Recruitment Strategy Development – Applicant Tracking Systems

So far we have discussed why you should develop a recruitment strategy, corporate and third party sourcing and recruiting. Now that you know how you will source candidates, how will you store their resumes? In this blog RecruiterGuy discusses Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

To define applicant tracking systems in their simplest terms, they are an automated system that allows you to store resumes and candidate information, retrieve resumes, candidate process tracking, and develop reports. To be fair, many ATS also enable you to post positions to your website and job boards, helping you save time in the posting process.

When I first started recruiting in the dark ages (Lancelot was still a youth), all resumes were either mailed or hand carried to us. Faxes came later – and were still paper – just worse quality paper that sometimes even smeared. Then came the wonder called the Internet. The good news was that resumes came faster (sometimes). The bad news was that more of them were not qualified for the positions we advertised. Plus legislation required that we keep them for at least a year and develop applicant flow charts for EOE purposes.

Finding paper resumes in file cabinets was laboriously slow, if you could even find the candidate that you were looking for. Therefore, we typically looked for awhile and then gave up. It seemed easier to find new candidates.

Today, more and more companies are using Applicant Tracking Systems that automate the search process. Remember Recruiting Is Sales. Therefore if someone tells you their ATS will recruit for you, they are playing into your fears. An ATS cannot recruit for you. Run as fast as you can from them. They are selling a bill of goods. Obviously they may understand software but they do not understand the recruiting process.

Applicant Tracking Systems automate recruiting processes: particularly the search of resumes that you have received; candidate tracking through the interviewing process; and developing reports based on your data. If your process is horrible, automated systems just make horrible happen more quickly. On the other hand, if your process is good, it helps you succeed more quickly.

Therefore, before automating your recruiting system, examine your current recruitment processes and eliminate waste from each of the processes. Remember, the recruitment process is a series of processes – opening the employee requisition for a new or replacement position, the job description process, the sourcing process, the interviewing process, the offer process, the reference checking/psychological assessment/background investigation/drug test process, and finally the on boarding process. While you are examining your recruitment processes, take the time to document your processes using Visio or some other software product. Be sure to ask “Why do we do it this way? Is there a better way to do this; or do we even need to do this step?” By documenting your processes it is easier to review your processes again later (continuous process improvement). Your documented processes become more sustainable and it is easier to bring new recruiters on board.

How do you choose the best applicant tracking system for your company? Sylvia Dahlby of SmartSearch ( recommends that “companies use a requirements based approach. Create three columns – must have, nice to have, and exciting but we really don’t need those bells and whistles.” Make a list of questions to ask each ATS company. Know how many people will be accessing the ATS at one time, how many people do you plan to hire in the next year – and coming years (important that the system can scale up and down with you), a budget, and the types of reports that you will need to create (i.e. OFCCP, weekly reports to executives?). Ask for a demonstration of the system. How long has the ATS business continuously been in business? These software companies can come and go. My suggestion is to choose from established companies. It can be painful enough to go through the selection and installation processes once, but to have to go through them again if your ATS company goes out of business can be really painful. Does the system reside on your computers or can you access the files through the Internet? Who backs up the files – you or the ATS company? Do they have a disaster recovery site? How difficult is it to get copies of your files if you decide to change ATS in the future as a result of growth or downsizing. How long will it take to install their system? Will they import resumes in your Outlook folders or do you have to import them? Is there a way to direct resumes right from your Outlook email to your ATS? Ask for 5 corporate references that you may call and ask them the questions above. It is also wise to ask them for watch outs.

What ATS companies should you call? My business utilizes SmartSearch. It is designed for small to medium sized companies and scales up nicely. They are very customer focused and very good solving your problems. Large corporations many times are locked into enterprise solutions like Taleo or Oracle. Both solutions are very effective. The important consideration is whether the applicant tracking system does what you need efficiently.

This next point is very important. Once you have your ATS up and working, work it. You would think that is a no brainer. I can’t tell you how many times the candidate that a company is looking for is languishing in that company’s applicant tracking system. As a recruiting consultant, I can tell immediately which clients use their applicant tracking system and which ones do not. How? The ones who are not working their applicant tracking systems are afraid if they give me access, I will find people they missed. They will hide behind confidentiality excuses without realizing that I personally have much more to lose if I do not maintain confidentiality than they do. One of those companies actually had me take a HIPPA course before granting me access to their system – and then never did.

In order to be successful, everyone has to work together as a team. The recruiting consultant or contract recruiter needs access to the client’s applicant tracking system to help them be more successful. Experienced recruiting consultants can show members of the staff the tricks they have learned over the years to coax resumes of qualified candidates out of the system. Titles of positions are different at most every company and the skills required to be successful can be different. Companies may use different words to describe the same jobs; or the title can be the same but the skills required to be successful can be different.

For instance, once I suggested to a CFO candidate that I was career counseling that they should ask what skills were required in a company’s CFO position. He was aghast that I would counsel him to ask such a question; and told me he would chase any CFO who asked that question out of his office. My response? “So I can assume that the CFO of a company that was going into bankruptcy would need the exact same skills as those of a CFO of a small start-up; and both of them would need the same skills as the CFO of General Electric.” He saw my point. Experienced recruiting consultants have seen many positions in many companies and know what potential key words to use. Generally if there is going to be a weak link in the recruiting process, it will be in the job description process or the candidate interviewing process. Most corporate recruiters use the words in the job description to match with candidate skills. Both the company and the candidate may be describing the same job – with different words. By the way, my intention is not to denigrate the skills of excellent, experienced corporate recruiters. I count some of them as close friends. It’s just that seasoning helps anyone be more successful, and there are many good more junior corporate recruiters out there.

Bottom line? If you do a good job with your recruitment process improvement, if you do a good job in your applicant tracking system due diligence, and you use your applicant tracking system, your recruitment of talented people will go well.

The next blog is one that RecruiterGuy wrote last year – “The Best Qualified Candidate Rarely Gets Hired”. It fits very well into the Recruitment Strategy Development series of blogs.

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