What comes to mind when you read or hear the term “applicant tracking system?” If you’re like most of us, you’re probably thinking about the software’s impact on your organization’s hiring initiatives. But an ATS doesn’t just affect the company – it also affects the people who apply to your jobs. Choosing the right ATS, and setting it up correctly, can significantly impact the way candidates feel about applying to the jobs you have open. And that can mean the difference between hiring your top choice for the job – or never having them complete an application in the first place.
What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?
With so many applicant tracking systems on the market now, most people already know this answer -- but by quick way of helpfulness, here’s what an ATS represents on both sides of the equation:
- For the company: An ATS organizes information about candidates, their backgrounds, and where they stand in the interview process. It’s essentially a CRM for hiring, whereas a standard CRM tracks customer behavior.
- For the candidate: An ATS represents the process the candidate has to go through to apply -- which usually means amount of information to be entered, screens to move through, items to upload, etc. An ATS often becomes the main source of communication throughout the application process.
The elephant in the ATS room
There are some very effective applicant tracking systems out there, but not all ATS providers are equal. Many are designed to do similar things, so the product features of Example A and Example B may be only moderately different. But where the ATS can shine -- and where the good ones do -- is in terms of candidate experience.
If you want to improve candidate experience, then, your ATS has to be able to pull its weight.
What’s one simple example of positive candidate experience and ATS strategy?
Let’s say the first step of candidate experience is a website asking for either a resume upload or a LinkedIn connector.
Most candidates assume “OK, they have my resume and/or my LinkedIn now, so they have my basic information and the next screens will be about something else.”
Instead, the next screen is asking you to fill out all the info that’s on your LinkedIn -- and nothing is pre-populated.
The candidate just went from a relatively easy, intuitive experience to one where they’re filling out screen after screen of data they already provided by authorizing a connection to LinkedIn.
Most candidates in this situation will:
- Abandon the site
- Complete the screens but be frustrated and think less of the company
Neither is the result of positive candidate experience. The first bullet is actually what an ATS should help to avoid. The second bullet is a little better – at least you didn’t lose them – but if they’re frustrated enough with the application process, what happens if something more enticing comes along?
ATS and alienation
What you’re trying to avoid is having systems and processes in place that alienate the best candidates.
Instead, you want to draw them in.
How can an ATS draw in candidates and improve candidate experience?
A few quick approaches:
Make it easy to use: It should be intuitive, the directions should be clear and concise, and it absolutely needs to be mobile-friendly.
Limit the amount of screens a candidate needs to move through: This can get tedious (especially on mobile) and create a negative candidate experience.
Follow up immediately: Many companies send an email upon application, with a quick message like “Thanks for applying!” and no context around what might happen next. That’s not helpful. Have an automated email trigger at the completion of the application that thanks the candidate and explains next steps, with actual timelines/timetables. Make it a transparent, well-written email.
Don’t clutter it up: Beyond the job description, which ideally the candidate already read and researched a bit, you don’t need tons of words (mission statements, etc.) or images. Just design it simply so the candidate can move through the process and give you the info you need in the most intuitive way possible.
Do all this if you use an “Easy Apply” option too: Easy Apply options are attractive to candidates because they’re less time-consuming, but many candidates inherently realize they become “black holes” whereby they’ll never hear another word from that company. Don't create a black hole. Set up automated communication off “Easy Apply.”
Looking for ways to improve candidate experience? Check out the McQuaig Candidate Experience Grader to discover what should come next in your candidate experience strategy.
If you're doing everything here already, maybe it's time to try something new. Consider integrating a solution like chatbots to bring your communication to the next level. You want to communicate with candidates, even though you’re only going to end up choosing one to fill a specific role. Clear, consistent communication improves the candidate experience, and the improved candidate experience in turn improves the employer brand. Everyone wins.