Applicant Tracking Is Not Workflow

In discussions of technology and Hiring Management Systems, the terms “applicant tracking” and “workflow” are often tossed around as if they are interchangeable. But they are not. Understanding the distinctions in the meanings of these two terms is an important step in comprehending the real differences in application software they are used to describe. Tracking Tracking is the use of a computerized system to maintain a record of activities and events as they occur in a process. These activities and events are recorded as data, and in many systems, can be manipulated through a variety of search and retrieval methods. Today’s sophisticated databases can handle very large numbers of records and have made data tracking more manageable than ever before. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) utilize the powerful functionality of robust databases to catalog information on candidates and the disposition of their candidacy. Resumes are stored, correspondence is noted, interviews are documented, recruiters’ notes are filed. Additional data elements, such as candidate sources, may be included; candidates may be connected to specific requisitions and/or recruiters and hiring managers; systems might be linked to online posting procedures; and reporting tools may provide information to measure the efficacy of the process. Workflow Many software vendors claim to incorporate something called “workflow” into their application. But what does this mean? “Workflow” is a catchall term business management gurus have coined to describe the procedures and activities within a business process. True workflow management is process-oriented, not data-oriented, and focuses on driving information toward some goal or objective. Workflow provides a holistic view of the end-to-end recruiting business process. It incorporates the notion of detailed routing as well as an understanding of the participants involved at each step of the process. For a software application to support or automate workflow, it must map out each step, procedure, and business rule in the process. This requires doing task analysis and workflow modeling first. Key enablers to workflow automation are databases, database rules and email, to tie people to information. Workflow Automation In recruiting, examples of workflow are applicant routing or requisition routing throughout phases such as definition, approval, sourcing, screening, etc. As each milestone is reached throughout the process, workflow will automatically push the relevant data to the various stakeholders involved at the next step(s). This is information “push” as opposed to information “pull” in a simpler “tracking” model, where each stakeholder has to query the system proactively or fetch the data to progress throughout the process. A good analogy is found within the courier industry. A decade ago, large courier companies had package tracking systems in place. When you shipped a package using their services you could call to figure out where your package was – although there was limited ability to provide accurate information on how and when your package would be delivered, which was, after all, the only objective. Today, courier companies have workflow automation systems in place. When you ship a package from A to Z, there is an immediate understanding of the various milestones throughout the process. So that nothing is forgotten, information gets pushed to the various players involved in real time, rather than in batches. As a result, courier companies have become much faster and much more reliable. Data Tracking vs. Automated Workflow It is a common misconception that a recruiting software system incorporates automated workflow if it records a date-stamp every time a recruiter moves a candidate from one status to another. This is a tracking of some sort, but cannot be considered workflow automation. The tracking of activities falls within workflow, but in itself does not drive the process and create efficiency. Features such as the automated forwarding of information and documents to persons responsible for the next task(s); and automated reminders, alerts, alarms, and escalation when stages are delayed are examples of workflow automation, not merely tracking data. Benefits Of Workflow Automation The benefits of workflow-enabled applications are immense, especially within large corporations:

  • Workflow automation shifts business processes such as recruiting to a real-time, on-going flow vs. the traditional batch process, hence reducing cycle-time dramatically.
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  • Workflow automation standardizes the consistency of a business process across an entire organization, resulting in a much better quality outcome. In the case of recruiting, that translates into better hires.
  • Workflow automation enables decentralized execution on a grand, global scale while maintaining high quality, as it centralizes control over how systematically the process is conducted.

The methodology that enables the implementation of workflow automation within recruiting software entails standardizing the talent definition process, the screening and scoring process, and the collaboration process among the hiring managers, the recruiters, and the candidates. Business Process Consistency Applicant tracking systems have replaced the highly inefficient filing of paper in cabinets (and in piles on the desk and the floor), and brought some measure of efficiency to part of the recruiting process. But efficiency has many degrees, and workflow automation provides the opportunity to take advantage of powerful technology tools to optimize an existing process. Business process consistency is the key aspect of workflow. It allows enterprise-wide deployment of a consistent, high-quality recruiting process, enabling completely decentralized execution involving thousands of users. Workflow automation proactively assists corporate recruiters and hiring managers through a push-delivery of prompts and triggers. It shifts the antiquated batch recruiting process of moving piles of candidates from one stage to another (via paper or electronic file cabinets) to a real-time, ongoing process that cuts cycle-time, and augments the probability of hiring an available and interested candidate. With the speed required for success in the hiring cycle, simply cataloging the steps in the recruiting process is no longer sufficient. Only true workflow-enabled solutions allow enterprise-wide deployment to maintain full control over a business process consistency, while allowing work in a decentralized environment. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Alice Snell is vice president of Taleo Research. The specialty research practice analyzes the best practices and economics of talent management. Taleo Research focuses on critical issues and key trends in talent management that impact organizational performance. Taleo Research is the strategic research division of Taleo, which provides on demand talent management solutions for organizations of all sizes, worldwide.


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