How To Use an Applicant Tracking System for Your Small Business


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An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software package designed to help businesses track applicants and streamline the process of bringing in new employees. The features of an ATS vary somewhat and can include everything from handling job requisitions, recruiting and tracking applicants, setting up interviews, and managing resumes.

Some may include features for organizing candidates into categories, assigning them to different divisions, and more. Some solutions come with onboarding features, which help companies gather all important documents associated with new hires and handle all necessary communications.

From the sound of it, it seems like these systems are purely designed for mid to large-size companies, but there are many solutions that are designed to help smaller companies manage new hires.

Key Takeaways

  • Having a good ATS for keeping track of applicants generally improves your success rate when you’re trying to find the highest-caliber employees.
  • An ATS helps solve many of the problems associated with the hiring process, you can miss the best people quite simply if you don’t have a system for organizing them.
  • A good ATS has the ability to track applicants through the entire hiring process so you can identify which ones stand out and for the right reasons.

How Does an ATS Help Your Small Business?

Woman holding a magnifying glass up to a laptop screen.

First, having a good ATS for keeping track of applicants generally improves your success rate when you’re trying to find the highest-caliber employees. You can rely on your email system for keeping a record of candidates, but when dealing with any sort of volume of applicants, you might quickly run into trouble.

With an ATS you’ll have a single source of truth for storing information about your candidates, greatly reducing the risk of losing applicants while simultaneously being able to screen people to make sure you only get the cream of the crop.

While you need to fill positions, you may discover that you have jobs that just sit either unlisted or unfilled for months at a time. You can miss the best people quite simply because you don’t have a system for organizing them. While you may be able to handle this manually, as you already know this takes time, which you’d likely rather spend on other aspects of your business. An ATS helps solve many of the problems associated with the hiring process.

ATSs allow you to organize and search through resumes by skills, education, availability, and more. Many systems enables you to create a custom career page for employees and customized job pages for each posting quickly.

It’s also a truth that resumes come in many shapes and sizes. While their uniqueness may help some catch your attention, they may not be the very best candidates. With an ATS, you can often convert the resumes into a standard format to be able to identify those with the skills and experience that you need to find.

You have the option of creating custom emails for tracking and generating automated responses to applicants so that they know that their application has been received which may, in turn, reduce time-consuming follow-up calls. Also, fundamental to a good ATS is the ability to track applicants through the entire hiring process so you can identify which ones stand out and for the right reasons.

Why Might Your Business Need an ATS?

Illustration of an office setting with four employees evaluating applicants.

The following questions can help you identify whether you could use an ATS:

  • Do you have a high staff turnover rate?
  • Do you spend hours digging through large stacks of resumes?
  • Do you often find you have trouble filling positions with qualified people?
  • Do you need a hiring site for your company but lack the resources to build one yourself?
  • Do you need a way of looking at data generated by large numbers of applicants?
  • Are you having a hard time keeping records of existing resumes and having trouble getting them to the right people in your company in a timely fashion?
  • Do you have a database where you can search for existing resumes and applicants?

If you answered yes to any or several of these questions, ATS might be the right solution for your business.

What to Consider When Choosing an ATS for Your Business?

  • Who Is Involved in the Hiring Process?
  • Features
  • Cost
  • Customizability
Three individuals seated around a table with one shaking the hand of the other.

While there are many things that you might want to consider when choosing an ATS, one of the main areas you want to cover is the people who’ll be using the system.

Who Is Involved in the Hiring Process?

  • Hiring Managers

Hiring managers are typically the ones who’ll be managing new human resources (HR). This can cover everything from replacing employees who have left, to handling an increased workload when the business grows.

  • Decision Makers & Managers

In larger organizations, there likely will be those who’ll need to approve new positions or requisitions. In many cases, they’re also involved in the hiring decision.

  • Recruiters

After a position has been approved to be filled, either a person within the organization or an external recruiting company will begin trying to find people who fit the specific needs of an opening.

Recruiters are typically directly involved with reviewing and screening applicants as they provide resumes and applications. Recruiters work directly with hiring managers to schedule interviews.

  • Interviewers

These are current employees who are involved with interviewing candidates. These can include the hiring manager, but also maybe team members who are particularly adept at evaluating skills and qualifications. They’ll provide feedback to the hiring manager as to whether a person is a good fit.

  • Applicants

Of course, one of the main participants in the hiring process is the candidate or applicant themself, who answer postings for the job or are recruited.

  • Human Resources

The HR department works with hiring managers and upper management to help negotiate salary and benefits. They’re the group that is typically most deeply involved with the onboarding and orientation of new employees.

What Are the Features To Consider?

Illustration of a magnifying glass over a potential applicant from a group of four applicants.
  • Management of Applicants Throughout the Entire Hiring Process

Typically, applicant tracking keeps a record of various aspects of the application process. This means everything from creating requisitions, posting job listings, assigning workflows, and tracking applicants throughout the interview and hiring process. It can also include automated background checks and the onboarding of new employees.

  • Integration With Email

This is typically a method of managing communications with new and existing applicants by being able to use a central system for communication. While it may be possible to manage everything in an email account, a good ATS handles the organization of communications with applicants in one place.

  • Ability to Schedule Interviews

A good ATS has a strong calendar system, which not only handles the arrangement of interviews within easy-to-manage blocks, but it also may include interviewing software, which enables you to do remote interviews using existing video technology. These may work directly within the application. Within good systems, you can apply ratings to candidates as well during this process.

  • Calendar Management

Keeping track of interview options for scheduling time with candidates can become overwhelming if you let it. With ATS software, you should be able to manage your calendar, and ideally sync it up with your other business calendars, such as Google Calendar or Outlook.

  • Database of Candidates

Sometimes, you interview people who may be excellent but they may not be an ideal fit for a specific position that’s open. You still want to be able to keep a record of these people should new opportunities open in the future.

In time, it can be possible to accumulate hundreds or more resumes. With a good database, you should be able to search for people who have ideal skills for requisitions you may have.

  • Integrate Your System With Other Software Applications

Some applicant tracking systems work as standalone apps. This can be great, but typically you may have other software that you’d like to integrate with it, ranging from GSuite, Outlook, Salesforce, or other customer relationship management (CRM) software. In some cases, you might want to make sure that your system can transfer information to these other applications.

  • Include Prescreening Questions in the Application Process

Interviewing is time-consuming. You may get many applications from people who simply don’t have the minimum criteria necessary to be a good fit for your company.

You can filter out many people who don’t meet these criteria by having a few basic screening questions that a user must answer before the resume is forwarded to your human resources department.

In the best systems, you can specify questions that are disqualifying, but others have criteria that may not be necessary but are “nice to have.” An ATS that uses prescreening questions can save you a lot of wasted time.


You need to consider the cost. Some applicant tracking systems use a monthly fee, others charge per applicant, which is typically $4 to $7 per employee per month.

If you’re a larger enterprise-level business, your fees can drop a bit per person because you may end up paying much more. In some cases, you need to consider the cost of installation and implementation of the system.


Is it customizable? For larger businesses, this may be more necessary than for smaller ones, but even smaller businesses may wish to manage workflows in a manner that makes sense to their individual organization.

You need to be sure that the software can scale as the company grows and how easy it is to use this system. Remember that not everyone using it will necessarily be technically adept, so usability and user experience of the design is important when making your decision

What To Do Next

One of the hardest aspects of human resources management is attracting, hiring, and onboarding the very best employees. A good ATS can make the difference between letting positions sit unfilled for months or ending up with less-than-ideal candidates. This guide should give you some of the basic tools for evaluating this software and help you make the best choice for your company’s future success.

Check out our list of the Best Applicant Tracking Software. Find the best ATS that has robust reporting capabilities to ensure you can use your recruiting data effectively by posting openings to multiple job boards, onboarding new hires, and keeping track of employee skills and certifications.

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