How to use an applicant tracking system – a guide for employers
You’ve identified the right applicant tracking system – now you’ll need to begin thinking about the implementation. What should you include in your implementation plan? Who needs to be involved, and when?
Below, we outline tips on how to get started with planning, workflow set up, and user training.
Table of Contents
- Applicant tracking system best practices:
- Explore multiple candidate sources and create an ongoing talent funnel
- Maintain flexibility around keywords when screening applicants
- Determine what you want to communicate with candidates - and when
- Performance measurement and system optimization
- Save established processes for future hiring initiatives
- ATS implementation plan, training, and set up
Applicant tracking system best practices
The way you set up your system during implementation will impact user adoption and hiring performance. Below are some important aspects to consider.
Explore multiple candidate sources and create an ongoing talent funnel:
The ability to post to and manage multiple job boards and your careers page means that you can easily (and cost-effectively) explore as many sourcing channels as you like. The result is a large talent pool and the opportunity to test channel effectiveness.
Posting to multiple job boards is an important aspect of candidate sourcing best practices. That way, you can accurately compare effectiveness across channels once hiring is underway.
With platform metrics, you can learn which sources are bringing in your top candidates and which are generating the most applications overall. With those metrics, you can easily calculate sourcing channel ROI and pivot your strategy as needed.
For a continuous talent pipeline, use your platform to maintain and optimize your channels. For example, add engaging content like employee testimonial videos or ‘day in the life of’ videos.
Maintain keyword flexibility around keywords when screening applicants:
Now that you’ve widened your applicant pool, you’ll want to ensure you identify qualified individuals without accidentally narrowing your pool once again. Depending on how you use keywords in your screening process, there’s the risk that you could remove qualified candidates.
To avoid this risk, provide training to your team. Here are a few best practices your team should follow:
- Use the spelled-out forms of keywords as well as the acronym and any abbreviations
- Don't get hung up on job titles, especially ones that indicate a level of seniority since these can vary widely between companies
- Focus on skill sets relating to the position:
- For example, “survey design”, “quantitative research”, “qualitative interviews”, “data analysis” and “secondary research” for a Research Manager position
- Maintain flexibility even with common technical skills:
- For example “PPT” and “Powerpoint,” or “Adobe Creative Suite” and “Adobe Creative Cloud;” include the components like “Photoshop,” “InDesign,” and “Illustrator”
Determine what you want to communicate with candidates - and when:
Automated workflows mean the communication opportunities with candidates are endless. To understand how to use your system effectively, determine when you’ll engage candidates and what the messages will include.
Organizing your communications strategy by stage allows you to identify gaps in engagement that if left unaddressed, could lead to drop-offs. For a consistent and positive experience, use personalized communications as much as possible and add corporate branding.
Here are some tips on when and how to engage with your applicants:
A “thank you” as a form of receipt, including when they should expect to hear back
Notification of an upcoming interview with the ability to select their preferred date and time
A “thank you” for their time, as well as an overview of the next steps and timeframes
A “thank you” to unsuccessful applications, asking them if they would like to be considered again in the future
An offer letter notification and attachment with ongoing communications and signatures being managed within the platform
A survey for both successful and unsuccessful candidates that asks them about their experience applying with you, including the likelihood they would apply again and refer others
A ‘‘welcome” message to new hires, along with important company information
A self-service link to enroll in benefits and submit onboarding documentation
Performance measurement and system optimization:
Introducing a single platform in the place of spreadsheets and manual processes can provide detailed insights into time-to-hire at each individual stage.
An ATS can track performance metrics throughout the hiring process to help identify bottlenecks and opportunities for optimization.
Consider determining a few KPIs during implementation to reflect on once data is available.
These could include:
Are there certain phases that take longer than others, and if so, how can you further streamline your processes?Reduce your time-to-hire
Quality of hire:
Are the hires you’ve made with the platform a good culture fit? Have they stayed on beyond the first few months?Improve quality of hires
Candidate sourcing efficacy:
Which sourcing channels are performing well? Are the applicants well aligned with your brand?Reduce cost of hires
Save established processes for future hiring initiatives:
How to use your system effectively comes down to repeatable processes. You can save workflows, position templates, and candidate communications for future positions.
ATS implementation plan, training, and set up
The keys to successful implementation include deciding on how to use your platform to create your ideal hiring process and making sure you have adequate system training for everyone involved.
Below are a few tips on how you can prepare during the implementation.
Stakeholder engagement is an essential part of implementation best practices. Internal discussions will allow you to learn from each other when it comes to deciding on what your ideal program looks like and which manager and HR leaders need to be involved at which stages.
Hiring goals and ideal process design:
The way your team learns how to use your system depends on how you’ve set it up to realize your organization’s goals.
Consider involving managers and likely platform users in your process discussions to learn where you may have opportunities to optimize your current process.
User acceptance testing can help set up your organization for success. Whether they will be platform admins, users, or guest guest interviewers/evaluators, it’s important to get everyone involved when working through how your workflow has been set up.
Best practices include looking for a platform vendor that provides ongoing support and training on how to use your system, for individuals and departments. This is especially important if you plan on expanding your recruiting initiatives in the future to other departments and regions.
Do you have previous HR tech implementations you can learn from? If not, it’s always a good idea to involve solution experts as part of implementation best practices. Look for a vendor that has a dedicated team to support you in getting set up and providing user training.
Questions to ask during the selection process
There are many factors to consider when selecting a platform. Does it have all of the features you need? Is it intuitive to use? How much customization is available?
Here are some examples of questions to ask vendors.
Questions to ask regarding features:
- How many job boards do you integrate with?
- Can applicants schedule their interviews based on preferred dates and times?
- Does the platform offer or plug in to tools for interviewing
- Can we build branded careers pages?
Questions to ask about ease of use and training:
- Can internal stakeholders review and add notes to candidate profiles?
- Is it easy to invite guest interviewers or evaluators to rate candidates on a case-by-case basis?
- Will my team receive training?
- Do you offer support for applicants while they’re using the platform?
Questions to ask about customization:
- Can we tailor the platform to mirror our existing or ideal processes?
- Can workflows be customized to incorporate processes that support DEI practices?
- Can we save our hiring process workflows, templates, and communications for future roles?
- How easy is it to optimize our workflows as we review performance over time?
- Will we receive ongoing advisory support?
Other helpful resources
What are the different types of applicant tracking systems?
Applicant tracking system features - by company size and industry
How a candidate tracking system helps manage talent sourcing
What are the best applicant tracking systems for 2023?
Learn more about VidCruiter’s applicant tracking software
Frequently asked questions
How much does an ATS cost?
The cost of a system depends on the pricing model used. Pricing models vary from pay per user or job posting to flat fee subscriptions. Open-source systems are another option, though they come without implementation and user support. Take a look at our ATS buyers guide to learn more.
How long does it take to implement?
Implementation timeframes vary by provider and the complexity of workflows, customization, etc. Most implementations last between two to four weeks. Staffing agencies will typically standardize their process with their system vendor to onboard new clients within days.
How is an ATS different from an HRIS?
ATS vs HRIS? Each system helps to streamline and manage a different stage of the candidate-employee journey. An HRIS is used from the onboarding stage onwards to manage employee data, training and development, performance measurement and workforce planning, and to ensure regulatory compliance.
What are some ATS pros and cons?
What are the benefits of an applicant tracking system? They provide many advantages like reducing time and cost to hire, increasing internal collaboration for better decision-making, and standardizing recruitment processes. Resume parsing can pose a risk of screening out quality candidates, which HR can overcome by creating variations within keyword requirements.