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A Guide to Assessing Applicant Tracking System Features & Vendors

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Picking the right ATS for your organization is not a decision you want to take lightly. Without the right applicant tracking system features to meet your hiring needs, you’ll have to patch things up as you go or even have to switch vendors altogether after a long string of frustrations. Fortunately, consultants such as Jim Schnyder, President of Recruiting Advisors, have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can guide organizations toward the right platform to best deal with their talent acquisition needs.

An ATAP board member and former ATS regional sales manager, Jim now helps companies select, configure and optimize their applicant tracking systems. Before moving on to consulting, he was in Talent Acquisition with PepsiCo for 17 years, with titles such as Sourcing Leader and Global Process and Tools Lead. During his time in the organization, he was the architect and project leader for PepsiCo’s Internal Transfer System, Employee Referral Program and implementation of the Avature system, a platform with which many Recruiter Advisors clients work.

Jim recently participated in a webinar hosted by ATAP titled “Modern Day ATS selection – Learn How to Get it Right”, in which he shared insight into what to keep an eye on if you’re in the market for a new solution. Read on to learn how to assess the features and functionalities your current vendor is offering you and spare yourself a radical change. If after doing so you decide to buy a new ATS, you’ll also find out how to draft a stellar RFP that’ll lead you to the right platform and ensure a successful implementation project.

Take a Close Look at Your Applicant Tracking System Features

According to Aptitude Research, one in four companies is looking to replace their ATS. But Jim wouldn’t be so quick to go for a talent acquisition transformation process.

“Do you need to make a complete system change? Do you have the internal capacity to do this? Depending on the size of your implementation, it could be a six-month evaluation and selection process and 12 to 18 months to implement a new ATS, so you have to think about what the real problem is, what’s driving this desired change.”

Jim Schnyder, President, Recruiting Advisors

To avoid juggling a new ATS implementation and carrying a full requisition load, Jim suggests three courses of action that your vendor could put into place to make the most of what is working for you right now:

  1. Optimize your current ATS features. Discuss new releases, functionalities and versions with your ATS account rep. Sometimes the latest version and add-ons that your vendor can provide will easily solve the problem. In addition to these enhancements, you can also hire a consultant to optimize the system you do have to eliminate unnecessary steps and improve user experience.
  2. Expand Your ATS Capabilities. Consider integrations that can take your current applicant tracking system to the next level. Also, don’t underestimate the power of what a hiring manager portal can do for your organization. This lighter version of the ATS can do wonders for this key stakeholder in the hiring process, giving them easy access to what they need to see and take action.
  3. Explore CRM Capabilities. Are you asking your ATS to do recruitment marketing or sourcing? Do you want to create talent communities? Maybe what you actually need is a flexible CRM to help you with these and other tasks. In this case, a candidate relationship management system can work hand in hand with your ATS and do a lot of the heavy lifting.

If you’ve covered all the bases and have decided that making the change is the way to go, here’s what Jim suggests you do at every step of the process.

See What the Market Offers and Evaluate Vendors

Time to roll up your sleeves and do your research. Jim’s a fan of Aptitude Research and other industry analysts for solid data and comparisons of applicant tracking system features. He strongly suggests focusing on your growth forecast when choosing a new vendor. You’ll want one that’ll accommodate your diverse hiring needs as your company evolves without having to look for a platform again once you hit that new mark.

“Do your homework. Use this as a springboard and a starting point. People are surprised by some of the names on the grid in terms of potential and performance, and then you have others that are specialists that do certain things and have plug-ins but may not be the full ATS that you’re looking for. Do your research.”

Jim Schnyder, President, Recruiting Advisors

Your safest bet is to start with an ATS Buyer’s Guide to get a sense of the features and functionalities your new vendor should provide according to your organization’s size and needs. Additionally, Jim strongly recommends doing demos, attending HR Tech and other industry conferences, networking and joining online groups.

The only caveat he mentions in this regard is that when you search for info on social media, you should double-check whose comments you’re reading so as not to get a lot of comments from sales reps pushing their product.

A trend that Jim detected is how organizations are looking to adopt a one-platform approach. When shopping for a new solution, they are increasingly considering vendors that offer CRM, ATS, onboarding and even talent management solutions such as internal mobility.

As well as clarity and visibility, this approach empowers data-driven decision-making that can produce better business outcomes. But it can also improve the experience for system users who only need to get familiar with one platform, as well as candidates who no longer have to input the same information in different systems at different moments of their journey.

“The new trend is onboarding. You put out a portal to allow people to do all their paperwork, their onboarding, to get to day one with all of the paperwork done. Internal mobility is like the internal job market, an ATS to give your people opportunities. When COVID hit and everyone was trying to redeploy workers, if they didn’t have IM, they were up a creek.”

Jim Schnyder, President, Recruiting Advisors

ATS RFP: What You Need To Know To Write a Stellar Request for Proposal

It’s now time to get information straight from the market. According to Jim, an RFP process is like having a survey for every vendor and their products. Companies do this all the time and vendors usually have teams to handle these operations – getting them to answer your questions shouldn’t be a problem.

About drafting your RFP, your IT or HR operations teams may already have a standard template, so you won’t have to start from scratch. Make sure you ask all the questions: verify your requirements as well as their applicant tracking system features and functionalities.

Don’t overlook the fact that it’s an excellent opportunity to ask questions about the vendor itself. Jim points outs that this is the moment to get info on their sales people-engineer ratio. This indicator will let you know if it’s a sales-driven organization (with a set product that they’re trying to sell) or an engineering-and-tech-driven organization (which invests back into the technology instead of into the sales team).

Another thing that should make a vendor stand out from the crowd is their willingness to help with the implementation. Depending on the size of your company and project, you’ll get a project manager, an implementation team and a configurations team to help either part-time or full-time. They should also have a project plan that covers steps on a week-by-week basis, the implementation itself and training your team to use the new platform. Of course, they’ll walk you through integrations and involve your IT team.

Once you have all your specific questions, create a document. Keep it simple: a spreadsheet for the vendor to fill out will do the trick. Sometimes these organizations have standard answers that they’re willing to share with you. Although checking these FAQs may sound like a good way to save time and get the information you need, go ahead and ask all the questions that your organization and your long-term talent strategy require.

Make sure you give all vendors a deadline to return the RFP, appoint a dedicated owner internally and open a clear communication channel so it’s easy to keep track as they come in. It’s also essential to give vendors the chance to participate in a Q&A session so that there is transparency about the questions and answers provided and nobody has an unfair advantage. After that, have the vendors do demos in specific timeframes and ask all those involved in the process to use scoresheets for every one of them.

The Final Bakeoff: Evaluating the Finalists

The moment of truth. Here’s when you should ask your top vendors to do an in-depth scenario-based demo.

Jim’s tips for a successful final assessment:

  • Limit the slides vendors can include in their presentation and state clear scenarios in which they can show end-to-end processes. Some useful journeys to see: cybersecurity persona, a person that comes through a referral and a person that comes in through the talent community. These standardized, varied situations level the playing field and give you a look at candidate experience.
  • Two questions can be your best friends: “What are we seeing? Is this beta or in production?” You want to see the live version. Make sure they’re showing you something that’s available, not something that’s still being tested and doesn’t have a precise release date.
  • Ensure your team scores each vendor immediately after the demo so they don’t forget any key details. If they sit through a demo, they need to make an assessment.

Sign-off and Implementation

Jim shared some final thoughts based on his years of experience as a salesperson. First of all, make sure you know who has the final say. You may have a preferred vendor, but leadership can be trumped by the IT team, the finance team or even influenced by other vendors for any number of reasons. For example, your current vendor may offer to add a CRM that goes with the ATS you have now for a fraction of the price (or even for free).

While it would make sense from the point of view of integrations and finance, that CRM may not offer the full range of features that your organization needs, so make sure you can make your case as to why you need the option that you know is going to be more beneficial down the line.

Whatever happens, don’t rush to inform all your vendors of your decision: things sometimes get caught up in Legal and there may be cybersecurity issues that bring that deal to a halt. Don’t say goodbye to your silver medallist too soon in case you end up needing them. Keep your first choice close and your second choice closer.

Once the implementation phase starts, make sure you brand your project so that leadership knows what it is and they allocate staff to it. Don’t leave out IT and operations as they need to be part of the project and understand it for it to be a success.

Also, involve subject matter experts and new users that can bring in fresh ideas that people who have been around for longer don’t usually have. The road to implementation is paved with good intentions and detours can happen, but if you map out your current and future processes, you won’t lose sight of where you’re going.

Last but not least, your vendor should act as a partner and work alongside you to reach a successful implementation. Remember that consultants such as Jim have what it takes to advise you, help you make the most of your applicant tracking system features and reach your organization’s goals.

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