Shane Gray
4 min readApr 30, 2019


Do recruitment teams need more than an applicant tracking system to work effectively?

Over the last 4 years building and selling a recruitment marketing platform I remember countless times in the sales process where we were told something like this…

“We are going to wait to choose/buy/implement a new ATS before we do anything else”

I always felt this missed the point, a new ATS was rarely going to solve for the issue of attracting and engaging more of the right talent.

Indeed in some cases it was going to make it even harder. Any delay in improving this part of the recruitment cycle was costing the company real money. So why wait?

Efficiency versus Effectiveness…

You could easily paraphrase Peter Drucker and say there is nothing more wasteful than getting more efficient at tracking the applications from the people you do not want to hire. What you should be focussing on is becoming more effective by getting applications from the people that you need.

Sounds harsh, but this is not what most ATS were designed to do. They focus on efficiency, to help you do application processing ‘right’ rather than help you do the ‘right’ things.

They help you track and reject the people you don’t want more efficiently. And truth be told most of them do a good job of this.

The “War for Talent” era saw large amounts of money invested to make it easier for candidates to apply with little lead qualification in place.

Mobile apply solutions for legacy ATS, ‘one-click’ apply solutions from job boards combined with advertising networks that became financially incentivized to deliver an increasing volume of applications all contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of candidates making it into the ATS.

Sadly only 12% of applicants made it to interview and less than 4% were offered a position. This left 96% of candidates in the ATS requiring human effort to disposition them.

As a result many of these systems became optimized for this type of workflow.

Efficiency versus Effectiveness…

Limited ways to do things differently meant that organizations found themselves using their ATS for lead capture. All this combined to increase the application processing burden on the recruitment team to unmanageable levels.

To make matters worse for some EOP and OFCCP also defined how candidates needed to be attract or screened which put further pressure on the ATS to make these activities easier.

When you use your ATS to get to know everyone via an application you need an efficient system to disposition people who do not match requirements.

All in all more focus on getting efficient at the things that were not creating value (i.e. quality hires) for the recruitment team.

And the recruiters started to run into problems. Too much time spent processing the wrong people meant they didn’t have enough time to focus their skills on the right people.

“There is no single piece of technology that’s more universally despised throughout recruiting’s rank and file than applicant tracking systems” — Matt Charney

“It takes too many clicks to do something”, “I can’t search it easily for candidates”, the list of complaints went on and on.

Some requests were the same as asking a screwdriver to be a swiss-army knife but the frustration was real. The activities needed to hire the right people had changed in scope.

As sourcers and recruiters started to behave more like marketers they found they had been given the wrong tools for the job. Their ATS was not as adaptable as they would have preferred particularly when there was no money available to supplement it with additional tools.

Blame the data model not the ATS…

This lack of flexibility, particularly in legacy ATS systems is a result of the traditional requisition driven approach to building recruitment software. Most ATS use jobs or requisitions as the core of their data model.

The focus on jobs not people is appropriate for the compliance driven requisition processing tasks currently at hand but less so for building relationships.

And therein lies the rub…

Marketing and relationship management are people centric activities. A prospect or a candidate should be the main object in this data model. However, if you ask the people who build these things they will tell you that you can’t re-architect to do this well quickly.

Ultimately for most organisations this will result in a shift in focus to a recruitment marketing or CRM platform for the majority of talent attraction and relationship management activities.

Only time will tell how quickly the system of record shifts to the CRM platform that contains 10 times the volume of candidate records. However inevitably the larger database wins over time.

If you want your organization to win at talent attraction, the smartest play in recruitment right now is helping your company to get to know everyone you can. Do your level best to get to know all your careers site and job board visitors with as little friction as possible.

In many cases you can start the “let’s get to know each other phase” with as little as an email or a phone number.

Make it easy for people to show you their interest without touching your ATS.

Then all you have to do is figure out the ones you would like to hire. These are the people you will let in to the ATS. The really good news is you will end up hiring them at more than 10 times the rate of new traffic.

If you get really good at this you won’t have to worry about getting more efficient at getting rid of people ever again.

But you are going to need more than an applicant tracking system to do it well.



Shane Gray

A veteran of technology business development and strategy with the uncanny ability to distill a complex issue into something that is clearly understandable.