8 Features to Look for in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Jake SafaneBY Jake Safane
November 2nd, 2023 • 5 Minutes

Applicant tracking system (ATS) software sometimes gets a bad rap from job candidates who think the technology will wildly auto-reject applicants who don’t have the exact right formula of keywords.

While some companies do use an ATS to weed out applications, the reality is that many recruiters and HR teams use an ATS in more of a complementary fashion to stay organized throughout the recruitment process. And with the right features, a good ATS can streamline the ability to find the best candidates, without being overly automated to the point where it blocks good applicants before they get a human review. 

“Some recruiters use an ATS to parse keywords, rank resumes, and auto-reject people who do not meet specific, up-front requirements (e.g., working 3 days in the office in Anchorage, Alaska),” writes Amy Santee, a self-employed career strategist and coach, in a LinkedIn post. However, she explains, the technology generally isn’t doing all the work from her perspective. “Humans, not software, decide who goes in the yes or no pile,” writes Santee.

So if an ATS isn’t necessarily used as a de-facto hiring manager—at least on a widespread basis—what should you be looking for in these systems? Automation still has a role, but it should be more along the lines of improving efficiency. A good ATS should also help you attract high-quality candidates, such as through integrations with different job boards and other forms of recruitment marketing software.

Specifically, consider features such as the following:

1) Automated Communication

While at times you still need personalized communication with candidates, recruitment staff shouldn’t have to waste time manually sending resume confirmation emails or go back-and-forth with applicants to find time for an interview. A good ATS can automate these types of communication.

“Your ATS should streamline the recruitment process, providing a clear timeline and punctual communication,” writes talent acquisition company WilsonHCG in a LinkedIn newsletter. “Automating emails, interview scheduling and post-interview feedback saves recruiters and coordinators time in the overall recruitment process.” 

2) Built-in Templates

Many aspects of hiring involve some level of repetition and standardization, so instead of always having to manually write things like job descriptions, interview questions and offer letters from scratch, you can often use templates within an ATS to save time. These templates can then be customized based on the specifics of the role/situation.

For example, Teamtailor, an ATS provider, offers job page templates. These provide a “fantastic starting point for new job postings. This is super handy when you have jobs that repeat or happen regularly! Plus, it saves your precious staff’s time and keeps everything nice and consistent across all the jobs,” the company claims.

3) Job Board/Social Media Integrations

To get the word out on your job opening and save time on distribution, it helps to have an ATS that can automatically syndicate job postings to different job boards and social media platforms.

Importantly, integrations do not have to mean that you throw out job postings to as many job boards as possible in the hopes one will work. Pinpoint, for example, includes reporting capabilities that help you analyze which job boards are working for you.

Also, many ATS systems integrate with social media platforms to help you share job listings there. Ideally, your ATS also has the ability to let candidates autofill applications, such as by integrating with their LinkedIn profiles. If candidates have to enter all of their resume information as line items to feed into your ATS, that could turn away some applicants.

4) Automatic Candidate Matching

Increasingly, ATSs are using AI to match candidates with the jobs they’re qualified for. As many recruiters point out, however, there’s still a big human element to deciding who to interview and hire. But a good ATS can provide a nudge toward grouping qualified candidates with open jobs.

“ATS is a powerful tool, but it’s not an automatic resume rejector. It’s designed to assist recruiters in managing the influx of applications efficiently,” writes Lynn Albertson, director of recruiting at AMN Healthcare, in a LinkedIn post. “ATS systems don’t instantly reject resumes based on keywords or formatting issues. They aid in sorting, organizing, and matching candidates to job descriptions.”

This matching is similar to the suggestions appearing on many other types of platforms people use in their everyday lives. For example, jobs site Indeed recently introduced a matching feature.

“In effect, looking for a job or worker on Indeed may feel more like using Tinder or Netflix in the future, as job seekers and employers are ‘matched’ with potential employers and employees,” reports Fast Company.

Similarly, ATS technology can recommend candidates based on criteria that a company chooses. For example, Breezy HR, an ATS/recruiting software provider, notes that its candidate matching score feature lets “hiring teams automatically see a clearly prioritized and bias-free list of best-fit candidates for their open roles.”

5) DEI Alignment

Talent management software, including some ATS systems, can inject objectivity into staffing processes, which can help your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Auto candidate matching, for example, can emphasize candidates with the best qualifications, as opposed to, say, those with the best connections (considering that employee referrals can often exacerbate a lack of diversity).

You can also find ATSs and recruitment software that have specific DEI features to analyze the diversity of your current workforce to identify gaps. These providers also offer features like the ability to analyze your talent sources and find ways to increase diversity.

Your ATS can be a great data repository, and by analyzing your applicants, you can see if your hiring efforts align with your DEI efforts.

6) Automatic Stage Transitions

Related to features like automated communication, a top ATS system should help you easily move candidates throughout your hiring stages.

“For example, you can create a stage transition rule that automatically sends an availability request to the candidate when they’re moved into the phone interview stage,” explains Greenhouse, an ATS and hiring software provider. 

Through an ATS like Greenhouse, you can also automate areas such as sending forms to collect references or sending assessment tests for candidates who reach these stages.

7) Onboarding Capabilities

As you leverage an ATS to progress candidates throughout the hiring stages, ideally you can also leverage an ATS as onboarding software. Since there’s so much data on candidates within an ATS, it makes sense to use that information to streamline the onboarding process, such as by autofilling new hire details into relevant onboarding materials.

That can start with an ATS that has built-in offer letter and e-signature capabilities, and it can  progress through onboarding tasks like new hire paperwork and training.

8) Integrations with other HR tools

Lastly, you might want an ATS that has seamless integrations with other HR tools. Some ATS providers already have some extra internal capabilities, like built-in video interviewing software, but you also might have separate, existing tools that you want to connect with your ATS.

For example, if you have pre-employment screening software that you like to use for prospective hires, then you might want an ATS that integrates with that software to save time getting that screening set up. 

Similarly, integrations with other types of staffing software or talent management software can help when it comes to areas like getting new hires set up with payroll and assessing company-wide hiring needs.

See Which ATS Is Right for You

Looking for features like these can help you find an ATS that enables you to manage hiring more efficiently while finding high-quality candidates. However, every company is different, so it’s important to look closely at the many variations of ATS tools to see what matches your budget and recruiting processes.

Some systems have more of an all-in-one approach, whereas with others you can add features over time. So, consider whether you need all of these features now or if you’d prefer to start small and build up as your hiring needs expand.

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