The 10 Steps to Take With Your Applicant Tracking System

WARNING: Do not read this article unless you want to increase:

  1. Your online shares and referrals
  2. Job distribution and visibility to passive candidates
  3. Candidate response rates
  4. Recruiter productivity when requisition loads are heavy and inbox recruiting is the primary activity (The activities described below have reduced time-to-offer by over four days.)
  5. Traffic to your career site
  6. The total number of unique applicants into your ATS each month (the following activities have also resulted in the addition of over 20,000 new applicants in one year.)

All of these results can be achieved by taking advantage of an asset you may be underusing — your applicant tracking system. When it comes to investments, the ATS often gets one of the highest allocations in an organization. What’s more, the total cost of ownership extends far beyond the platform itself and its support team. It also includes the expense associated with each uploaded resume and candidate profile. Companies can maximize their return on investment if they begin to use the ATS more like a customer relationship management tool and really take advantage of the data they currently have. Instead of focusing their efforts on candidates in their external networks, recruiters should be developing effective marketing strategies for the ones already in the system.

Candidates who have submitted an application through your ATS have already decided, either through their own research or perhaps speaking to an existing employee, that they are interested in your company as a potential employer. A person’s willingness to go through an application process represents meaningful decision and commitment of time.

Make the most of this relationship. In a case study, candidates who already invested in the brand resulted in a 17 percent higher response rate than cold lists. Similarly, candidates who had previously applied were more likely to refer on social networks at a ratio of 13:1 compared with candidates who were not familiar with a brand.

The following 10 steps can help you achieve similar results by maximizing your existing database.

Step 1: Understand your ATS and the types of candidate data that can be downloaded from the system.  The data elements that are important are: first name, last name, cell phone, email address, jobs applied, location, and status.  (Status is critical because it can identify who has previously applied and the outcome of their application. Additionally, it can identify if they are now an employee.)

Step 2: Know what you want to accomplish with this data. Here are some things to consider:

  • Is this a campaign to touch internal employees or new hires?
  • Is this to promote a job or a set of jobs geographically?
  • Is this targeted towards a specific job or set of jobs?
  • Is this to support a job fair or networking event?
  • Is this to support a campus hiring event or presentation?

Step 3: Decide how you would like to reach these candidates. Your options include texting, calling, emailing, or social media channels. Each of these outlets has a multitude of tools available in order to help manage, expedite, and measure your strategies.  However, as with any strategy, planning should take place on the front end to understand the best- and worst-case scenarios. You must determine, for example, who will follow up with the call to action activity, and what ultimately happens if the volume exceeds expectations.

Step 4: Plan the messaging and call to action. To connect with your candidates, create strong messaging that is meaningful and clearly communicates your end goal, whether it’s showcasing how to apply to the company, explaining how to contact a recruiter and book an interview, or garnering interest in attending a career related event. Messaging should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Consider having the message derive from a hiring manager versus a recruiter. This is especially helpful if the target population is in high demand, or the voice of a subject matter expert will have a bigger impact.

Step 5: Use imagery. A picture is worth a thousand words. If it’s a visual strategy, what are the images associated with those particular campaigns? Projecting consistency with the overall employment brand is important, but still leaves a lot of opportunity to convey the special messaging that you seek to communicate to your audience.

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Step 6: Consider the voice. If the strategy includes a calling campaign that is pre-recorded or includes a video, what is the voice strategy? Consider the tone, whether the voice should be masculine or feminine, and the pace. All of these components make a difference.

Step 7: Review the approach with subject matter experts and your client group.  This step is commonly missed, yet can be the most valuable. In many cases the candidates you are seeking will reach out directly to the business team.  Determine with your team the appropriate response when a candidate circumvents your intended process.

Step 8: Ensure your project is measurable and reportable to the business team. Numbers paint a powerful picture. Some important metrics you should track include: percent of opened emails, click through rates, number of new applicants, attendees, returned calls or texts, candidate screens, interviews conducted, and hires made. Capture a baseline and measure these data points over time to demonstrate the ongoing results of your marketing efforts.

Step 9: Monitor trends. What are the trends you wish to monitor — social referrals? Opt-out rates? Hires per recruiter over time? Whatever it is, determine if your strategy influences single a point in time or an entire process. If it has process implications, then measure the results over a period of three to four months to understand if the hypothesized outcome was the actual outcome.

Step 10: Test and refine your strategy. Use your metrics, monitor trends, and listen to candidate feedback. Based upon the outcomes, determine what components of the campaign can be adjusted. In a recent campaign for SEC accountants, we tested the effectiveness of two similar video emails; one was from the recruiter, the other was from the hiring manager, and discovered that the video email with the hiring manager resulted in a better quality of applicants.

Every year your organization makes huge investments to generate applicant traffic and each of these individuals has invested in your active jobs. Recruiters can maximize this investment and their own productivity by remembering that this wealth of opportunity lies within ATS — and with a targeted recruitment campaign, they are far more likely to achieve their hiring objectives.

Tracey Friend joined Agile•1 in 2010 and brought with her a wealth of knowledge and perspectives that have enriched the growth of Agile•1. Her wide breadth of expertise includes consulting, workflow design, requirements gathering, management as well as program and technology design for both direct and contingent workforce solutions. She has a broad base of recruiting, sourcing and leadership experience that is critical in the execution of her current role as vice president of direct workforce solutions. She is responsible for all aspects of the company’s direct hire workforce solutions including AllSourceRPO and AccelerationATS.


10 Comments on “The 10 Steps to Take With Your Applicant Tracking System

  1. Thanks, Tracey. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see anything to the effect of
    “Discuss it with the recruiters, sourcers, scheduler-coordinators, etc. who have to use the ATS day-in and day-out, and so would be the best people to discuss how best to use it.”


  2. ATS is a horrible term for recruiting, because by the time someone is an applicant, they are essentially recruited. Agencies deal with all kinds of people who are not applicants, and agencies bleed out and die of they don’t make placements, so you would expect that the systems they use year in and year out would at least meet the real-world test of fitness for purpose. Those systems are more CRM than ATS, but there are commonalities. We find that many corp recruiters are in a lot of pain from their ATS, but they cant use agency systems because they have no legal compliance or realistic pipeline features. There are a very few strong agency systems that also work well in corp recruiting, and yes, I have a favorite brand in mind…..

    1. Hi Martin, I am looking to refer an ATS solution to a client, and would really appreciate your insight as to what you think is the best (cloud based) solution for a recruiter and company?

  3. Don’t look to the ATS industry to really invest in the development of sourcing tools/technology/process because the customer base is too small. You’ll hear a small, vocal group of people asking for it…but in the long run I believe the vast majority of recruiting departments don’t actually recruit.

    Most software companies would not build for small/niche group of customers in a meaningful way.

    In my experience, the vast majority of companies solely follow the post and pray model rather than adding to their department a targeted, pipeline building sourcing model.

    Then there is that group of companies that buy a Linkedin Corp Recruiter account(s) and send out Linkedin inmails and use that as their sourcing program.

    For those that want to really build out a full program, you are left to try and “figure out” how to use an existing ATS or build your own in house. Most recruiting teams can’t get internal resources to build a meaningful recruiting system so they are left with the ATS choices.

    There is a 3rd choice if you believe recruiting is more like sales and marketing than it is HR. Search the Sales and Marketing solutions out there to use as your recruiting platform. I’ve been at quite a few companies now that customize to match their recruiting needs. If you are reviewing systems for your company, be sure to put that one on your list.

  4. Thank you Tracey, you knocked it out of the park with this statement: “Companies can maximize their return on investment if they begin to use the ATS more like a customer relationship management tool and really take advantage of the data they currently have.”

    Too many employers use their ATS as a “wall” and not a communication tool to cultivate relationships (now called “talent communities”) with vendors, customers, and even internal employee populations to drive referrals. Referrals have LONG been the best source of new talent – and an ATS that’s used as a CRM/communication tool is an excellent way to drive referrals.

    There are essentially three ways to recruit: Fishing (aka “post & pray”); Hunting (targeting passive candidates at your competitors); and Farming (building relationships & driving referrals). While good recruiters do all three, Farming by far is the most cost effective. And solid CRM/ATS database is the perfect tool for Farming.

    SmartSearch is one of the few ATS with enough configurability serve both Agencies & Corporate employers, and it works best in corporations that want to create an executive search level function (or farm) within the HR environment.

    And as Martin notes, all that’s missing from most other ATS designed as CRM solutions for third-party recruiting agencies is the EEOC/OFCCP/VEVRAA compliance tracking & reporting. There are a few other things to look for such as a strong Hiring Manager portal to support collaboration. We have long advised corporate recruiters to think like Hunters & Farmers.

  5. Thank you everyone for your feedback! I am firm believer in both CRM’s and ATS technology. Additionally I believe in leveraging marketing engagement tools to better communicate and measure the strength of your network. However right now, many organizations only have an ATS to work with and spend on average of $3.00 – $5.00 to capture each resume in their system. This investment collects dust if not properly leveraged. As a recruitment professional, my focus is to help our organizations maximize the investment and leverage “sales” and “marketing” tools to better engage the people who have already shown interest in the organization. Our recruitment marketing team has been able to document, that consistent communications to your database of talent, results in a 15:1 greater social referral rate when using that talent as a network. So many ATS systems may not have CRM capabilities, however that should not stop you from using the data to improve your recruiting outcomes.

  6. Often times people make it too hard if not impossible for a candidate to enter the ATS, which is why we built our system to be a forward facing system that anyone can join. I still can’t believe that we’re separating software into categories such as job board, ats, crm, sourcing, instead of building one system that seamlessly does all four. Hint: we’ve already built it, kind of just waiting on you guys to get onboard!

    Think about the process… 1. Job is posted inside an ATS. 2. Sent to job boards. 3. Candidate searches for a job and find one on google or a job board. 4. Candidate goes back to ATS to apply. Why not just simplify the entire process and just allow the candidate to create a profile inside the ATS – this way it’s already there, before the job is even created? That would probably be too much to ask simply because Recruiters are greedy and wouldn’t want to share a candidate database because ultimately “they wouldn’t own the data.”

    I’m no recruiter or rocket scientist. I’m just a guy that likes to make sense of things…

  7. Great info! Thank you for sharing!

    Be careful of applicant tracking systems if you’re a job applicant! Otherwise they’re pretty cool. This guide gives a really good overview of everything you need to know about ATS.

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