4 Steps to Select the Right Applicant Tracking System

If you’re anything like me, and according to recent studies most of you are, one of your most dreaded life experiences is buying a new car. From deciding what features you need to determine what you can afford to pay to dealing with dealership sales staff, there is nothing pleasant about the transaction for most of us. According to Edmunds 44 percent of Americans said they would be willing to give up Facebook to avoid the experience. But for most of us a car is a necessity so we grit our teeth and try to get through the process with as little pain as possible.  

In my last blog I discussed some of the benefits of using an Applicant Tracking System for small businesses, and now that you’ve made the decision to buy, it’s time to put together a plan to make sure you get the system that is going to drive your recruitment efforts for years to come. Selecting a new system to manage your recruitment process can be a daunting task, especially for the small business buyer.

With so many vendors in the market it can be an overwhelming task just to figure out the differences between their offerings. Software vendor selection itself is a cottage industry with consulting firms and independent consultants available to assist organizations in evaluating their processes to match them with vendors whose offerings meet their current and future needs. As a small business, you likely don’t have the resources to hire consultants to help you, but thanks to the myriad of resources available online, you should be able to navigate the process with the following four steps.

Assess Your Needs

The first step is the most important part of vendor selection. Whether you have been with your company for five years or are just stepping into the role, it’s important to evaluate all aspects of your recruiting function so that when you make your final decision you know that the features offered meet all of your needs, and you didn’t buy more than you need and that you don’t get caught in the trap of buying bells and whistles that don’t add value to your recruitment function.  A good place to start is by answering a few of the following questions.

  • How many hires do you make monthly, quarterly, annually?
  • How many users will need to access the system?
  • Are your hiring managers tech-savvy or will they need a lot of support and training?
  • What is your recruitment workflow?
  • Are pre-hiring assessments required for any of the positions in your company?
  • What methods do you use to advertise your current openings?
  • Are there specific background check requirements for any hires in your organization?
  • Will you need to manage any external vendors such as a staffing agency?
  • Is your organization subject to government compliance audits?

Determine Your Budget

Going back to the car-buying analogy, almost all of us have a dream car – the one we would buy the day after hitting the lottery. But it’s usually a dream car for a reason.  And that reason is that it typically costs way more than we could ever afford. This same limitation also applies to selecting an ATS vendor. Sure we would all love the enterprise class system that has every feature under the sun, but in reality you have to be practical and stay within your budget. So ask:

  • Do you have a budget allocation at all?
  • Do you want a pay-as-you-go system with a la carte adds that can be purchased as needed?
  • Would you prefer an all-you-can-eat system with set monthly or annual fees or do you prefer to pay per user with the ability to add more users as your organization grows?

Researching Vendors

Now that you’ve determined your budget and completed a needs assessment, you should be well on your way to the next step, which is researching vendor systems that meet your feature requirements and fit within your budget. The simplest tool for researching vendors is conducting an online search for “Applicant Tracking System Vendors.” You will very quickly discover the numerous online databases containing vendor overviews and user reviews. Our recommendation is to go through these lists, use your specific criteria to narrow the lists down, and then begin to visit the vendor sites themselves to get a better sense of their feature sets.

The Test Drive

Now that you’ve narrowed your vendor to pool a few finalists, it’s time to take the system out for a spin. While most vendors offer a walk-through of their systems on their websites, it’s important at this step that you start scheduling full-scale demos.  During the demo make sure the sales rep is covering all aspects and functionality vital to your recruitment so you are not distracted with an overview of features that you do not want nor need. One key sales trick to avoid in the vendor selection process is the tendency to try and sell you on the features that are yet to be released aka the “roadmap.” Any feature that you need on day one in order to succeed must be part of the vendor’s current release, and if it’s not you should consider other vendors.

An even better situation is a free trial of the system given that will give you the opportunity to try out the system at your own pace. If you have a vendor that offers this option, make sure to do your best to replicate your hiring workflow when setting up your free trial system. You should also recruit others in your organization to use the free trial by assigning user types and specific tasks such as creating a new job, posting to a careers site, scheduling an interview, providing interview feedback and moving a candidate through the offer process.

Finally, and I cannot stress this step enough, be sure to evaluate the candidate experience by applying for a job and testing the candidate feedback features/options. Nothing can steer an ATS system implementation off the cliff quicker than a bad candidate experience. Make sure the ATS is user-friendly.

If you’ve completed the recommended steps, you should feel confident in knowing that you have the tools needed to make your final selection. We’ll cover some tips on configuring your new system in a future post, but next month we’ll be attending the 2014 HR Technology Conference, and we’ll be giving you a recap of the exciting new offerings for the small business market in the HR technology and recruitment industry.


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