to get the data directly from the database or even if the attackers (hackers) steal a copy of the database (like the backup for example), they still won’t be able to decrypt the data and therefore it would be useless to them.
- Cross Site Scripting (XSS) – this is when an attacker is able to place a malicious code inside one of the application’s pages (that reside on the vendor’s server) and so as the user downloads the page, the malicious code gets executed and tries to infect either the user’s machine or another machine out there on the internet. For example ransomware attacks can be setup this way. In the first instance make sure that the Pen Test has cleared the vendor’s application of XSS risks
- SQL Injection – this is where the attacker is in the application as a user of the application and tries to inject malicious SQL code in one of the input fields of the application – such as text field, text area, file upload field etc. Applications that aren’t aware of this risk, can be a victim by trusting the input too much to the point of trying to use the input data in its raw state, within their SQL code – the code that tries to retrieve the intended results for the user.
Mobile-enabled – You need to be comfortable that some features of the platform are completely accessible from a mobile device – this includes:
- The entire candidate experience and in particular application process and the onboarding process
- Managing applications as you might want to work on urgent roles while you’re away
- Requisition approval as you want executives to approve requisitions while their away and on the move
- And few more features too, depending on your particular taste and working environment
Tip #3 – career site and internal hiring board
It’s essential that the ATS you have in mind is able to seamlessly integrate with your website and Intranet. So their technology should be designed with Open Architecture in mind where it gives you the choice of who’s best to design and manage your career site for you. For example, you might want them to design the career site for you, or you want them to give you (your developers or the design agency of choice) the full autonomy to design and style your own career site. So in the second option you want the developer of choice to design the career site for you yet still have a job-board for your ads completely and seamlessly integrated within the your career site, and one that serves your ads live from your ATS. You don’t want to be locked in with them for customising and styling your career site – you don’t want to be dependent on them every time you want to make a small change.
Tip #4 – request-to-recruit (requisition) workflow and posting to job-boards and social sites
Requisition workflow – An ATS must have a customisable requisition approval workflow that allows every organisation to design their own form and their own approval workflow. It’s very important that the Requisition Workflow works on all devices including mobiles so traveling executives can still approve (or reject) a requisition no matter where they are.
Job multi-posting –Multi-posting gives you the ability to create a job ad once and in a few clicks be able to post it to all the job-boards, sites and social media that makes sense for you. This is very essential to an ATS, as it saves you lots of time – having to copy and paste the 10 fields of an ad into 10 different sites is way too time consuming. Make sure though that the multi-posting tool, that’s part of the ATS you’re trying to purchase does post to the sites you’re interested in as well as the social sites you want to post to. Just as a small list for you to watch out for, make sure the tool is able to post to do the following:
- Post free job-boards like Indeed
- Post to your Career Site on your website
- Post to your internal hiring board on your intranet, and it has,
- Has full ad management tools as opposed to “trust us the ad is up there”, or, “trust us your ad will there soon”! You want the UX to give you full visibility and control about where your ads are at, at any time during the ad lifecycle.
Tip #5 – managing applications and AI
Depending on the industry and the country, you might have small or large volume of applications against your jobs, but regardless to the volume, managing applications should be streamlined and automated as much as possible. Please see the following points that in my views you must demand from the ATS you’re purchasing:
- Customising your own recruitment stages
- Auto-screening applications and send them personalised unsuccessful emails – so you need the ability to have full control over the application form and be able to create auto-screening questions
- Sort and filter on applications based on their answers
- Personalised, branded and automated email and SMS templates to respond to applicants respectfully and in time
- Quick and efficient way to move applicants to the various stages
- Record phone interviews
- Ability to send SMS not just emails
- Tag good candidates into your talent pools as you process applications
- Be able to see the full application history of the candidate and previous comments from you and other recruiters in your company
- Be able to quickly share one or more applications with colleagues for feedback
- Snappy UX when moving between applications and to quickly jump between resume, cover letter, screen questions, video… and other information about the candidate as you’re trying to decide on their suitability for the role
- Intelligent resume parsing that gives you an accurate profile about the candidate, which allows you to make a quicker decision of whether or not you want to dig deeper into their application
- AI capabilities for auto-matching of applications to jobs
- Grabbing and parsing candidates from the internet and matching them against your jobs
Tip #6 – candidate database and talent communities
A modern applicant tracking system or recruitment software has to have a database that gives you the ability to segment it in exactly how it makes sense for your organisation. Talent Communities (pools) is one way of doing that but there is a myriad of other important facets to segmentations and search such as geolocation, custom fields, keywords in resumes, screening questions, interview questions and many others. Make sure the search capabilities are powerful and most importantly snappy and fast and that you’re able to save some of of your most used searches for later.
Tip #7 – collaboration tools for HR, hiring managers and executives
Every organisation, at a particular point of time, prefers a certain working model between HR and the managers, they feel is best for their in-house recruitment strategy to work. I mean you have consider the industry, the size of the organisation, the culture, the goals… there are so many factors and this can change every year or so. Because of that, the ATS you want to buy, needs to be flexible in how it opens collaboration opportunities between users such as the HR users, the hiring manages and the executives in the business. I have written a useful blog in the past that promotes deeper involvement of the hiring managers in the process if companies want to save more money on recruitment and deliver higher degree of satisfaction for the internal clients (hiring managers) – check out the blog here: 4 THINGS HR MUST HAVE TO SAVE MILLIONS ON RECRUITMENT
Tip #8 – digital and paperless onboarding
Make sure there is a smooth continuation of the candidate journey from recruitment to onboarding – a digital onboarding system should automate all of the processes involved in contract administration, forms and terms documents… that a new hire is required to complete and sign. For example, instead of manually editing a template for every new starter, a contract can be created in a few seconds where it is linked to your recruitment phase and the data is pre-populated. An employment pack, all from within the system, can then be attached to the contract and then sent electronically to the candidate for their review and electronic signing. The candidate from their online portal, will one by one, review and action all the items in the pack including contract, tax form, super form and other items in the pack. No more printing and mailing of bulky new employee packs, and best of all no reprinting of information when the package mysteriously gets lost in the mail!
Tip #9 – contract variations and changes to terms
Contract Variation – This feature is similar to the digital onboarding feature from the above point, except it’s used when you need to move some of your existing employees between jobs – for example when moving an employee from casual to full time, as opposed to hiring a new person into that role (which would be considered onboarding).
Changes to Terms – is when you require some of your employees to sign a new code of conduct for example – it could be any document or forms… that you need your existing employees to sign, agree to, fill out etc.
Tip #10 – integration with HRMS/payroll
It should be an absolute deal breaker for you that the Applicant Tracking System you’re looking at, is Open, Connected, and encourages integrations with the rest of the HR ecosystem and especially with your HRIS/Payroll. This allows you to have an end-to-end solution where the hiring process is triggered in your HRMS, automatically flows through to recruitment, then onboarding and when the candidate completes their pack, they’re immediately transferred back into the HRIS too. So this gives a fully automated process with no data loss or data entry. I’ve written a very good blog that explains the pros and cons of integrating best-in-their-category systems in HR as opposed to having one system for everything HR – check it out if you’re interested.
I hope you find this useful while researching your next recruitment and, or onboarding software tools, especially if you have to create an RFI for management.