Why We Don't Need To Reinvent The ATS

There are a lot of opinions, many conflicting, on how recruiting technology can help us innovate; how we find, attract, engage and nurture candidates in the recruiting process.

One idea I hear a lot is that we need to reinvent the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Make it more about relationships and less about process flows. Improve all the candidate-facing elements like job search and apply process. Build a better one from the ground up that’s more intuitive, candidate friendly and connects better with all your efforts to attract candidates to apply in the first place. If we can do one thing, this would be it.

But I pose this question: Is this really the best use of our time and energy? And is this where technology can make the greatest impact on talent acquisition?

What I Know About The ATS Today

Hey, don’t get me wrong, a better ATS would solve some problems. But in many cases, the ATS solves many more problems than most give it credit for. The ATS is not a mobile app built to do two or three things really well – it is an enterprise system built to be a full compliance and process flow manager for thousands upon thousands of applications.

Few remember the mess that recruiting was before the ATS, as it’s been a mainstay for a while now. Trust me, it’s helped make talent acquisition way better and more efficient, and it’s a system that recruiting organizations couldn’t live without. Plus, from a legal and compliance standpoint, it’s a savior and necessity.

But there have been a few consistent story lines around the ATS for the past few years:

Everyone Has Issues With Their ATS

Do you hate your ATS? A question asked a little too frequently during conference presentations, but mostly because presenters know they will get a resounding, “Yes!” But why do talent acquisition professionals get annoyed sometimes with it? Here are a few reasons:

  • Feature Creep: The ATS has become an albatross in terms of features. People have a hard time wrapping their minds around everything that an ATS does, even the features they use on a daily basis. Many of these features are sorely needed and were built because organizations requested them, but in the end it makes for a system that feels cumbersome to the average user.
  • Unfair Expectations: As new candidate attraction trends like mobile, social, candidate experience and employer branding entered the talent acquisition fray, many expected the ATS to help provide solutions for these trends. The problem is that the ATS was never built or meant to solve problems on the candidate attraction side. It was meant to provide order to the application and hiring processes and them measurable. In all fairness, it became the center of our recruiting universe over the past 10 years. But now, everyone expects it to remain so, despite a lot of shifting needs in a more interaction-based and data-driven environment.
  • It’s Not “New” Anymore: Let’s face it, the established ATS vendors have lost their luster, and that comes with a more mature market. What felt innovative in the past decade feels less so now. And with more competitors in the space, it feels like every ATS or talent management suite has the same features (even though they don’t … more on this in Part II).

Switching Your ATS Doesn’t Make You Happier

I’ve spoken with a number of companies that are undergoing ATS switches in order to gain more value from their talent acquisition process. And in many cases, it’s a bad experience.

  • First, it takes a much too long to implement and switch everything over (we’re talking a year if not more). This isn’t a knock on the ATS – it;’s understandable, as these systems are compiling a ton of information and require thoughtful  processes in order to achieve what it’s meant to.
  • Second, many don’t realize the unique differences among solutions. Not every ATS has the same features (although we seem to think they do), and a crucial feature you had before isn’t always available when you switch. It’s left many angry at the sales teams for not being transparent, but really, all the key functions that an ATS helps with aren’t easily replicated.

What Next? 

So people here think: If lots of people have trouble with their ATS and switching to other established vendors doesn’t improve the process, why don’t we reinvent what an ATS is? Watch out for the next installment of my discussion of the current and future ATS.