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    HR tech | 11 min read

    Complete Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Guide

    Applicant tracking systems, or ATS, have become an essential tool for many businesses. It allows them to manage the recruitment process more efficiently and effectively.

    In this guide, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of what an ATS is and how it can be used to streamline the hiring process. We’ll also discuss some of the key features you should look for when choosing an ATS. So, if you’re looking to improve your recruitment process, read on!

    What is an applicant tracking system?

    An applicant tracking system is a recruitment software application that helps businesses manage the recruitment process. It’s designed to streamline how companies collect, sort, and track job applications. ATS can be used to track all aspects of the recruitment process, from initial job postings to final applicant selections.

    How do applicant tracking systems work?

    There is no singular ATS that all businesses use. Applicant tracking systems work in different ways depending on the specific software. However, most applicant tracking systems share some common features and functions. These common features include:

    Data storage

    Perhaps the most foundational function of an ATS is the storage of applicant information. ATS software is designed to collect and organize applicant data. This data can include everything from contact information, work history, resumes, and cover letters. Applicant tracking systems typically allow employers to search this data using keywords or other criteria. This makes it easier to find qualified applicants when needed.


    Being able to effectively screen potential applicants is vital when handling large numbers of applications which means it's important that your applicant tracking system has robust screening capabilities. These features should include:

    Smart-screening questions

    Smart-screening questions are mandatory questions within your application that enable you to automatically reject unqualified applicants.

    Eligibility parameters

    Eligibility parameters help you identify applicants who meet the minimum requirements for the position like "years of experience" or "education level."

    Skill testing

    Some applicant tracking systems have built-in tests that allow you to assess an applicant’s skills and abilities. These can be helpful for positions that require specific technical skills.

    Resume ranking functionality

    Another vital function that you can expect from your ATS is the ability to rank resumes. Applicants who have applied for a job through an ATS will have their resumes automatically stored in the system. This software will then use predetermined criteria to rank each resume. This criterion can be based on how well the resume stacks up to the job description and requirements.

    The ATS will also consider things like the applicant's work experience, education, and skills. By ranking resumes, the ATS can help you quickly identify the most qualified applicants for a job. This is a huge time saver as you no longer have to manually review each and every resume that comes in.


    Any decent tracking software should provide you with some basic tracking functionality. This includes things like the ability to track how many resumes have been received, how many candidates have been contacted, and how many interviews have been scheduled. This information can be extremely valuable, as it can help you gauge the effectiveness of your recruiting efforts. For example, if you're not receiving many qualified resumes, you may need to adjust your job postings. Or, if you're finding that most applicants are rejected after the first interview, you may want to reconsider your interviewing process.


    Finally, you can expect your ATS to automate some of the more tedious and time-consuming aspects of recruiting. This can include everything from posting job openings on your website to sending automatic email responses to applicants.

    By automating these tasks, your ATS can save you a considerable amount of time and effort. This allows you to focus on more important things, like meeting with applicants and making hiring decisions.

    What are the benefits of using an ATS?

    Employers and recruiters have been utilizing ATS for years. The best applicant tracking systems have several key benefits:


    Perhaps the main advantage of using an ATS is that it can save you a considerable amount of time and effort. By automating repetitive tasks, an ATS can free up your time so that you can focus on more important things like meeting with applicants and making hiring decisions.

    Improved organization

    Another benefit of using an ATS is that it can help you to better organize your recruitment process. An ATS can store all your applicant information in one centralized location, which makes it easy to keep track of things. Additionally, an ATS can automate things like job postings and email responses which further help to improve how you organize your hiring efforts. 

    Higher quality hires

    Because an ATS can rank resumes and track applicant information, it can help you to identify the best candidates for a job. This, in turn, can lead to higher-quality hires.

    Increased applicant engagement

    Finding great applicants isn't worth much if you can't get them to apply for your open positions. However, an ATS can help with this by automatically posting your job openings to multiple job boards and websites. This helps to increase the visibility of your open positions and, as a result, can lead to increased applicant engagement.

    Improved compliance

    If you're using an ATS, you can be sure that your recruitment process is compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. This is because an ATS can help you to avoid things like discrimination and applicant privacy issues.

    Keep up with the competition

    An applicant tracking system is almost mandatory if you want to keep up with the competition. This is because more and more employers are using an ATS to streamline their recruitment process. Failure to use an ATS will mean you'll likely be at a disadvantage when competing for top talent, and it can close you off from great hiring opportunities.

    Improve efficiency

    One of the main goals of using an applicant tracking system is to improve the efficiency of your recruitment process. An ATS can help you to achieve this by automating repetitive tasks and storing applicant information in one centralized location. This makes it easy to find the information you need when you need it, which can save you a lot of time and effort.

    Reduced costs

    Finally, you can expect to see a reduction in costs when using an applicant tracking system. As you improve efficiency and cut out much of the unnecessary busy work, you free up time and money that can be spent on more important things like training your staff.

    What are the features of an ATS?

    When it comes to applicant tracking systems, there is a wide range of features you can expect. The specific features offered by an ATS will vary depending on the system you're using. However, some common features are offered by most applicant tracking systems, including:

    Resume screening

    A feature you can expect with just about any ATS is the ability to screen resumes. This will allow you to filter out resumes that don't match the criteria you need. This filter may be done based on the job description or other screening factors like smart-screening questions.

    Why this matters: When advertising a role, it's very possible to receive dozens, if not hundreds, of applications. Going through each application manually would be hugely time-consuming. Applicant tracking systems give you the ability to screen resumes quickly and easily. Removing applications that aren't a good match right away means you can focus your time on the most qualified applicants.


    A keyword feature allows you to parse through resumes and identify which ones contain the keywords you're looking for. These features also allow you to use negative keywords to avoid looking at resumes that include a keyword you aren't interested in.

    Why this matters: Many applicant tracking systems now use some form of artificial intelligence (AI) to help screen resumes. However, these systems are still only as good as the keywords you input. This means that it's still important for you to carefully consider the keywords you're using. You'll want to use both positive and negative keywords to make sure you're getting the most accurate results possible.


    A filtering feature lets you narrow down the pool of applicants by specifying certain criteria. For example, you may want to only look at applicants who can work nights or who live within a certain radius of the job location.

    Why this matters: The filtering feature is one of the most powerful features offered by applicant tracking systems. It's great for categorizing types of applications as well as finding the very best match for a job opening.

    Automated emails

    One feature that applicant tracking systems offer is the ability to automate email communications. This means you can set up automatic responses after you receive a resume, when an applicant moves to the next stage of the process, and so on.

    Why this matters: Automated email communications can help to keep your applicants updated on the status of their applications as well as the next steps they should expect. This can be a great way to improve communication and keep your applicants informed throughout the process.

    Advanced analytics

    Some applicant tracking systems also offer advanced analytics features. This can include things like being able to see what sources your best applicants are coming from or predicting how long it will take to fill a role.

    Why this matters: Advanced analytics can be a helpful way to get insights into your recruiting process. This information can be used to improve your process as well as make more informed decisions about your hiring.

    CRM software

    Many applicant tracking systems have a CRM (customer relationship management) software built into the system. This allows you to engage your potential applicants directly via the system rather than needing to rely on external tools like email.

    Why this matters: CRM software can be a great way to keep track of your potential applicants and engage with them directly. This can help you build relationships and keep your applicants interested in the role and ensures communication lines never fall through the cracks. The last thing you want is to miss out on a great applicant because you forgot to respond to an email.

    Applicant sourcing

    An applicant sourcing feature allows you to retain information and data from potential candidates even if they don't get offered the role for which they originally applied. This allows you to grow your talent pool and contact individuals for future roles that may be a better match.

    Why this matters: Not every good applicant will get the job. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hire them later for a different role. Applicant sourcing features allow you to build a pool of potentially great candidates who may be perfect for an upcoming position. These tools are also built with compliance in mind since data storage is a sensitive issue.


    The best ATS should be able to integrate with your existing HR software. This allows you to have all your applicant data in one place and makes it easy to keep track of.

    Why this matters: Having a system that can integrate with your other HR software is important for keeping all of your applicant data in one place. This can make it easier to keep track of and ensure that you're not duplicating data entry.


    Finally, many applicant tracking systems offer an onboarding feature. This means that you can use the system to help new hires get acclimated to their new role and company. This can include things like collecting new hire paperwork, setting up training programs, or sending out welcome emails.

    Why this matters: Onboarding is an important part of the recruiting process and can help ensure new hires are successful in their roles. Having a system that can help with this can be a great way to improve your onboarding process.

    Drawbacks of using an ATS

    While ATS software is a fantastic tool to help recruiters and employers bring in talent, there are a few potential drawbacks to using applicant tracking systems.


    The cost of the software, as well as the subscription fees, can add up quickly. Additionally, applicant tracking systems can require a significant time and resource investment to set up and maintain.


    Applicant tracking systems can be complex and require a certain level of technical expertise to set up and use. This can make it difficult for small businesses and startups to get started using applicant tracking systems.

    Inaccurate results

    Algorithms are not perfect. When your applicant tracking system uses a less reliable algorithm to select applicants, you may mistake a well-qualified candidate for a less qualified one. This can lead to good applicants slipping through the cracks and a potentially bad candidate experience.

    Lack of human touch

    Because ATS programs are automated, they lack the human touch that is so important in the hiring process. This can lead to a feeling of disconnection between applicants and employers. This could also lead applicants to feel disconnected from your business. Similarly, you may end up with an applicant who is good on paper but clashes with the ethos and culture of your company.

    ATS is becoming more and more commonplace in the recruiting landscape. However, it's important to be aware of the potential drawbacks of using applicant tracking systems before deciding whether to use one or not.

    How accurate are applicant tracking systems?

    As it stands, ATS is very accurate when you account for just how much data they work through. They can help narrow down an applicant pool to a manageable list of qualified candidates in a relatively short amount of time. However, there are a couple of caveats.

    Firstly, they struggle to differentiate between similar candidates. This is because ATS are automated systems that rely on algorithms to sort and select candidates. These algorithms are not perfect and can sometimes make mistakes. This can lead to good applicants being overlooked or even rejected outright.

    Secondly, ATS are not human and cannot replace the personal touch that is so important in recruiting. They can help narrow down an applicant pool and save time, but they should not be used as a replacement for human interaction. They cannot interview applicants, nor can they assess competence or character.

    Finally, the results you get are only as good as the data you input. This means that applicant tracking systems can only be as accurate as the information you give them. If there are errors in your data, the applicant tracking system will make errors in its assessment.

    For these reasons, it's important to use applicant tracking systems as one part of your recruiting process. They can be valuable tools, but they should not be the only tool you use. Applicant tracking systems should be used in conjunction with other methods, such as personal networking, referrals, and job boards.

    How to ensure success when implementing an ATS

    As it should now be clear, there are enormous benefits to using applicant tracking systems, as long as you set yourself up for success. 

    Recognize why you need an ATS

    What is the exact problem you need to solve? Success will come when the applicant tracking system compliments your current recruitment strategy. Trying to fix what isn't broken will only lead to frustration.

    Get buy-in from all stakeholders

    An applicant tracking system can only be as successful as the people using it. This means that you'll need to get buy-in from everyone who will be using the system. This includes managers, recruiters, and even the IT team.

    Have a plan for data migration

    An applicant tracking system will only be as good as the data you put into it. This means you'll need to have a plan for migrating your data into the system. This can be a time-consuming process, but it's essential for success.


    Incorporating an applicant tracking system can be the difference between a successful hiring process and a frustrating one. They can save you time and money while also improving the quality of your hires. Want an applicant tracking system that can transform your hiring workflow and help you source the best available applicants? Learn more about Workstream Hiring.

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    Workstream is a hiring platform that helps employers get 4x the number of qualified applicants. The world's most trusted brands use Workstream to optimize job board postings, automate screening and interview scheduling, communicate via text message, and streamline the onboarding/training process. See what all the buzz is about by scheduling a demo or email us info@workstream.is!

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