How to Implement an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Successfully

As your business starts to grow, keeping on top of all those applications using spreadsheets becomes more and more difficult. Sound familiar? Well, maybe you should look at implementing an applicant tracking system (also known as an ATS).

Choosing and implementing an ATS system can be challenging to get right – Particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the world of recruitment. Firstly, there is the sheer number of new recruitment technologies out there, all promising shiny features and cutting edge solutions. How do you even know where to start?

Secondly, implementing any system (successfully) takes time, and recruitment systems are no different. If you’re a business owner or non-recruitment manager venturing into recruitment for the first time, or if you are a busy recruiter managing multiple live roles – it can be a significant commitment to get it right the first time.

Pick the wrong one, and you could end up paying for a lot of features you don’t need or a system that doesn’t cover your basic needs. Get the implementation wrong, and you could end up with a system that doesn’t work correctly or a system that no one uses.

But fear not; follow the steps in this blog, and you’ll not only have an applicant tracking system that meets your needs, but your candidates and hiring managers will actually want to use it too!

Planning is essential to ensure your ATS is fit for purpose and meets user needs.

Planning and Analysing Your Recruitment Tech Needs

Before you even look at the myriad of ATS options out there, start thinking about what you want and need. It’s important at this stage to identify who your key users will be.

  • Map your user’s needs. Talk to your managers and gather candidate feedback on your recruitment process.
  • Think about your budget. If needed, involve finance at this early stage so you can factor any budgetary constraints.
  • Examine your current process. Which parts can be automated and which parts can be streamlined? Do you need the ability to create a custom process on the ATS, or is a standard Applied -> Interviewed -> Accepted / Rejected Ok? You might also want to think about how your process could benefit from some bolt-ons (if the budget allows) like if you need video interviewing or testing built-in.
  • Security and Data. As you are handling personal data, thinking about how to handle this early is a good idea. It can even inform your decision on whether to choose a cloud-based Vs local system.
  • Does it need to integrate with other systems? Do you use a multi-poster (like Broadbean or Idibu) for recruitment advertising? Or, maybe you want your ATS to integrate with your CRM, finance or procurement software? If so, it’s best to get IT involved at this stage, as it’s likely they will be helping with any implementation at a later date.
  • Put the candidate at the centre. Don’t get me wrong; you need as many of your potential user groups using the system as possible, but if candidates won’t use it, it doesn’t matter how many hiring managers are logging on. Google the term ‘ATS’ and you will see the majority of questions are candidates asking, “How do I beat an ATS?” You don’t want your candidates to have to beat your system; you want a user-friendly and transparent experience.
  • Don’t over-engineer. When looking at your first ATS, it’s tempting to get carried away with the promise of an all-singing-all-dancing solution with AI sourcing. If you are moving from spreadsheets to your first ATS, chances are you won’t need such a comprehensive solution – You’ll need a lean solution that has the option to scale with you as you continue to grow.
  • You can’t please everybody. Involving key user groups early on will certainly help mitigate issues further down the road. But, often you’re left with a mountain of feature requests or, even worse, a load of conflicting needs. It’s crucial, therefore, to agree on some ‘acceptance criteria’ with your stakeholders. Acceptance criteria are a minimum set of ‘must-haves’ for the system that means it will function at the base level for everyone. It will help you differentiate between what is needed and what is just wanted.
Involve your key stakeholders early in the process – Get early buy in and make sure your solution is fit for purpose

Selecting an Applicant Tracking System

When entering the (often overwhelming) mountain of ATS systems online, there are a few best practices that can help keep you on track.

  • Google is your friend. There’s a lot of articles out there on applicant tracking systems. From looking at how an ATS system works to which recruitment ATS are best (like this article from Capterra), Google should be your first port of call. Spend some time researching possible solutions that meet your needs.
  • Speak to recruiters and other business owners. Ask others who have been there before. Find out what they like and don’t like about their ATS providers and systems. If you don’t know any recruiters; Social media is a good way of getting in touch with other professionals, most of whom are willing to share their experience. LinkedIn and Reddit are particularly useful for this.
  • Take a demo. Demos and free trials are a useful way to familiarise yourself with how a system works and see it in action. Just make sure to have your questions prepared beforehand, so don’t miss anything out.
  • Get your stakeholders involved. Obviously, you can’t get candidates reviewing your choices. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t get Donna and Dave from finance to come and look through your shortlist or sit in on a demonstration. Not only is it an extra sense check that your analysis is correct, but it’s also a great way of getting buy-in early on.

Implementing & Rolling Out Your ATS

So you’ve selected a system that meets the majority of your user needs, without being too over-engineered and bloated with features nobody will use. The next challenge is getting it implemented successfully. You only get one chance at a roll-out, getting it right can mean happy and engaged stakeholders. Get it wrong, and you have an expensive CV database. Here’s some tips on how to get it right, first time:

  • Choose your time carefully. Maybe don’t choose to roll out your ATS right in the middle of a particularly large volume of recruiting or a time that clashes with a big new project elsewhere in the business.
  • Update process documentation. Having documented many processes, it can sometimes feel like nobody ever looks at them. But, one time where people are likely to, is when something new is added to the mix. Make sure your processes are up to date with any changes needed to incorporate the use of the ATS. Please don’t wait until after the system is live to update it; it’ll be too late.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let user’s know when, where and what. Make sure that everyone is aware of what’s changing, what the change means and how it will impact them and make their jobs easier. Use any methods at your disposal, from internal comms (if you have them), Town Hall meetings, show and tells, roadshows and drop-in sessions. Those stakeholders that you’ve been engaging from the start can come in handy here as internal ambassadors, spreading the word to their teams – they helped choose it, after all!
Choosing the right time to roll out your new ATS system is crucial.

Post-ATS Roll-out

An Applicant Tracking System is for life (or until you outgrow it), not just for Christmas. After a successful roll-out, you will want to make sure that initial enthusiasm doesn’t die down and the engagement carries on. To establish your new ATS system as a standard part of any recruitment across the business, here’s what you need to consider.

  • Be available. Chances are, people will see you as the oracle of all things ATS-related. It’s important at this time that you are visible so that people can come to you with questions about the system. But, be mindful of protecting your time – set up a way of reporting things, like bugs and technical issues, that can be accessed and updated by anyone. That way you won’t be spending all your time troubleshooting but have a centralised resource to track these.
  • Training and user guide. Who should run the training with your team? Sometimes the ATS provider will run their own training courses, which will be more comprehensive than internal training but may come at a cost. Same with user-guides. Make sure you know exactly what you can expect from the ATS provider and make sure to fill in the gaps.
  • Support. Make sure everyone knows how to escalate a problem with the system. Whether that’s calling a helpline or logging the issue with you to raise, make sure that the process is straightforward, visible and understood by everyone.
  • Unintended consequences. However thoroughly we plan and prepare, there will always be things for which we will fail to account. Humans, by nature of being human, will always look to find their way around something. That’s why it’s essential to regularly check how the ATS is being used. Are there any unexpected drop-offs in candidate manager or hiring manager usage? Does the reporting still give you a clear picture of activity across all roles? Regular check-ups will stop any problems before they become established habits and risk undermining the integrity of the system.

TL;DR – Here’s Some Key Takeaways

It’s clear to see, then, that the successful implementation of any ATS can take a bit of leg work on your part. But, if you follow the steps outlined in this blog, it’ll ensure that you have a fantastic ATS system that fits your company’s individual needs that will be used by the people who need it.

If you’re about to embark on the journey from spreadsheet to recruitment system, here are some of the key points to remember:

  • Be prepared – Spending enough time upfront to plan will reduce headaches later on.
  • Make your solution fit for purpose – Don’t get carried away with features you don’t need. Remember, lean but scalable is best.
  • Maintain a people-centred approach – Keep it user friendly for candidates and hiring managers.
  • Communicate constantly – Bring users in early, let people know what to expect and in what timescales. Be available during and after the roll out.

The Small Consultancy have successfully implemented recruitment ATS and CRM systems for growing companies and large brands across the UK. To find out more about our recruitment services get in touch with us today.

Find out how our recruitment projects can transform your internal recruitment capabilities and keep your scale-up growing as planned.