7 traits of the top applicant tracking systems

Applicant tracking systems (ATS') are a must-have for HR teams who want to centralize and standardize their hiring processes, plus keep tabs on the status of all their candidates. They make these common processes easier for everyone, and eliminate the need for manual tracking in spreadsheets or juggling multiple applications.

If your organization doesn't yet have an ATS (or is looking to upgrade), the research process may seem overwhelming: there are a lot of options and competing opinions. But if you can decide what features are most important for you and your company, you can narrow down your choices and choose the one that's best-suited to meet your recruiting needs.

What should your HR team prioritize in an ATS?

Before you consider the following seven characteristics shared by the top applicant tracking systems, consider the needs of your team and where you see your organization in the future. Most modern HR departments need the same things in their applicant tracking and recruitment software, including:

  • A centralized database for all hiring-related information
  • A more intuitive experience for everyone (including candidates)
  • Better reengagement of prior candidates
  • Easier posting of job ads to multiple locations
  • Integration with frequently used tools

Which of these features do you need the most from an ATS now, and what features will you need to take your company to the next level? Prioritize them. Once you do this, you'll be ready to consider which applicant tracking system is right for you.

7 traits to look for in the top applicant tracking systems

As you read the list below, look for traits that can help you overcome your current hiring challenges and take advantage of your future opportunities. The ATS you choose should be robust enough to support you through the evolution of your organization, but agile and intuitive enough to ensure your entire team can get on board.

Trait #1: An intuitive user experience

Introducing your team to an ATS should be an intuitive experience. If the application is confusing, recruiters and hiring managers may still be doing work, like communicating with candidates or tracking feedback, outside of the system. This will result in frustration and wasted time.

Look for an ATS that will provide everyone who interacts with it — including candidates — an intuitive experience from the very first screen. You can find this by searching for specific traits, including the following:

  • Guided onboarding: This might take the form of in-app walk-throughs, videos, or online guides. Any one of these solutions helps your organization get started quickly, and reduces the amount of time you'll need to spend on training. What kind of onboarding does the ATS offer?

  • A simple, user-friendly design: Using your ATS should be as easy as using your favorite email application. Does it come with an internal search function? Are common tasks — posting job ads, reviewing candidates, and interview scheduling — easily accessible and clearly labeled?

  • Internal collaboration options: Recruiters, hiring managers, and members of your HR team should have access to your ATS. Can different roles be given different levels of access, making sure sensitive information remains private? Once everyone has the correct permissions, does the ATS make it easy and intuitive to collaborate with your team about candidates?

Internal colloboartion
  • A hassle-free candidate experience: A candidate's first experience with your company is likely via your ATS. This candidate experience often reflects your company culture. Can job seekers apply to roles without the hassle of creating an account?

Trait #2: The ability to nurture candidates

A high-quality candidate experience includes everything from their application to their acceptance of your job offer, and all the interactions in between. Your ATS should help you guide and nurture candidates at all stages of the recruitment process. With a modern ATS, you should be able to:

  • Take, organize, and share notes: Your team should have the ability to take notes on interviews, resumes, or conversations with job applicants, and share those with the right members of the team, so everyone can access the most up-to-date, accurate information during each stage of the hiring process.

  • View activity logs: Reengaging previous candidates is a great way to fill vacant roles, but you need to tailor your outreach message and timing to each candidate in order for it to be effective. For example, you may not want to reach out to a candidate who has just learned they didn't get another job at your company. Candidate activity logs show what happened and when, so you can go into each new interaction with the right context.

  • Organize candidates into lists or collections: This feature will help you quickly find previous or current candidates with specific skills, experience, or application history.

  • Email candidates individually or in bulk: Keep the relationship going by emailing previous candidates about new vacancies.

Trait #3: Uncomplicated candidate discovery

As mentioned above, the best candidates for a role may come from your pool of previous applicants, sometimes called lost candidates. And there's good reason to prioritize people already in your database: They are six times as likely to get hired as new applicants (Bock, Laszlo. Work Rules! (https://www.amazon.com/Work-Rules-Insights-Inside-Transform/dp/1455554790). Twelve, 2015).

With a few clicks, the best applicant tracking systems let you search for previous applicants with specific skills, experience, knowledge, or certifications. They then match these qualifications to open roles and make reaching out to corresponding candidates a snap.

The ATS you choose should also simplify the candidate sourcing process in general. A search should act like a search: You shouldn't have to create a complex string of tags or booleans to find your own data. With the right ATS, candidate discovery is an uncomplicated process and won't require your team to learn any custom code.

Trait #4: Efficient job posting tools

HR teams have better things to do than manually adding an open position to a dozen job boards. The top applicant tracking systems integrate with a number of job boards. With this feature, you can quickly add job openings and all their important details to the boards you choose, all at once, and all without leaving the ATS.

Some tracking systems will go even further, allowing you to create sponsored listings. Others may prompt you for additional information required by specific boards before posting so that you can be sure your posts don’t get rejected by the job board.

Trait #5: Actionable reporting

Reports and analytical data give your team the information you need to make improvements that allow you to hire smarter and faster. For example, the top applicant tracking systems have source efficiency reporting, which tells you which job boards are referring the highest quality candidates — allowing you to save time and money by only posting on the boards with the best chances of success.

Other reporting options include:

  • Time-to-hire report: This report will help you identify inefficiencies in the hiring process and ultimately improve your time-to-hire.

  • Candidate conversion rates: How are candidates moving through your pipeline? This report will show you the percentage of applications that advanced from each hiring stage, so you can make sure your hiring process is working for your team and your candidates.

  • Referral report: This report will show how many referrals you're receiving from current or former employees. If your strongest candidates are from referrals, you may want to invest more in referral tools.

You may also want to look for an ATS that allows your reporting data to be exported or easily shared. Exporting your reporting data to a spreadsheet enables additional analysis and lets you easily create charts and graphs as part of custom reports for senior leadership and other teams.

Trait #6: Integration with your most-used hiring tools

Your ATS should make your staff more efficient, not less. While some HR teams may initially choose an ATS that includes human resources information system (HRIS) capabilities (such as offer letters, payroll, or employee onboarding), the experience is often better when your applicant tracking software integrates with services you're using daily instead of those you may use only occasionally.

The top applicant tracking systems integrate easily with your productivity suite — including your email, calendar, spreadsheets, and file storage applications. That way, you don't have to work in multiple applications to accomplish a single task.

For example, an email integration will allow you to compose and send a message to a candidate from within the ATS rather than making you switch to the email application. The ATS will also automatically record that the email was sent in both applications.

Using an ATS that integrates with your existing productivity tools won't just save you time; it may also make ATS onboarding easier on your team. Familiar tools that don’t require a ton of context switching will help your team understand how to use the system and be more likely to keep using it.

Integrate with tools

Trait #7: Responsive support

Finally, you should look for an ATS supported by a responsive team. Because the ATS is the backbone of your recruiting process, you'll want both the tool and the support offered to be reliable.

The level of support you need depends on how often you plan to use your ATS software, now and in the future:

  • If you hire very frequently: You are probably in your ATS for several hours per day and have a lot of people involved with the hiring process. Access to a dedicated customer success or account manager may be what you need to guide you through integration, onboarding, and updates.

  • If you hire infrequently: Email or phone support may be a good source of support. There may not be as many people involved in the hiring process, so the turnaround time for resolving issues is more flexible.

You may also want to look at product updates to learn how each ATS you're evaluating has improved over the last few months. Are these updates based on customer feedback? Are the developers open to new suggestions from HR teams?

A final item to consider is data migration. Should you ever decide to change your hiring process in the future, you may need to move all of your candidate data to a new software suite. The top applicant tracking systems will make this process easy for you, allowing you to quickly export your data so it can be imported into a new ATS.

Invest in an ATS that improves your hiring experience

Use these seven traits to identify which of the top applicant tracking systems can best meet — and, ideally, exceed — your needs. With this list, you can get a head start on prioritizing the features that will make the biggest difference for everyone: your HR team, your hiring managers, and your candidates.

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.