Employers are looking for an easy-to-use applicant tracking system with recruiting dashboards that improves process. 

Richard Dawson

Richard Dawson from the Family Fued. “Survey Says!”

Last week, a Silicon Valley-based private equity firm contacted me. I was asked to participate in a survey about purchasing trends for applicant tracking systems. Do you have plans to implement video interviewing in 2014? Do you have plans to purchase technology to create a talent community? Will you be creating specific marketing campaigns for applicants? Cool stuff. But, I may hire 20 people this year. I don’t have the time, energy or resources to successfully implement and maintain any extraneous, non-critical technology. Frankly, I don’t have the need either. I’m not alone.

While clearly well intentioned, the private equity firm’s survey questions really got me thinking about the disparity among US employers and how different sized organizations have vastly different needs when it comes to implementing hiring software. Mega-employers like Facebook and Google with insatiable appetites for talent may have the resources to experiment with new talent tools here and there but my hunch is that smaller organizations are more concerned with the fundamentals like streamlining recruiting processes in order to remain competitive.

So with a little time on my hands last week, I set out to confirm my suspicions with an informal survey of my own. I went through our CRM system and randomly selected 150 records created this year (2013), specifically looking at the responses to the first discovery question that we ask every employer that contacts us, “What are you looking for out of your applicant tracking system?”.  To add context,  we attract small and medium-sized organizations (SMBs) with between 30 and 3000 employees.

Most Important Features of an ATS

Usability is #1

By far the most commonly expressed desire was for an easy-to-use platform. Employers want a platform that they can start using almost immediately without weeks of training. Unfortunately, it can hardly be debated that applicant tracking systems have become way too complicated and, for the most part, lazy when it comes creating positive user experiences. The technology that businesses use to run their recruiting programs have long been some of the least friendly, most difficult systems ever committed to code. If you work at a company that uses an applicant tracking system and you’ve ever had to do something that should be simple, like review an applicant or enter your interview feedback — then you’ve probably encountered some really annoying user experiences.

Part of the problem is that up to this point, vendors have been designing hiring software almost entirely for what we might call a “Power User”, i.e. people that are going to use it day in and day out, mostly recruiters. For a collaborative 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. Casual users don’t have the time or usage frequencies that foster retention of important features. The bottom-line is that employers care about usability now more than ever. They shop for it. The bar has been set. Usability is the killer feature.

Recruiting Process Improvement

The second most common request from employers was for an applicant tracking system that helps improve recruiting processes. My research found that employers want an applicant tracking system that provides control and visibility into all the micro-processes of the recruiting lifecycle from requisition approval management to offer approval management. Employers expect a system that integrates each phase of the hiring process (acquisition, assessment, interviewing, screening, reporting) so they are coordinated, connected, organized and online.

Until recently, applicant tracking systems touted complete customization as a key feature. For ultra- sophisticated employers with lots of functional and IT resources, customization may make sense . But, the majority of small and medium-sized employers really want an ATS that offers flexible, built-in workflows. They can’t (and won’t) spend 8-10 weeks customizing a system. Today, organizations are looking for systems that natively work the way recruiting works and that don’t force users to change fundamental behaviors.

Recruiting Dashboards

The third most popular response didn’t come as a surprise to me. Employers need recruiting dashboards to track progress and manage their applicant pipelines. Recruiting leaders have realized that you don’t have much in recruiting if you don’t have visibility and control. Sure, most applicant tracking systems store all the data associated with recruiting. But, today’s most sought after hiring platforms offer dashboards that surface important information so employers can spot bottlenecks and areas for improvement at a glance.

Managing and organizing recruiting is hard work. There are lots of inputs that create important data. Surfacing that data, the data that drives the decisions that drive hiring, is the key to running an effective recruiting program. It’s cool and exciting to talk about new features that attract applicants. But, it doesn’t matter how many applicants employers put in the process if they don’t have the visibility to manage the applicants they have.

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