Recruiting/ATS Software Overview

What is Recruiting/ATS Software?

There are many kinds of recruiting software clustered around the HR task of finding and hiring the best people. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are designed to automate the hiring process by, for example, posting job openings, managing screening questions, generating interview requests, allowing resumes to be searched by keywords, and other administrative tasks. These tools are mainly about managing the hiring process and are focused on the resume as the centrally important hiring artifact. ATS platforms are used by companies as a way of managing direct job applications, and also by recruiting agencies for the same purpose. Some agency-oriented tools also have CRM capabilities build in to manage account relationships.

The focus of this guide is primarily on ATS tools even as they continue to evolve to meet the needs of the modern hiring environment by moving away from resume management and adding exciting new capabilities that would not have been conceivable even ten years ago.

The primary features of most recruiting / ATS platforms include:

  • Job requisition management: This allows job postings to be created quickly and easily
  • Company website postings: Jobs can be posted and displayed on the company website
  • Publish to social media: Software provides ability to publish postings to social media sites
  • Job search site posting: Software provides ability to publish postings to top job search sites
  • Customized application form: Present applicants with a form to capture required information
  • Resume management: Allowing resumes to be uploaded in bulk, and often providing some information parsing capabilities, like, for example, the ability to harvest contact data
  • Duplicate candidate prevention: Preventing candidates already in the system from being added a second time
  • Candidate search: Search capabilities allowing candidates with certain attributes such as location or competencies to be located
  • Applicant tracking: Tracking capabilities allow allows recruiters to assign applicants to various stages so others can see an applicant's status at a glance
  • Collaboration: The ability share notes and evaluations on candidates
  • Create and delegate tasks: Ability to create recruitment process tasks and assign them to others
  • Canned email responses: Creation of standard email templates for communication with candidates
  • User permissions: Permissions allow administrators to decide which information is viewable or editable by others
  • Notifications and alerts: Notifications when a candidate is added or reminders of tasks to be completed keep everyone on task
  • Reporting: Comprehensive standard reports on key recruiting metrics such as time-to-fill

Recruiting/ATS platforms as a component of Talent Management

The TrustRadius Buyer's Guide to Talent Management Software covered a number of suite products, which contained recruiting as a component. Indeed, recruiting has now come to be understood as a core component of talent management products. Products like IBM Kenexa and Oracle Taleo have a strong recruiting orientation as they began with that functionality and expended out to provide a full set of capabilities covering performance management, onboarding, succession management, and learning.

All of the talent management platforms discussed in the companion Buyers' Guide to Talent Management, offer at least some recruiting capabilities, and this functionality has become an essential feature of the talent management portfolio.

Ultimate Software's UltiPro and Workday are recent entrants into this space having introduced brand new products in 2014, which have both been highly anticipated. This is a mature market and incumbent products have very complete feature sets and large numbers of customers. But starting fresh with a focus on the most strategic functions like employee sourcing and mobile has advantages over adding new features to old platforms.

Although many of the biggest ATS platforms have long been acquired and integrated as components of broad talent suites, there is still a significant number of independent vendors selling this technology as stand-alone products.

Since talent management suites have largely been designed for enterprises, stand-alone vendors are increasingly focusing on the mid-market to find new customers. The mid-market is vast and these vendors should be able to thrive in focusing on that sector of the market alone.

These more focused mid-market vendors are also much faster to add required new features to their platforms. The large suite vendors like SAP, IBM, and Oracle have been, and continue to be, very focused on building effective integrations between their talent suites and back end ERP applications, which tends to consume their development efforts. Pure-play recruiting/ATS vendors are uniquely focused on recruiting, and their product roadmaps tend to be built around new recruiting features.

Talent Management suite vendors / products covered in this guide

Although virtually all talent management products include recruiting as a capability, not all talent management products are covered in this guide. The reason for this omission is that we do not have adequate data on the recruiting capabilities of these products to discuss them here in that context. The exception is IBM Kenexa and Oracle Taleo, both of which are talent management platforms with a very strong recruiting legacy. Kenexa's BrassRing acquisition in 2005 really put Kenexa on the map as a recruiting solution and, to this day, people think of it as a recruiting product. Virtually all Kenexa reviews on TrustRadius are for the BrassRing ATS capabilities. Oracle's Taleo has a similar lineage and the fact that most reviews specifically discuss the recruiting aspects of the platform means that it can be included here. SIlkRoad's OpenHire is a separate product (although included in the LifeSuite platform) and is also featured in the guide.

TrustRadius has begun to collect feature ratings on individual components of suite products, and a future update to this guide will include feature-rating data on the talent management recruiting components, which will allow us to discuss these products from a purely recruiting standpoint. Ultimate Software's UltiPro and Workday will also be featured in an update.

Segment Focus and Product Type

The following table lists the vendors appearing in this guide with an indication of whether they have an SMB or enterprise focus and whether they are standalone or one component of a suite. As might be expected, standalone tools are mostly SMB-focused.

Segment Focus and Product Type Per Recruiting Software

Trends in Recruiting Technology

Beyond ATS

The standard ATS as a tool for managing resumes, has been under pressure for some years now as hiring organizations understand that, while tools designed to simplify the hiring process make life easier for the employer, they often present significant barriers to candidates. Job applicants are often forced to complete complex forms, or conform to a tiresomely bureaucratic process that is apt to deter the most talented employees who tend to resent such a heavy–handed approach. There is an increasing view that the “post-and-pray” approach to recruiting is ultimately self-defeating and that applicants should be treated much the same way as customers. The emphasis shifts towards finding passive candidates and gradually nurturing them over time. Candidates should be reeled in though engagement strategies that are commonplace in customer relationship marketing. Presenting an attractive brand that encourages engagement and attracts the best talent a slightly different approach to hiring. A recruiting platform like SmashFly has been designed specifically as a kind of recruiting CRM platform that integrates directly to ATS systems to help put this strategy into practice.

Another potential problem with ATS platforms is that they frequently use resume-parsing technology in order to sort through large volumes of resumes by looking for key words to winnow the applicants down to a manageable number. While this approach makes some sense given the very large volumes of resumes typically received in response to an ad, candidates have now been trained to game the system: They use keywords taken from the original job ad and play them back in resumes laden with key phrases likely to be picked up by these systems.

More sophisticated job/candidate matching capabilities are required.

Better candidate sourcing through social media data

In recent years there has been more emphasis on using more sophisticated technologies than revenue parsing to find candidates that are a good match for open positions. Mining the vast quantity of publicly available social data in order to source potential candidates is one such strategy.

Obviously, LinkedIn has emerged as a inescapable presence in the recruiting arena and, in conjunction with the vast quantity of social media data freely available to anyone with a web browser, can be mined for use as a gigantic sourcing repository to find passive candidates who may not be looking but have the skills and aptitudes you might need. From the candidate point-of-view, peer-to-peer social sites like Glassdoor, Yelp and others have also had a significant impact by providing job seekers with invaluable data on the day-to-day experience of working for a particular company.

The most recent innovations in sourcing go beyond unstructured browsing to a more data-driven approach to uncovering the best candidates. One social approach is sometimes referred to as “People Aggregator Sourcing”. There is an entire cluster of software vendors focused on using social data to improve candidate sourcing and matching. These tools usually extend well beyond the white-collar confines of LinkedIn to source candidates in a very broad range of fields where potential candidates have a social presence, even if it's just a Facebook page. Companies like TalentBin, Entelo, Identified, Dice OpenWeb and 3Sourcing all aggregate unstructured profiles of individuals across a large number of social websites including, in addition to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, some more niche sites like StackOverflow,, GitHub, Quora, etc. The profile data collected is structured into an easily searchable database of composite social profiles on individuals and is then made available to corporate recruiters.

Additionally, most firms now understand that the ability to measure everything related to the recruiting process can provide significant competitive advantage. Once companies understand things like the best combinations of experience and education that typically lead to the most successful hires, or which sourcing channels are most likely to provide stellar candidates, the hiring success rate can improve dramatically. The ability to mine recruiting data for insight is a crucial factor in making good hiring decisions. There are now several recruitment data vendors like Broadbean and BurningGlass providing big data mining recruiting solutions.

“Big Data” sourcing is not the only trend transforming the recruiting technology sector, however.

Other significant trends affecting the recruiting software category

  • Mobile: Mobile-enabled software applications have been exploding for a number of years as smartphone use skyrockets and vendors scramble to build mobile-friendly versions of their products for an increasingly global and mobile workforce. Large numbers of job applicants already use mobile devices to search and even apply for jobs, although mobile applications are still not mainstream. HR vendors, including the large enterprise vendors, have been unaccountably slow in developing mobile versions of their recruiting platforms, particularly the ability for candidates to apply for a job on a mobile device . This is starting to change with the emergence of mobile technology platforms like iMomentous, which is designed to solve this problem.
  • Assessments: Employers want to gather as much data as possible before interviewing, as one-to-one interviews are very time consuming and can be highly inefficient if too many unsuitable candidates make it to the interview stage. Behavioral assessments and job skill testing can help employers do a better job of matching applicants to the skills and competencies they will need for the job.
  • Video Interviewing: With the proliferation of built-in webcams in phones and laptops, video interviewing is a fast-growing trend. Although it is quite possible to do this independently of any recruiting software, increasingly video-interviewing technology is being integrated with ATS software so that job interviews can be stored and linked to candidate profiles.
  • Job Boards/Advertising: Job boards have been a feature of the recruiting landscape for many years and are still critically important. Most ATS platforms can syndicate job listings to a broad range of job boards, but not all are free. There are general-purpose job boards that advertise a vast number of jobs in multiple sectors and geographies like Monster, SimplyHired, and CareerBuilder. But the real focus today is shifting away from general purpose boards towards ones with a narrower scope like niche or regional job boards that may specialize in certain vertical industries or geographies, as well as career portals on company websites and social channels. Most ATS platforms syndicate job ads to the major job boards to ensure the widest possible audience. Some platforms suggest the job boards likely to generate the best response. The biggest development though in job boards has been the emergence of job board aggregators like Indeed, which, from the candidate viewpoint, is an extremely useful way of being able to access jobs posted on all other boards and corporate websites with a single very easy to use search interface. GlassDoor and Simply Hired have also entered the job board aggregator market. Aggregation on the massive scale that Indeed has accomplished means that any single company's jobs will quickly be lost among the flood of job ads unless recruiters abandon the old tired job descriptions of the past, and create differentiated, engaging ads that include visuals and an emphasis on what it's like to actually work at a company. After all, any candidates clicking on the Apply button will be routed back to your ATS without ever having seen the recruiting page of your website. Writing job ads now requires creativity and marketing sills in order to make them stand out in the crowd.
  • Integration with Background Checking: Background checking is an entirely separate category and firms supplying background-checking software are specialists in checking candidates against criminal record databases. These products usually integrate with several ATS platforms, and integration with one of these services is an important pre-requisite for selecting a solution.

Although the recruiting technology market is constantly changing, it does appear that the current focus has shifted from resume management and applicant tracking capabilities, towards sourcing, analytics, assessment and interview technologies. But this does not mean that the ATS platform is redundant. In fact, many of these new trends are simply being absorbed by ATS platforms as new features.

There have been a number of strategic acquisitions in this area. For example, in the area of People Aggregator sourcing, Workday acquired Identified in 2014 and Monster bought TalentBin the same year. LinkedIn also made a highly strategic acquisition in this area last year by snapping up for $120m. Bright is not exactly a People Aggregator, but is a matching tool that goes beyond keywords by using data mining and machine learning techniques to provide better candidate matches. Jobvite has already incorporated native video interviewing capabilities directly into their ATS product and companies like HireVue integrate their video interview product with third-party ATS platforms. Workday's new recruiting platform integrates the HireVue video recruiting functionality and background checking from HireRight.

Factors to Consider when Selecting Recruiting Software

Clearly, there are many buying criteria to consider before investing in a recruiting platform. many of which are common to selecting software in other domains. For example, usability, mobility, and sophisticated reporting are all crucially important. However, there has been rapid evolution in this area over the last few years that have altered the center of gravity of these systems away from resume management or traditional ATS functionality. In this context, there are three important factors to consider which might not be quite so obvious.

Is it standalone or a component of talent management suite?

Recruitment is now a standard component of all talent management suites and the advantages of integration are quite clear. Newly hired candidates can be automatically directed to an onboarding portal to complete paperwork and subsequently to a Learning Management System for required training before starting work. But the really big advantage of a suite solution for large enterprises comes from the predictive power of talent data from all the different functions with which candidates and employees interact. For example, from a recruiting standpoint, a standalone system usually provides very good metrics around crucially important things like time-to-fill and cost-per-hire. But standalone systems are less adept at providing information about the quality of hires made. For that, it is essential to combine this data with data from the performance management system and even the succession management system to determine which candidate profiles produce the best employees over the long term. However, talent suites are expensive and can be inconsistent across modules. For smaller companies, a good ATS may be a an excellent investment to dramatically simplify the mechanics of the hiring process and find better talent at a moderate cost.

Does it leverage social data for better matching?

As we have seen, matching strategies have become more important than ever, and development of passive candidates by building profiles based on social data is a promising avenue towards closing the skill-matching gap. For example, if you are looking for a developer with a difficult-to-find skill set, you should in theory be able to search the social web to find developers in a specific geographical area who have exhibited strong competence by writing top-rated answers on StackOverflow, contributing to GitHub, etc., along with contact information.

What are the capabilities beyond standard resume management?

The core capabilities of a good ATS platform are well understood: bulk resume upload, duplicate elimination, task management and candidate communication capabilities, to name a few. But beyond these standard features, a broad range of new capabilities like video interviewing, candidate relationship management, assessments, and background checking are now being incorporated into ATS platforms and are perhaps more strategic than the more commoditized features of a standard ATS.