Applicant Tracking Systems vs. Front-end Systems: What’s the Difference?

In talking with companies large and small about their staffing problems, I consistently come across one recurring theme: confusion. There’s confusion about how to identify and effectively plan for staffing needs. There’s confusion about how and when to implement solutions. And there’s confusion about what solutions to implement in the first place. I can’t say that I blame staffing practitioners for this confusion. The choice of solutions is overwhelming, and trying to figure out which product does what can be difficult. The introduction of the Internet into recruiting has sparked a re-engineering of the employment process and has lead a revolution of great new opportunity in candidate identification, matching and selection, and recruitment advertising. But there’s still confusion! One of the many questions that come up time and time again is: Should I buy an Applicant Tracking System or a Front-End Solution? The first problem with this question is that people don’t even realize that they’re asking it. Normally it comes in the form of, “Should I choose Vendor X or Vendor Y?” with Vendor X being an Applicant Tracking System and Vendor Y a Front-End Solution. The second problem with this question is that it shouldn’t be an “either/or” question. Your company will likely need both – you may just need to decide which to implement first. As always, you need to ask yourself the dreaded question, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Front-End Solutions (FES), while equally important, attack two very different parts of the employment process and solve very different problems. In the most general sense, an ATS will help you manage the flow of applicants behind the scenes once you have them. A Front-End Solution, on the other hand, acts as an interface between you and your candidates and allows for an exchange of information to happen. In order to choose which one you need (most likely both), and which one to implement first, you have to dig deeper into your organization to understand what your needs are and where you currently feel your pain the most. Applicant Tracking Systems: What They Do, When You Need One, And Why We know all too well that the human resources function (including recruiting) has traditionally been viewed as an administrative role. We’ve also noticed that as the importance of human capital management is fully realized, this view has been changing to one of a true partner in company success (at some organizations this change is more apparent than at others). Part of this change is due to the automation of the administrative processes in human resources. The fact is, a recruiter who simply fills open positions is not as valuable as one who fills positions by creating a strategic recruitment and retention plan. A good ATS provides the freedom from administration and the opportunity (dare I say duty?) to focus more on strategic efforts. A good ATS will help automate the hiring process by:

  • Moving data through the hiring process
  • Monitoring candidates through the hiring process
  • Providing collaboration between hiring managers and recruiters about candidates
  • Creating job requisition and automating the approval process
  • Gathering approvals and electronic signatures
  • Routing of forms
  • Automating correspondence
  • Automating interview scheduling
  • Checking references and automating evaluations
  • Checking status of requisitions
  • Tracking and sharing data

Some ATS software programs will do more of this for you, some less. As a general rule, a pure ATS will provide you with the tools your organization needs to free you from time-consuming administrative tasks in the hiring process. Simply put, it will track candidates! Front-End Solutions: What They Do, When You Need One And Why In the early 1990’s, as the Internet started to play a more important role in recruiting, employment websites began their meteoric rise to become the single most effective tool for communication to potential employees. It provided companies with a way to exhibit their personality and appeal to like personalities. It gave them the platform they needed to let candidates “experience” working at their company and enabled them to capture data from candidates better than ever before. Many companies (especially the larger ones who could afford it) started to funnel all employment branding and recruitment advertising efforts to their employment website, because it was the best place to provide visitors with an interactive experience and truly trap data. Today you don’t have to be a big company in order to incorporate the same type of functionality into your employment website. A good FES transforms the employment page of your corporate website into an interactive vehicle for communication between you and potential candidates. This is the greatest marketing tool available to you. You can move more information and celebrate your company’s culture like never before. Remember that you’re not asking candidates to buy your product; you’re asking them to change their lives. Your employment website is often the first thing that candidates will see about your company – a good FES will help you make that crucial first impression in the following ways:

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  • Allows you to differentiate your company from the competition
  • Extends your employment brand onto the Internet
  • Creates interactive relationships with candidates
  • Promotes candidate self-service
  • Gives candidates a sense of what it’s like to work for your company (culture descriptions, work environment profiles, even the opportunity to talk to someone about what it is really like to do the job)
  • Gives candidates tools to easily search and apply for jobs (including job agents)
  • Provides your company a vehicle for outreach efforts
  • Provides your company with tools to effectively match and screen candidates
  • Gives candidates the tools they need to assess and profile their own qualifications beyond traditional work experience
  • Turns your employment Web page into one central recruiting area and a single point of contact with your company
  • Gives control to recruiting and hiring managers instead of Web administrators
  • Provides collaborative hiring tools for hiring managers and recruiters

More than just a page on your site which lists outdated job openings and an e-mail address that says “send resumes to jobs@companyx.com”, an FES lets candidates imagine what it’s like to work for your company, provides them with the tools they need to search and apply for jobs, and builds interactive relationships with them. Conclusion You might have a great employment Web site and/or be inundated with qualified candidates with no way to efficiently track them through the hiring process. Save yourself and your candidates unnecessary frustration: get an Applicant Tracking System! On the other hand, you may have the best Applicant Tracking System in the world, but it doesn’t mean a thing to the potential candidates who visit your Web site (and they will visit your Web site), because they can’t interface with it. Think about your needs. Apply the right solution to the correct problem. Keep in mind that there is one thing that neither an Applicant Tracking System nor a Front-End Solution will do for you: drive traffic to your employment Web site! Don’t assume that once you’ve implemented either solution that the floodgates will open and hoards of candidates will magically appear on your Web site’s doorstep. For more information on this subject see my earlier article. It’s not as bad as it might seem. If you can clearly identify the root of your hiring problems, you’ll find them easier to solve. As long as you think strategically you won’t go wrong. Michael McNeal is the Chief Industry Evangelist and co-founder of PureCarbon, the fastest growing provider of ASP employment solutions. Michael McNeal has been involved in fast-paced, high-volume staffing within the high tech industry for the past 15 years. He became senior director of corporate employment worldwide for Cisco Systems in June 1996 where he developed a recruitment strategy modeled after successful business and marketing strategies. McNeal often speaks at national conferences about non-traditional recruitment methods and how the Internet can be used to remain competitive, and was recognized with Fast Company magazine’s “Who’s Fast ’99” award (issue 20). PureCarbon is the creator of JobPlanet, which was recognized as a “Top Ten Human Resource Product” of 2000 by Human Resource Executive magazine. More information about PureCarbon and JobPlanet can be found at www.purecarbon.com. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Michael McNeal (michael@purecarbon.com) is the Chief Industry Evangelist and co-founder of PureCarbon. Michael McNeal has been involved in fast-paced, high-volume staffing within the high-tech industry for the past 16 years. He became senior director of corporate employment worldwide for Cisco Systems in June 1996, where he developed a recruitment strategy modeled after successful business and marketing strategies. McNeal often speaks at national conferences about non-traditional recruitment methods and how the Internet can be used to remain competitive, and was recognized with Fast Company magazine?s "Who?s Fast ?99" award (issue 20). PureCarbon is the creator of JobPlanet, which was recognized as a "Top Ten Human Resource Product" of 2000 by Human Resource Executive magazine. More information about PureCarbon and JobPlanet can be found at www.purecarbon.com.

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