What Employers Really Want From Their Applicant Tracking System
What Employers Really Want From Their Applicant
Employers are looking for an easy-to-use applicant tracking
system with recruiting dashboards that improves process.
Richard Dawson from the Family Fued. “Survey Says!”
Last week, a Silicon Valley-based private equity firm contacted me. I was asked to
participate in a survey about purchasing trends for applicant tracking systems. Do you
have plans to implement video interviewing in 2014? Do you have plans to purchase
technology to create a talent community? Will you be creating specific marketing
campaigns for applicants? Cool stuff. But, I may hire 20 people this year. I don’t have
the time, energy or resources to successfully implement and maintain any extraneous,
non-critical technology. Frankly, I don’t have the need either. I’m not alone.
While clearly well intentioned, the private equity firm’s survey questions really got me
thinking about the disparity among US employers and how different sized organizations
have vastly different needs when it comes to implementing hiring software. Megaemployers like Facebook and Google with insatiable appetites for talent may have the
resources to experiment with new talent tools here and there but my hunch is that
smaller organizations are more concerned with the fundamentals like streamlining
recruiting processes in order to remain competitive.
So with a little time on my hands last week, I set out to confirm my suspicions with an
informal survey of my own. I went through our CRM system and randomly selected 150
records created this year (2013), specifically looking at the responses to the first
discovery question that we ask every employer that contacts us, “What are you looking
for out of your applicant tracking system?”. To add context, we attract small and
medium-sized organizations (SMBs) with between 30 and 3000 employees.
So what do employers really want out of their applicant
Usability is #1
By far the most commonly expressed desire was for an easy-to-use platform. Employers
want a platform that they can start using almost immediately without weeks of training.
Unfortunately, it can hardly be debated that applicant tracking systems have become
way too complicated and, for the most part, lazy when it comes creating positive user
experiences. The technology that businesses use to run their recruiting programs have
long been some of the least friendly, most difficult systems ever committed to code. If
you work at a company that uses an applicant tracking system and you’ve ever had to do
something that should be simple, like review an applicant or enter your interview
feedback — then you’ve probably encountered some really annoying user experiences.
Part of the problem is that up to this point, vendors have been designing hiring software
almost entirely for what we might call a “Power User”, i.e. people that are going to use it
day in and day out, mostly recruiters. For a collaborative business process like recruiting
where 90% of the users don’t hire all of the time and therefore don’t use recruiting
software day in and day out, this design focus leads to 10% user adoption. Casual users
don’t have the time or usage frequencies that foster retention of important features. The
bottom-line is that employers care about usability now more than ever. They shop for it.
The bar has been set. Usability is the killer feature.
Recruiting Process Improvement
The second most common request from employers was for an applicant tracking system
that helps improve recruiting processes. My research found that employers want an
applicant tracking system that provides control and visibility into all the microprocesses of the recruiting lifecycle from requisition approval management to offer
approval management. Employers expect a system that integrates each phase of the
hiring process (acquisition, assessment, interviewing, screening, reporting) so they are
coordinated, connected, organized and online.
Until recently, applicant tracking systems touted complete customization as a key
feature. For ultra- sophisticated employers with lots of functional and IT resources,
customization may make sense . But, the majority of small and medium-sized
employers really want an ATS that offers flexible, built-in workflows. They can’t (and
won’t) spend 8-10 weeks customizing a system. Today, organizations are looking for
systems that natively work the way recruiting works and that don’t force users to change
The third most popular response didn’t come as a surprise to me. Employers need
recruiting dashboards to track progress and manage their applicant pipelines. Recruiting
leaders have realized that you don’t have much in recruiting if you don’t have visibility
and control. Sure, most applicant tracking systems store all the data associated with
recruiting. But, today’s most sought after hiring platforms offer dashboards that surface
important information so employers can spot bottlenecks and areas for improvement at
Managing and organizing recruiting is hard work. There are lots of inputs that create
important data. Surfacing that data, the data that drives the decisions that drive hiring,
is the key to running an effective recruiting program. It’s cool and exciting to talk about
new features that attract applicants. But, it doesn’t matter how many applicants
employers put in the process if they don’t have the visibility to manage the applicants