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What is ATS?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software application for human resources (HR) that helps organisations manage recruitment and hiring tasks digitally. It serves as the central database for job and applicant information where job requisitions, postings, and applications are managed and applicants are screened and selected.


An ATS supports the performance of common tasks such as creating job descriptions, posting jobs to career sites and job boards, résumé scanning, scheduling interviews, gathering feedback, performing background checks, and generating offer letters with electronic signatures.


The system also manages the experience for job applicants. This includes searching for jobs, applying online, and checking the status of an application, as well as generating notifications to applicants.

How an ATS works

What does an applicant tracking system do?

An ATS acts as a database for job applicants, automating and managing the workflows associated with the recruitment process. It allows hiring managers and recruiters to cut through the volume of résumés received so they can focus their time on the most qualified applicants.


With the ability to program business rules into an ATS, companies can ensure they’re following best hiring practices while securing the personal data applicants submit. 

See how recruiters and hiring managers use an ATS to quickly identify and hire the best candidates.

Who uses an applicant tracking system?

Companies of all sizes and industries use applicant tracking systems to organise, search, and communicate with job applicants and manage their job application process. While previously the domain of larger Fortune 500 companies due to associated costs and infrastructure requirements, today smaller organisations can leverage the cost savings of software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings in the cloud.

Why is an ATS important?

An ATS accelerates the hiring process. By moving from offline and paper-based processes to an automated digital process, recruitment and hiring tasks are streamlined, freeing up time and ensuring fair and best-fit hiring practices are followed.


Here are some examples of how an applicant tracking system can benefit an organisation:

  • More applicants: An ATS makes it easier for job seekers to search for jobs and apply online, increasing the overall number of applications. 
  • Faster hiring cycles: Recruiters can quickly search the entire applicant pipeline, selecting candidates of interest and investing their time in higher value work such as screening interviews, references, and offers.
  • Greater collaboration with stakeholders: During the interview stage, hiring managers review and provide feedback on candidates within the ATS. Business rules can be configured to automate the progression of candidates through the screening and hiring stages.  

The evolution of applicant tracking systems

Before the Internet, job openings were advertised in classified newspapers and industry publications. The process was paper-based, which made it time-consuming and difficult to manage. Job applicants could not easily determine the status of an application. Recruiters and hiring managers – due to the sheer volume of hard copy applications – were unable to identify the most qualified applicants.


With digital and online technologies, applying for a job became much easier. Global employment Web sites promoted job opportunities to people around the world. Suddenly recruitment had become a volume business.


The first applicant tracking systems were developed in the late 1990s and were housed on premises. The systems focused on processing and storing the vast number of résumés received while ensuring compliance and consistency in hiring practices. Recruiters and hiring managers also felt the impact of such a high volume of applications and soon these systems evolved to support pre-screening, résumé scanning, parsing, automated notifications, and analytics.


Today, applicant tracking systems are predominantly deployed in the cloud and offered as a software-as-a-service, or SaaS, solution. A cloud-based ATS eliminates heavy implementation costs and inefficient processes, reducing dependency on IT.


ATS technology has evolved to support modern recruitment requirements, which can include:

  • Virtual recruiting: Support remote workplace and recruiting efforts, such as career sites, candidate communication, offers, and interviews. 
  • Mass recruiting: Attract, screen, and hire large volumes of applicants quickly for specific industries, such as healthcare, grocery, e-commerce, and tech.  
  • High applicant volumes: Screen large volumes of applicants for specific openings.  
  • Internal recruiting: Identify employees to promote internal advancement.  
  • Diversity and inclusion: Ensure alignment with a company’s hiring initiatives and non-biased recruiting practices. 

An ATS supports the recruitment process from posting a job opening to the presentation of an offer letter. Since recruitment data is personal data, applicant tracking systems also help companies remain compliant with data protection legislation such as GDPR.

Use cases for an ATS

Recruiters are the most active users of an ATS. They use the system on a daily basis to manage job requisitions, post openings, review applicants, and manage the progression of candidates through the recruitment and hiring stages.


Hiring managers use an ATS to participate in the recruitment process. The system provides them with direct access to active job requisitions to review job descriptions, applicants, and résumés, and to see the status of each candidate. Information is generated from the ATS to prepare and conduct interviews, as well as to store quantitative and qualitative feedback following an interview.


Job applicants use the ATS to search and apply for jobs, check an application status, and accept job offers.


Follow-up message for new matching jobs in a modern ATS.

What to look for when considering an ATS

Applicant tracking systems are offered as stand-alone solutions or may be included as a part of an end-to-end recruitment software platform that includes capabilities for candidate relationship management (CRM).  


CRM software is often used in parallel with an ATS. But unlike an ATS, these systems are used to attract talent and build relationships with applicants that have transitioned to candidate status. Candidate relationship management systems focus on candidate engagement and creating an overall positive recruitment experience.  


Some organisations prefer the simplicity of a stand-alone ATS application for candidate data management. However, this option presents some limitations. While sufficient for processing active candidates, these systems do not provide the capabilities required for engaging and nurturing passive talent.  


Recruiting software that includes ATS and CRM functionality provides the greatest flexibility and efficiency across the entire applicant-to-candidate journey. Combined benefits include: 

  • Access to advanced career Web sites 
  • Tailored landing pages 
  • Email marketing campaigns 
  • Larger talent pools 
  • Greater interest and engagement from short-listed candidates 
  • Faster hiring cycles 
  • Greater collaboration with internal stakeholders 

An end-to-end recruiting solution reduces costs and eliminates the complexity of managing multiple systems in parallel. 


Additional considerations include: 

  • Scalability: The hiring needs of an organisation will fluctuate, so the software must be agile and scalable. 
  • Integration: Determine in advance how the technology will integrate with other recruiting software as well as the overall human resources technology infrastructure. These integrations will support the elimination of manual data processes and the ability to combine recruitment data with employee data. 
  • User requirements: Consider all of the users – applicants, recruiters, hiring managers – and ensure the ATS is able to deliver an efficient and positive experience for everyone.  

What are the capabilities of an end-to-end recruiting platform that includes ATS and CRM?

Here is an overview of the combined features and functions you can leverage with a comprehensive recruiting solution: 


Posting a position

  • Create job descriptions that emphasise preferred competencies. 
  • Identify gender bias and salary benchmarks using automated scans. 
  • Create an employer-branded Web site for job seekers.   
  • Build and manage postings on career Web sites and job boards. 
  • Use configurable applications per requisition (mobile-apply, quick-apply, multi-stage). 

Reviewing applicants 

  • Search external and internal applications using a single database. 
  • Configure pre-application screening questions for each posting. 
  • Automate the storage and analysis of résumé data, including parsing.
  • Receive automated notifications and alerts personalised for each role.  
  • Provide secure access for third-party agencies. 
  • Generate real-time reports and analytics across the entire recruitment process.

Interviewing candidates 

  • Schedule interviews and track progression.  
  • Gather feedback and automatically consolidate candidate ratings.  
  • Provide secure access to a candidate portal for current information and status. 

Hiring and onboarding 

  • Access branded templates and forms with pre-filled data. 
  • Generate and present offer letters with electronic signature capabilities for faster turnaround. 
  • Automate the onboarding process. 

When should an organisation implement an ATS?

An ATS implementation should be considered by organisations that are growing quickly and have ambitious recruitment objectives that correlate with the overall business strategy. Additional requirements could include targeting a specialised skill set or role that is in high demand, supporting mass recruiting efforts, or resolving significant inefficiencies within HR where a centralised data model and automated workflows would save time and money. These inefficiencies could be:

  • Hiring efforts are tracked on a spreadsheet. 
  • The same job posting must be submitted manually to multiple job boards. 
  • Time is spent reviewing a large volume of irrelevant applications.  
  • Feedback and decisions from the hiring team are difficult to obtain. 
  • Internal resources are not available to build, maintain, or improve an existing career site.  
  • Measuring the value of recruitment is difficult and inconsistent.  

When should I upgrade my ATS?

Many organisations choose to upgrade from an existing ATS to an end-to-end recruitment software platform, including candidate engagement capabilities in a CRM. 


An outdated ATS can result in the following HR inefficiencies: 

  • The same job application is served up for every job opening. 
  • A large drop-off rate occurs within the hiring process.  
  • Candidate nurturing and engagement is difficult and ineffective. 
  • The presence of unconscious bias is unknown. 
  • Specific hiring strategies, such as mass hiring, internal progression, and virtual recruiting, are difficult if not impossible.  

Applicant tracking systems, especially when integrated within end-to-end recruitment solutions, provide a modern, secure platform for HR to attract, identify, engage, and hire the very best candidates. An ATS eliminates time-consuming manual processes so recruitment efforts can synchronise perfectly with the forecasted growth of the company.


Explore ATS recruiting solutions

Source, engage, and hire the best talent with SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting.

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