We think it’s great news that the job market is hot. It means people have jobs and are able to support themselves and their families. For companies, a competitive job market can also pose a challenge. Finding and hiring truly qualified talent is time-consuming. It requires tremendous focus and work from recruiters and hiring teams. When a bad hire is made, it’s expensive. The average cost of a bad hire is 2 – 3 times that of the original hire.

It’s clear a system is needed to prevent bad hires, and enable perfect-fit hiring practices.

Statistics from a LinkedIn survey showed that out of 130 million people seeking jobs online, only 13 million applied to a job posting. This means there are so many candidates yet to be reached.

It also means recruiters and hiring teams need help to expand their reach and find diamond-in-the-rough candidates. An ATS is the secret to accessing this untapped well of talent.

To meet the new demands of hiring in the current job market, software called applicant tracking systems (ATS) have been developed.

The purpose of an ATS

An applicant tracking system automates human resources functions. It also serves as a valuable central database for cover letters, resumes, and previous applicant data. An ATS has the ability to be a recruiter’s virtual assistant guiding candidates through the hiring process, proactively providing updates about the hiring pipeline, and simplifying the recruiting process for human resource professionals.

The benefits of an ATS

An applicant tracking system (ATS) relieves much of the repetitive manual work involved in attracting, engaging, and onboarding new hires. The benefit of an ATS is major time-savings, task organization, and automation.

Automation is a recruiter’s best friend because it takes frustrating tasks off the to-do list, which can boost morale.

When you have more time to spend on cultivating relationships and making candidate-focused decisions, recruiting is more productive and rewarding.

ATS: Free vs. Paid

An ATS may sound like the holy-grail of hiring tools, but there are a lot of options to choose from in an ATS system. Making the right choice for your specific business is your next step. One major distinction among ATS platforms is free vs. paid.

Free ATS: A Natural First Choice

Of course, a free ATS seems like an obvious choice, especially for small businesses with a lean budget. Having the option to implement an ATS for free is a huge benefit, so a company can get the hang of implementing HR automation.

Furthermore, small organizations simply might not need the advanced features of a comprehensive, paid ATS.

Saving money on a tool like an ATS can be very appealing in the short-term. Usually, budgets and resources for software tools are dedicated to marketing, sales, and operations. The HR department is often overlooked, and choosing a free system can be the result.

However, before your team selects a free tool it’s important to know about all your options. We’re going to look at what you could you be missing if you select a free tool. It might seem that all ATS platforms have the same functionality, but taking a closer look will be absolutely valuable down the line, for HR and the larger organization.

In this article, we’ll help you explore whether the cost savings from choosing a free-level ATS is worth the paid features you sacrifice. There’s no right or wrong answer, the key is to be aware of the features of each platform you’re considering, and the implications of both.

The Free ATS

The free version of an applicant tracking system will usually have the following features and benefits:

  • A limited number of job postings allowed
  • Central candidate database
  • Ability to schedule interviews
  • Can link job postings to your company website or careers page
  • Communication features to contact candidates
  • Free for a limited number of employees

The Paid ATS

Paid versions of applicant tracking systems are often significantly more robust. You will find that they have at least the following:

  • High (or unlimited) number of job postings
  • Company employee count has no limit
  • Detailed reporting options available on candidate data
  • Job postings sent to job boards globally
  • Custom branding on offer letters, job postings
  • Integrations into company software (payroll, HR)
  • CRM functionality
  • API access for developers
  • Reporting on Compliance & EEO
  • Extensive customer support and training

Guiding questions for choosing a free vs. paid ATS include:

What is your company size?

If your company is small, a free ATS could be the best place to start.

Is your company growing?

Your company may be small, but if it is growing rapidly, a paid ATS is likely the best fit. When a company grows rapidly this places a unique strain on HR and recruiting staff members. A full-featured ATS will help avoid burnout.

Is your company in a specialized niche?

Companies in healthcare and technology, for example have demanding hiring needs. The skills required for these industries are incredibly specific, and candidates are hard to find. You will need an ATS that has all the bells and whistles to access that talent pool quickly.

Are you focused on fostering your employer brand and company culture?

Employer branding and company culture has never been more important. Candidates have many options to choose from in terms of roles, so creating a professional and inviting experience right from the initial job application is crucial. Once candidates are hired, onboarding needs to be on-point and attentive. This sets the new hire off on the right foot so they have a high chance of becoming a loyal veteran to your organization.

Which ATS Leve Makes Sense for Your Hiring?

After a review of the features and questions listed above, you may realize that the free level of an ATS is the right fit for your recruiting program. Knowing your organization well enough to understand that a free ATS is the right level is strategic in itself.

Investing in a tool that has features you don’t need is not a wise use of resources.

You might come to realize that you’re struggling with your current ATS and need those advanced features that come with a paid ATS. For example, as recruiting teams grow, the ability to automate resume review and interview scheduling is absolutely essential for scaling hiring efforts.

The True Price of a Free ATS?

Another key consideration is whether a free ATS could be costing you candidates and new hires. 

For example, what if your current ATS doesn’t provide cross-channel posting to job boards? In that case, you are significantly reducing your talent pool by only posting jobs on your website. In today’s talent market, candidates are tough to reach, so reduced ability for automated job posting has major consequences to your talent pipeline and eventual company growth.

If your company is in a fast-growing industry with niche skills required, a free ATS could also cost you candidates. For example, in healthcare, the job market has exploded yet the skills requirements are specific. To accurately and adequately fill your recruitment pipeline with candidates, you need a full-featured ATS.

A paid ATS will allow you not only to reach but target the best talent for your company.

Our Best Advice: Be Clear What You Expect Out Of Your ATS

When looking for an ATS you’ll be the most satisfied if you put in the work upfront to clearly define your requirements.

When reviewing both paid and free ATS platforms, assess them with unbiased eyes, ask pointed questions on product demos, and gauge which platform could truly serve your company’s recruiting needs.

It can be easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of technology and choose software that might not fit your use cases. On the other hand, it’s risky to choose a free ATS without knowing what it could cost your organization in time and talent. Review the guiding questions in this article and be a discerning consumer as you choose your ATS.

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