5 signs that you've outgrown your free applicant tracking system

You embraced the scrappy startup spirit and signed up for a free applicant tracking system (ATS) to manage your hiring process. The tool worked out well enough when your hiring needs were small, but now your recruiting team is struggling. You regularly have 5+ job openings, and job applicants are falling through the cracks.

A free ATS isn't scalable for small businesses. As your recruitment expands, you'll eventually need to switch to a paid applicant tracking system that offers greater functionality and support. In this post, we'll highlight signs that your free ATS isn't cutting it and outline how to transition to a paid tool that helps you attract and nurture the best candidates.

What to do when your free applicant tracking system isn’t cutting it

Adding a paid ATS to your recruiting budget may give you pause. The tool can be a significant investment, so you may be wondering whether you actually need to switch to a paid ATS.

At the same time, you don't want to be too thrifty. An ATS has a major influence over your hiring processes and your ability to attract the best applicants. If a free ATS is disrupting your talent acquisition — poor resume management, weak candidate sourcing — it's not worth the savings.

Consider the following warning signs of a weak ATS. If any of the following statements ring true, your free ATS is doing more harm to your hiring process than good, and it's time to move on to a paid one with expanded features.

  1. You have more job openings than you can post with your free ATS. Many free recruiting tools limit the number of job postings you can share on your careers page and job boards. If your open positions exceed this limit, you'll be asked to upgrade for a fee to post jobs.

  2. Your ATS software isn't compatible with job boards you'd like to use. Free applicant tracking systems often limit the number of job boards you can use — some allow just one — and/or charge a fee to post there.

  3. You can't integrate with your email, calendar, and human resource management system. This lack of integrations adds menial work to your plate. You'll have to manually communicate with every job seeker, interview scheduling, and transfer applicant data to your human resource information system (HRIS) once a candidate is hired.

  4. You aren't able to gather data-driven insights on your recruiting processes. Free versions of applicant tracking systems either track very simple metrics — such as the number of applications received — or don't offer any reporting features. To gain meaningful insights on streamlining your recruiting process, removing bottlenecks, and attracting top talent, you'll need a paid ATS that can report your hiring activity on a more granular level.

  5. Few employees are using your free applicant tracking system. If you need to push interviewers and hiring managers to use your recruiting software (or worse, the ATS doesn't allow the number of users you need), the tool probably isn't meeting your team's needs.

These warning signs are opportunities for improvement. You've recognized that your free ATS isn't cutting it, so you can make plans to move to a paid all-in-one tool that will benefit your hiring team and candidate experience.

How to transition to a paid ATS

With more functionality than your current tool, a paid ATS has the potential to reshape your hiring process for years to come. Take the time to find the best tool for your team and recruiting process for the long term by following these four steps.

Step 1: Pitch the business value to your boss

Naturally, signing up for a paid ATS requires more organizational buy-in than adopting a free tool. Company budgets are limited, so you'll most likely need to make a case for a paid ATS to your boss.

Show them the value of the purchase by explaining the tool's positive impact on the business in a succinct, yet substantial way. Break down exactly how a paid ATS will help the company meet its long-term objectives, and senior leadership will be eager to invest in the tool.

Say, for example, one of your business' goals for the year is doubling the number of employees. In your pitch, explain why a paid ATS' automation features are necessary to hire at the speed the company needs to double in size.

Identify the business goals that a paid ATS can achieve and learn how to communicate this value to senior leadership with these tips:

  • Review documentation about the company's larger strategy. Use all-hands meeting notes, company memos, and other internal sources to refresh your memory about your company's latest goals. Review these objectives and decide which ones would be influenced the most by a paid ATS.

  • Make the most of the data you have. You most likely have only been able to track minimal data (if any data at all) with your free ATS. Still, collect any figures you can to make a concrete, evidence-based case for a paid ATS. For example, if your company wants to fill a large number of roles, you might compare the number of applications your current ATS can process to show how the tool is limiting your talent pool.

  • Consider your company's internal communication style. The way you present your reasons for a paid ATS is just as important as the reasoning itself. Think about how most meetings are held at your company to decide how your pitch should be delivered. Do co-workers often give presentations? Does your boss prefer more informal discussions?

If your communication is compelling and your reasoning is strong, senior leadership will be less interested in the ATS' price tag and more intrigued by its potential impact on their business.

Step 2: Research the ATS market with your team

Your boss has given you the OK to find a paid ATS for the company. Now it's time to round up your colleagues and find the best tool for your team together.

While you may have selected your free ATS with limited input, it's important to give employees agency over choosing a paid ATS. Your team will be much more likely to actively use the tool if you empower them in the decision-making process. Not to mention, you'll be more likely to find the ATS that best suits your team's needs if you have greater input.

Find the ATS that will bring the most value to your team by involving your co-workers in the decision-making process.

  • Ask hiring managers and interviewers what they currently like and dislike about your free ATS. Their feedback will help you determine which features to seek out and avoid when researching different applicant tracking systems.

  • Ask other recruiters on your team to help you evaluate different ATS solutions. Set up a meeting with other recruiters at your company to discuss the pros and cons of various applicant tracking systems. Collectively, the group will have a much deeper understanding of each tool if everyone has a chance to express their ideas.

  • Invite leadership to connect with sales reps. More often than not, senior leadership will decide which ATS should be purchased. Help them make the final choice by connecting your boss to ATS sales reps directly, rather than being an intermediary and relaying information to leadership second-hand. For example, you might invite your boss to join a quick ATS product demo where they can ask a sales rep questions and learn more about the product from an expert.

By involving employees across the company in the ATS selection process, your organization is more likely to benefit from the tool. The purchase will be guided by collective feedback and everyone will feel confident and eager to use the ATS.

Step 3: Determine how to transition your data

Once your company has selected a paid ATS, the switch isn't instantaneous. You must figure out a way to transition the data that exists on your free ATS to your new recruiting software.

Even if you've only tracked minimal data with your free ATS, it's critical that you preserve the hiring records you have. This data — candidate profiles, performance reporting — will point you to potential hires in the future and provide insights on how to improve your hiring performance over time and find top applicants.

Protect your hiring records by researching and preparing for data migration between your old ATS and new ATS:

  • Review your data with fellow recruiters to decide what data should be preserved, and what can be deleted. You might decide, for example, that you don't need to transfer reports on the number of clicks for old job postings that you don't plan to republish. Alternatively, you may want to transfer profile information for rejected candidates who could be potential future hires.

  • Learn your free ATS' exporting options. Free applicant tracking systems often won't allow you to export your data, though some do. Contact the free provider via email to find out. If exporting data isn't an option, you can always manually transfer the data in your ATS to your own spreadsheet. This task is tedious, but saving your data is worth the effort.

  • Contact your new ATS' support team to discuss importing options. Depending on how large your files are, you may need the assistance of the paid ATS' support team with the data import.

Prepare for data migration with these tips, and you'll be able to save the records you care most about and transfer them to your paid ATS.

Step 4: Set goals for the new system's use

Now that you are paying for an ATS, you need a framework for evaluating whether the tool is as valuable as you hoped.

Set benchmarks by defining goals for using your paid ATS. These objectives will help you measure whether the tool is meeting your company's expectations. Plus, having clear goals will keep you focused on the most relevant features of your new ATS, rather than becoming overwhelmed by every aspect of the new tool.

Set clear, actionable goals for your use of the system so that you are able to measure the impact of the tool. Examples of these objectives might be:

  • Reduce time to hire by 20%

  • Increase employee referrals by 30%

  • Decrease the candidate response time throughout the application process to 24 hours or less

  • Reduce the number of canceled interviews by 50%

To measure the value of your paid ATS, the goals you set should be not only straightforward and easy to track, but also reflective of your company's larger business objectives.

Measure the value of your paid ATS

After you've switched to a paid applicant tracking system, maximize its value. Continually measure its performance with the goals you've set in Step 4 to ensure your organization is reaping all of the benefits. While you ideally want to keep the same paid ATS for years, you can always switch to another tool if your first choice doesn't meet your expectations.

About Hire by Google

Hire is a recruiting app by Google that uses AI to make the hiring process faster and simpler. Because it is designed specifically for G Suite users, with Gmail, Google Calendar and other G Suite integrations, Hire streamlines administrative tasks so that your team can hire the best people, faster.