Skip to main content

Applicant tracking systems are used by many organizations to help with sourcing new hires and managing their progress through the hiring process.

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.

Key takeaways

  • Applicant tracking systems help to store candidate information in a central database and ensure their smooth progress through the hiring process
  • ATSs help you create your own database of qualified candidates you can nurture over time
  • An ATS will make it easierfor you to measure and report on key recruiting metrics.

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

At its core, the ATS is 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's details and information about their application e.g. resume, cover letter, and interview feedback.

Hiring teams can then configure the tool to their recruitment process and move candidates along as they progress through each stage. No more tedious spreadsheets!

Automations within the program such as reminders will help ensure that no steps are missed and that nobody “falls through the cracks”.

Other useful features include the ability to send mass email rejections based on certain criteria.

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.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive the requested content, our newsletter, and occasional emails related to People Managing People. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more details, please review our privacy policy. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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 reach out

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

Candidate database

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 a candidate database 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 theirs in the mail or hand you a hard copy.

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 feature is great for when you're receiving tons of applications, allowing you to parse hundreds of resumes quickly using pre-selected qualifiers.

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.

Tracking candidates

An ATS system helps the human resources team keep track of who they've contacted, who's at what stage, and when a good follow-up date might be. This helps streamline the hiring process and ensures a great candidate experience.

Data analysis

If your HR team has quotas to meet, the ATS platform should be able to track and report on those too. 

You’ll be able to track and report on key recruitment metrics insights such as which sources are most effective and a which stage are the most candidates dropping out?

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 globally 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?

If you’re struggling to choose the right software, let us help you. Just share your needs in the form below and you’ll get free access to our dedicated software advisors who match and connect you with the best vendors for your needs.

A Better Hiring Experience For Both Sides

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.For more insights on HR software and best practices, subscribe to the People Managing People newsletter.

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.