Recently, I was asked to provide my predictions of the top 3 trends in the mid-market applicant tracking software industry that all HR executives and corporate recruiting leaders should be aware of going into 2011.  My picks are based on conversations with 100’s of HR executives and corporate recruiters around the US and UK. If I had to sum up my predictions in one line it would be: People are ready for easier to use applicant tracking software that requires less customization, less time to activate and less training.

Usability is the new killer feature.

It can hardly be debated that most applicant management technology is way too complicated and for the most part, pretty thoughtless when it comes to user experience. The legacy ATS platforms that many businesses use to run their corporate recruiting programs are some of the least friendly, most difficult systems ever committed to code.

Up to this point, vendors have designed recruiting software almost entirely for what we might call a “Power User”, i.e. corporate recruiters that use it every day. For a business process like recruiting where 90% of the users don’t hire all of the time and therefore don’t use recruiting software day in and day out, this design focus leads to 10% user adoption. Standard users don’t have the time or usage frequencies that foster retention of complex features.

But, there is good news and yes, my first prediction; the feature arms race is over. Usability is the new killer feature. Organizations are demanding better user experience and some vendors are finally responding and acknowledging that there are other critical users of recruiting software like hiring managers and even applicants.  Every company sourcing new applicant tracking software should make usability the focus of the buying process.

I would call this a return to simplicity but…

I would have called this prediction, “a return to simplicity”, but as far as I can tell, applicant tracking software has never really known simplicity. 95% of the buyers that I speak with are looking for an “easy-to-use” system that offers them the capabilities to improve process, without headaches.  At the end of the day, users don’t care about the technology. What counts is what it does for them.

What we’ve learned is that when recruiting software achieves something valuable without being distracting or requiring hours of training, only then will it live up to its potential (legacy vendors call this concept “return on investment”). Let’s face it: it’s usually harder to do simple things exceedingly well, than to just pile up features. The 80/20 rule applies here too: do well what 80 percent of your users do all the time, and you’ll create a good user experience that promotes user adoption. That’s the goal isn’t it?

Now that you have users, metrics can be reported, not invented.

In the past, users of legacy ATS platforms have been forced to enter data manually to create reports in poorly conceived reporting features. Ask any corporate recruiter what they loathe about giving status and they’ll tell you that creating reports on a Friday afternoon for the staffing meeting on Monday is one of the worst things about their jobs. Well, 2011 will be the year that smart vendors will offer advanced recruiting metrics dashboards and slick reporting functionality to provide corporate recruiting departments the ability to drive business decisions. And, it will become a heck of a lot easier too.

This prediction dovetails into my first two. As applicant tracking systems become more intuitive and generally more ‘usable’, user adoption rates will increase enterprise-wide.  With more users on the platform, corporate recruiters will automatically gather more complete data that will help to identify problems and help to drive more informed decisions. New programs will not only be easier to use (you won’t need a degree in ATS reporting), they’ll also produce production quality reports that will be ready for the conference with a click of a button.

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