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If you’re in charge of recruitment within an organization or as an external consultant, you've no doubt heard of applicant tracking systems (ATS). But, as you're here, perhaps you're not 100% sure how they work.

In this article, we'll take you through how applicant tracking systems work and can help you at each stage of the recruitment process.

Table of Contents

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

At their core, ATSs are designed to help recruiters manage candidates from initial outreach through to final interview and (hopefully) an accepted offer. Depending on the application, they can also assist a hiring manager with posting job listings, headhunting, parsing and evaluating candidates, interviewing, and making offers throughout the hiring process.

The core of any applicant tracking software is a database that stores the candidate details. The program will process a resume or application and then present that to hiring managers in an easy-to-navigate HR tool. No more spreadsheets!

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What are the key features of an applicant tracking system?

Every ATS provider offers different bells and whistles. Some, for example, will help you dip into the market and source candidates as well as parse applications. Others will allow you to automate processes such as scheduling a candidate interview.

Job Posting

Some ATSs enable you to quickly post JDs to your company’s careers pages as well as on a job board and social channels.

The benefits of this *saving oodles of time and consistent job ads* you can see immediately!

Email Reachout

Once you've sourced a list of likely candidates, most ATS can help you structure, send and track and optimize personalized emails as part of the talent acquisition process.

Candidates and any interactions with them are kept on record (although check how long you are legally allowed to keep them for), allowing you to build your own candidate pool and nurture relationships over time.

Importing Resumes

After applicants have started to respond to your job ad, you’ll likely be receiving resumes from many sources. Some candidates may even take the old-school route and send their resumes in the mail or have someone they know personally hand it to you. The best ATS solution will have flexible importing options, from scanning hard copies to ingesting Indeed applications into your database. (Using supplementary resume screening software can also make this process more efficient if you're dealing with large volumes of candidates.)

ATS software makes it easy to congregate all your applications into one place. Electronic resumes are quickly imported into the system, hardcopies are turned into digital documents that can be scanned for appropriate keywords and experience metrics, and external website data is transformed into something useful and readable for the end-user. 

Parsing Resumes

The resume parser is great for when you're receiving tons of applications. With an ATS, you can parse hundreds of resumes quickly using pre-selected qualifiers so that only the best resumes make it to your desk for a manual look-over so you don't waste time on unqualified candidates. 

An ATS scan also helps when it comes to finding relevant information wherever it is located on the document. While there are some resume format standards, each one is different. For example, some people list their skills under each job experience while others create a separate heading to list them at the end. 

The resume parsing feature pulls out keywords from each resume, regardless of format, and categorizes each job candidate according to who best matches the job description. This process saves endless time scanning through resumes by hand to find those that might be a good fit.

Tracking Candidates

An ATS system helps the human resources team keep track of who they've contacted, who's at what stage, who's about to slip through the cracks of the very long application process, and when a good follow-up date might be. If your HR team has quotas to meet, the ATS platform should be able to track and report on those too. Where are candidates dropping off?

As mentioned, another great thing about this system is that those who drop off for whatever reason stay in your system. If any positions open up in the future that match their skills, you can quickly and easily get in touch to see if they’re interested in an interview.

Do a lot of companies use ATS software? 

At least 40% of companies currently use an ATS platform. However, this is trending upward as companies across the globe are focusing on becoming more technologically relevant in the age of the internet, big data, and online ecosystems. 

Most large corporations have been using ATSs for a long time, whether it’s an external system or a candidate portal incorporated into their own HR software. However, happily, there are now options available for small and medium-sized companies can now invest in these systems and get the benefits without having to build their own platform.

Need expert help selecting the right Applicant Tracking (ATS) Software?

We’ve joined up with to give all our readers (yes, you!) access to Crozdesk’s software advisors. Just use the form below to share your needs, and they will contact you at no cost or commitment. You will then be matched and connected to a shortlist of vendors that best fit your company, and you can access exclusive software discounts!

The Takeaway

ATS software can save you time, and therefore money, by automating a lot of the process for recruiting new employees.

What's more efficient for hiring teams is also efficient for candidates, and ATSs will likely improve the candidate experience and help ensure none fall through the cracks.

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By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.