The ATS Menu: How Do You Select The One That’s Right For You?

By Chris Murdock

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With so many Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to choose from, it’s a lot like going to an all you can eat buffet in Las Vegas. Where do you start? You don’t want to fill up on bread. Oh, what’s that over there? Before you know it, you’ve walked around for an hour and haven’t eaten anything. Of course, I’m only kidding. I head straight for the crab legs and the dessert station.


I googled “how many applicant tracking systems,” and the auto-populated recommended searches made it clear that I’m not the only one researching the world of applicant tracking systems. I found several posts from the folks at Ongig, and one blog covered the top ATS vendors. Their survey tracked 109 different vendors.


FOMO Is Real. So, How Do You Pick An ATS With So Many Choices?


Through my client engagements, I’ve used several of the ATS’ on the list, and I have experience with a smattering of the remainder. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. To help analyze the choices, think of each one as a different item on a menu. Pick an ATS like you would a dish from the Cheesecake Factory menu: weigh the features you need and want with the ability of a system to meet and fulfill those needs, all the while hoping you don’t get a paper cut from any of the 100 pages on the menu!

Pretend you’re hosting a very important dinner party, except in this case, you have a lot of people at the table, and you’re asking all the guests to settle on a single dish that everyone has to eat. You have to try to please as many people as you can when you select an ATS, and you have to be confident in your final choice. Otherwise, no one eats!


The guest list and seating chart at your dinner party are important. Finance and IT should sit together as they’re more likely to get along in conversations about numbers, software, and budgets. HR and Talent Acquisition should sit across the table from each other unless your firm is like some companies, where they should sit as far away from each other as possible (though it really shouldn’t be like that; we’re all on the same team). Be sure to invite representatives from legal and compliance as well as people from each department and functional area.


Make Sure You Have A Large Table.

Before the dinner party, people should prepare conversation starters to help break the ice. This includes:

  1. Priorities for the ATS
  2. Current pain points they would like to see alleviated
  3. How its use fits within the current process for each group
  4. Metrics/Data they’d like to gather


Each person should present their conversation starters. In most instances, everyone will have more things in common than not. Ease of use, in my experience, is where all the departments are on the same page. Ease of use means different things from company to company and department to department, but it’s a great place to begin. When I think of a crowd-pleasing dish that’s easy to eat, but with lots of variations and toppings, I think of a burger.


Now, here is where it gets fun. We need to start building the foundation, the bottom bun. The bottom bun isn’t the ATS; instead, it’s the requirements of each group. Map those requirements, find the commonalities and contradictions. You don’t have to work through the inconsistencies at this stage. Let the vendors work through them. If the requirements are thoughtfully gathered, you’ll have a bun that will hold the weight of everything you’re about to layer on top of it.


The RFP process is the garlic aioli you smear on the bottom bun. It holds the burger(ATS) in place. Next, let the vendors address your needs and provide you with the options.


Finally, Let’s Pick The Burger.


The Big Beef: Applicant Tracking Systems like TaleoSuccessFactorsBrassring/Kenexa, and Workday tend to be favored by companies that are more Finance/IT focused. They work so well with all the other systems (HRIS, ERP, Payroll, etc.) because you’re likely pairing them with the parent company products Oracle, SAP, IBM, and Workday. These systems also can integrate well with other vendors, but they work better with their parent companies.


Dual Dinner Style PattiesiCIMS is an interesting burger option. It’s the system that seems to be favored by companies with many locations and a lot of high volume reqs. Nearly all my firm’s retail and manufacturing clients use iCIMS.


The Steak Burger: Let’s talk about Jobvite. Jobvite is a tasty burger. I know so many people that can make Jobvite do wonderful things. Reports that are full of consumable data. Jobvite does a fantastic job of creating a great experience for hiring managers and HR. Jobvite is always tasty, but because it is a newer ATS, sometimes recruiters and sourcers prefer a more traditional system with which they have more familiarity.


The Gastro Pub Burger: Lever and Greenhouse are the fancy upstart burgers. They have built beautiful products that are approachable and easy to deploy. Most of the companies using these systems are high growth and are either implementing a system for the first time or replacing one of the less expensive products on the market. However, as companies grow, priorities change, and the need for more complicated processes leads companies to look at the big beefy ATS vendors. These two vendors are always finding ways to improve, so the need to “move up” to the bigger burger may disseminate as time goes on.


The Petri Dish Beef Burger: Google Hire. It’s new. And now, it’s gone. It was high tech and generated a lot of buzz like that meat grown in a petri dish. I never used it because it never seemed to fit our needs. That’s probably why Google is pulling it off the market.


The Not Beef Burger: SmartRecruitersBreezyHRWorkableJazz HR, and Comeet are the turkey, wild game, and veggie burgers. Each is known for doing things a bit differently, from improving productivity to increasing recruiter effectiveness. For example, Comeet started as an interview management platform and performs that function well. For transparency, in addition to building our own CRM (IQTalentXchange), we use Comeet as our ATS at my firm.


The Grass-Fed Burger: On the Ongig list referenced earlier, the “homegrown systems” rank third. The companies who created their own ATS (like my firm) looked at all the systems and decided to go off the grid and go free-range. The ATS vendors just couldn’t build or customize their products to the level of efficiency needed for their internal process, so they just built their own to meet their company’s unique requirements.


The Impossible Burger: Is it meat? Is it veggie? Smashfly and Avature are Applicant Tracking Systems and CRMs. They are impossible to classify as just one, as both are building platforms that transcend where they started. Some of the systems listed above have light CRM functionality, but I wouldn’t confuse them for anything other than ATS systems. Avature and Smashfly have blended the line. Avature, as a CRM, has often sat next to systems like iCIMS, and it still does, but they’ve added functions that are clearly ATS features. If you haven’t tried the Impossible Burger, you know it isn’t beef, but your mouth and brain are confused.


Once the Vendors respond to your RFP and describe their burgers, you should then narrow the results to a select few that meet the most needs/wants. Once narrowed, go back to the group (the dinner party) and get input. Now we get to start talking about condiments.


Condiments can be free add-ons like ketchup or mustard. They can also be the $2 bacon (how is a slice of bacon $2?) or the $3 avocado. The cost of customizing can get ratcheted up quickly. The Burger Bar in San Francisco has a great example of pricey add-ons. If you add foie gras and black truffle, your $15 burger will hit $50! Many vendors have out of the box integrations that are plug and play, like your careers page. But not everything works that way, and the customizations can go out of control.


Once the budget is set for each of the final selections, it’s time to pick the patty, the condiments, and to put the top bun on to complete the burger. The final burger is presented to the ultimate decision-makers, and the order is placed. The vendor will build your burger and help you roll it out to everyone.


Like a quality applicant tracking system, a great burger isn’t simple. It’s about timing and getting the sear on the outside just right without overcooking the middle. It’s about having a bun that holds together from the first bite to the last. It’s about balancing the textures and the layers of toppings to complement the richness of the beef. So much must come together and go right to make the burger that everyone will love; it’s just like choosing an ATS!


Now, I’m hungry.


This article was originally published on the IQTalent Partners blog.

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