Applicant tracking tools evolve with technology

HR's needs, not IT's criteria, should be the main focus in purchasing a system

For most organizations, the decision to buy an applicant tracking system (ATS) should be based solely on human resources requirements, not IT considerations.

Systems integration, vendor management and ongoing support are important technical concerns. But they should not be the determining factors when an organization is looking for tools to improve its recruitment of talent.

Applicant tracking software enables an organization to maintain a database of applicant and job information. The easier it is to manage and access this information, the faster job openings can be filled.

The problem is that in the past, managing and accessing this information was a costly proposition.

Before the web, applicant tracking systems, like enterprise resource planning systems, were complex database applications used by large corporations installed in-house on expensive equipment.

It was difficult to purchase and install the software. It was often hard to train the users. It was hard to customize, and it was usually even harder to get at the desired data. The database, servers and integration with HR management systems had to be maintained, supported and managed alongside all the other applications that IT had to support. ERP applications such as SAP and PeopleSoft are still based on this model, and IT still has to worry about these systems because so much technology resides in-house.

Today’s newer applicant tracking systems are a very different breed. There are now more web-based services hosted by the vendor (an application service provider or ASP) with an easy-to-use front end for inputting data, searching, collaborating and generating reports on the fly.

Some of the systems build customization and configuration tools into the service so that users can extend and adapt the system to match changing needs and processes. Users can customize the look and feel of the system, including workflow, fields, forms and form layout and e-mail communication.

And since all aspects of the application and underlying database are housed with the vendor, maintenance and support headaches belong to the vendor, not to the organization purchasing the service. Applicant tracking software can now be used not just at large companies hiring tens or hundreds of employees per month, but equally so at small and mid-sized companies hiring just one or two people a month. These systems can be up and running in as little as one hour.

Because these systems only require familiarity with an Internet browser, more users can use the system — not just HR staff, but hiring managers and executives as well.

And with more products in the market, prices have come down while features have grown, such as real-time careers website management, automated approval processes, and pre-screening to name a few. And most importantly, now HR departments have the power to choose a solution that best fits specific needs. Should needs change, HR can configure the service to adapt or move to another more appropriate solution.

As the ATS market and technology progress, recruiting itself is becoming more efficient for the employer and more responsive to the candidate. Newer recruiting systems deliver self-service career websites providing candidates with ongoing feedback on their application process. Not only does this benefit the candidate by letting him know where he stands with an organization, but it reduces the amount of outbound responses and communication required from HR.

Older HR systems were mainly focused on storing and searching resumes rather than streamlining recruitment processes. New ATS solutions also improve collaboration among corporate recruiting and HR, as well as hiring managers and executives via automated approval processes and central storage of all candidate communication.

The new systems also provide flexible reporting tools for improved visibility into important metrics and bottlenecks such as hires-per-source, cost-per-hire and time-to-fill. Automated prescreening features speed up the process of matching the best candidates for each job by assigning a ranking value to each applicant based on predefined criteria important for that job.

When Susan Welch, senior manager of HR at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Magma Design Automation, joined the company, the existing in-house staffing solution had not been successful, so they were using a paper-based process. Hiring managers, recruiters and HR staff were faxing, e-mailing and literally hand-delivering resumes and offer letters. With their rapid growth and the complexity of managing processes across 23 countries, Magma needed a better solution.

Welch put Magma on the web-based ATS she had been using at her previous employer. With traditional recruiting software, Welch and the IT staff would have spent months reviewing RFPs from vendors. By signing up with a web-based system she was familiar with, the company had 125 new employees up and running in 30 days.

Matt Robinson is founder of online recruiting services provider recruitforce.com and is responsible for the strategic direction of the company. He can be reached at (650) 938-0121.

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