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Businesses in the United States spend more than $150 billion annually on recruiting. To obtain measurable ROI on that huge investment, it’s really important to get the process right on the back end. A lot of the investment made in recruiting in today’s environment is on technology, specifically on an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), but if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, that money ends up going down the drain.

Before You Select an ATS

You’ll often hear that the ATS is the foundation of the recruiting process. I’d like to think that your process is the foundation of your recruiting excellence and that the ATS is simply a tool through which you can achieve your goals. A system alone will never solve your recruiting problems and a process without a system will be impossible to manage. If you don’t know what your goals are in terms of recruiting – and if you haven’t obtained and included input from all stakeholders – your process is going to be flawed and so is your ATS selection.

Your ATS should not dictate your process; it should enable it. Your recruiting process needs to be solid before you select and implement an ATS. With unemployment numbers going up and the number of applications received for each position multiplying, there is no time to waste in getting your process – and your ATS – in good working order.

I Already Have an ATS – What Can I Do to Improve Functionality?

Whether you’re trying to optimize your current ATS or actively shop for an ATS solution that works best for you, you need to start at the same place: defining what your ideal process looks like. How does each piece of the process work? Where are your risks? Gaps? Opportunities? Not only do you need to start answering these questions, but you need to start getting feedback from all of your stakeholders about how the recruiting function works (or doesn’t work) for them.

Why do ATS Implementations Fail?

Often, it’s not the technology that causes an ATS to fail; it’s the company automating the wrong pieces of the process. If you automate what ought to be high-touch, you lose talented candidates. If you don’t automate work that should just move through the system, you lose talented candidates and burn out your recruiting team. These failures are often blamed on the technology, but it’s normally far more embedded in the recruitment process and would continue to be a problem regardless of the technology used. It’s for this reason that we encourage you to get back to basics first.

Back to the Basics: Identifying Your Goals and Needs

We recommend beginning the ATS selection and implementation process at least six months before you need to bring a new or initial ATS online. It’s best if you can start a year in advance of the scheduled transition. Think about:

  • Your end goals: Focus on what the process looks like from your stakeholders’ viewpoint.
  • Leverage data to support your position and achieve buy-in for the investment.
  • Find out what’s important to your key stakeholders inside and outside of the company.
  • Consider which of your existing processes can easily be automated (e.g., moved from an Excel sheet), leaving your recruiters more time to cultivate and build relationships with current and future talent.
  • Identify the risk to your key personnel: Is one person managing a piece of your recruiting process that is not automated? If you lose that person, would you lose the functionality of your program, too?

ATS Selection

There are two kinds of ATS solutions: full-suite and best-of-breed. Full-suite solutions are HR-centric. They fulfill many additional functions besides recruiting. They are focused on meeting the needs of HR, not just those of recruiters. Best-of-breed solutions are recruiting-centric, best-fit solutions that require a comprehensive investment. How you choose your ATS depends on your needs, your budget, and how well the solution integrates with other technology. As you evaluate ATS options, we recommend that you assess – at a minimum – the following standards. Use a scorecard and include input from all stakeholders, including finance and IT.

  • Functionality
  • Pipeline/CRM
  • Recruiter workflow
  • Candidate experience
  • Scheduling and interviewing
  • Reporting
  • Onboarding capacity
  • Cost
  • Agility of system
  • User experience
  • Tools and resources
  • Partnerships

ATS Implementation Guidance

Beacon Lane is in the ATS implementation space. We help companies transform their recruiting functions by digging deep into their processes and developing the functionality they need to meet their goals. We then implement ATS solutions in a way that will complement their efforts and do the heavy lifting in the right places.

In reality, people will become frustrated. I encourage you to assign a project manager who can hold the vision. Don’t underestimate the time investment. Trust that you’ve selected well. Ultimately, you will get the implementation right. It’s the change management that’s tough. People resist change and they need to know what’s in it for them. You need to include a communication strategy – and you will always have better success if you include them throughout the process.

Don’t refer to it as an ATS implementation; instead, refer to it as recruiting optimization, recruiting modernization, or recruiting transformation. Regardless of your projected timeline, add six to eight weeks to it. The timing required to bring an ATS online is always underestimated. You need a project manager who can have end-to-end oversight of the process – someone who can remain focused on the goals, keep stakeholders engaged, handle the resistance to change, and drive the implementation forward. This isn’t a job that gets done off the side of someone’s desk.

How Do I Know if My ATS Implementation Worked?

There are three ways to measure the effectiveness of your ATS selection and implementation. These are the success metrics we live by:

  • Talent optimization: Best-fit hires at the right cost and the right time
  • Data integrity: Clean data and better reporting
  • Efficiency: Capacity management, reduced risk, and time savings

I recently participated in a webinar on ATS Selection and Implementation for ERE, hosted by OLEEO. You can watch it here:


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