6 Tips for Buying Your First Applicant Tracking System

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It’s no secret that buying new HR tech is difficult. From researching vendors to demoing your top choices, it is a time-consuming process that your HR team could be putting into more important parts of your business, like your people.

However, in the case of applicant tracking systems, it’s a necessary evil. Applicant tracking systems (ATS’s) are software solutions designed to organize recruiting and hiring data to help HR teams build a pipeline of talent. While originally created to help enterprise, corporations manage thousands of job applications at a time, ATS’s are now used by companies of all sizes. Time spent shopping for an ATS translates into returns on investment of decreased time-to-fill, increased recruiter productivity, and changes in the hiring funnel.

If you’re an ATS novice, it can be overwhelming to look into buying a software you’ve never used before. As such, we put together a list of 6 useful tips to help you buy your first applicant tracking system.

1. Do your research

If you don’t know where to start, reach out to peers from different companies and ask about their experiences. How did they decide on their ATS? How many vendors did they demo? What features were most important to them? Not everything will translate to your search, but getting a sense of what to expect can be useful.

After talking to some peers, you can do some homework by using Google search to see what’s out there. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of ATS vendors out there, so instead of using search results to find the right vendor, use it instead to find resources that are designed to cut out the first 5 – 10 hours of research on your part.


2. Nail down must-have features

Applicant tracking systems can have many different features, including candidate relationship management, data and analytics dashboards, employee branding, career sites, and much more. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when each vendor tells you about dozens of different functions that sound great in theory, but might not be used in practice.

Therefore, it’s important to create a detailed list of features you need from your first ATS. Write down a few “must-have” functionalities which will significantly shorten your vendor list. When it comes to narrowing down further, make a list of “nice-to-haves.” That way, you end up with an ATS that fits your baseline needs but also has some extra features that fit your specific use cases.

3. Work with your whole team

Your recruiters and hiring managers have plenty of experience with the hiring process. Ask them about pitfalls they’ve seen, such as missing out on passive job seekers or a top hire choosing a different opportunity. Every recruiter has a story to tell about a hole somewhere in the hiring funnel, so use those stories to inform your ATS decision.

Employees also have feedback they could share about their hiring. What worked? What didn’t work? The hiring process is different for a software engineer versus a demand generation specialist, so learning from individual experiences can help you when hiring for similar roles.

4. Think long-term

If you’re going to put in the time to choose an ATS, make sure it’s a solution you’ll be completely satisfied with. Otherwise, you’ll be right back in the same position you started.

An ATS is a long-term investment. If your organization is growing, then you should have an idea of what it will look like in one, two, or even five years from now. Align this snapshot of the future with your use cases. Will you need to upgrade as you hire more employees? Or eventually add CRM functionality? By keeping tabs on future needs, you save your company the trouble of going through multiple buying processes in as many years.


5. Have a list of questions ready

Most salespeople will take you through a set pitch that they give for every demo. That pitch might not hit on the key pain points you’re concerned about. Therefore, before every product demo it’s important to have a list of specific questions to ask the sales rep.

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Asking questions also acts as a way to further vet a vendor’s authenticity. If the salesperson can’t straightforwardly answer your question or doesn’t have the proper data to back up their response, it’s a red flag. The best vendors have salespeople who know the product in and out, or at the very least can get you a quick response via follow-up email.

6. Try a free trial

Most vendors will have a free trial so you can try before you buy. Take advantage of this service, especially if it’s your first applicant tracking system. While free trials only last a few weeks at most, it’s a great way to test out whether or not it’s worthwhile to commit to the price tag.

Free trials also let you see how well your current software solutions integrate with your potential ATS. If everything is seamless, then it’s just reassurance that you’re making the right decision. If the free trial is having issues, it’s not likely that the paid service will be much better.

There are also numerous free applicant tracking systems out there for a more robust free offering before you’re ready to take the plunge.

Final Advice

If you keep in mind that an ATS is supposed to enhance your recruiting operations, not become your recruiting end-all-be-all, you’ll have the most success. The software system will make your end-to-end recruiting processes easier but will not be more valuable than a great recruiter. Your HR team should put most of their effort into your people, and if an ATS will make their jobs that much easier, it will be more than worth it.

Merin is an HR professional with an MBA in Human Resource. She likes doing a lot of research and study in the field of Human Resource and can't help but share her knowledge on the same in this platform. She is also a great cook and during her free times she keeps experimenting with new dishes. Know more about Merin by clicking here.
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