How ATS Systems Transform the Hiring Process

ats system, ats systems, recruiting process, hiring process

Back nearly before the dawn of time, HR technology was simple. We used HRIS and ATS systems that were simple. Seven tabs over to add the letter H. Enter in your new hire’s information. Hit enter 4 times. Tab over 6 more to enter in S for salary entering in your new hires bi-weekly salary information.

My first ATS system wasn’t that much different. I worked at Target where our the selling features of my first HR technology were the simple breadcrumb structure I had to follow and that the hiring assessment was integrated with the application. I could see the basic candidate information at which time I printed off asking all my candidate interviews to quickly sign their now paper application. Interview notes were hand written on a separate form that I attached to the application. The mail box next to my office served as a secure repository for managers to hand off applications and their interviews including their scores and recommended next steps.

The History of the ATS System

The creation of the ATS system was out of a need for compliance serving as an online candidate application storage allowing me to organize, sort and relatively quick access candidate applications who completed everything via a kiosk and not at the library or online. This online process was handy especially as I navigated several HR audits by both corporate representatives and other government entities.

I think a lot of technology providers and developers don’t take the time to understand or appreciate the history of the ATS. It was built as a candidate application online repository for the purposes of organizing candidate information so that companies can maintain document storage compliance and not a collaborative, candidate engaged tool designed for anyone other than the HR leader or recruiter. It certainly was created as a talent funnel tool designed to attract candidates or a collaborative hiring technology designed manage the project management process that recruiting has now become.

I mention all these things because, for those of us with 10 or more years of experience working in HR and recruitment, this is the world we remember and know. It’s been the reality. I remember thinking how helpful an ATS system was because it made my file room so much easier to manage. My team spent what seemed like two days a quarter working in the storage room, packing and mailing employee files and records to go to the permanent storage facility. Not all of us were as lucky as me. Since I worked for a large company, we could send our all extra files to a centralized facility. However, I did work for another company that had a permanent metal container behind the building that served as our long term storage. I remember being horrified when during my first week I learned that it actually wasn’t secure. There was no lock and yet it was housing all our candidate applications, payroll registers, and terminated employee files. My first order of business was securing that same building with a lock. Even 15 years later that potential liability makes me cringe physically.

How Applicant Tracking Transforms the Hiring Process

Fast forward to present day. The hiring process and ATS system have come a long way. We know have integrated systems that push and pull information between HR technologies like an HRIS, sourcing technologies, job boards, onboarding technology as well as the ATS. I’ve said before that ATS systems are one note even calling them the selfie stick of HR. However, with so many new innovations, features, and variables that is changing.

    • The ATS System Serves as Your Virtual Store Front. Candidates are judging books by their cover starting first with your careers site and your hiring process which in large part involves your ATS. First impressions can make or break the hiring and recruiting process as well as the candidate experience.
    • The ATS Drives Productivity and Collaboration. In the present day, a good ATS system aids in the collaborative hiring process for all stakeholders as recruiters and HR we are providing support to. Using this technology, the hiring process should move more swiftly as different individuals can quickly provide candidate feedback, evaluate resumes and check in with the recruiter assigned to the job requisition and/or opening.
    • Integrated Systems Make for Happy HR Employees. Remember the old days when we had to manually enter in new hire information into a new separate system whether it was background or drug test information, HRIS or payroll information. Now that technology integration is more common place it makes for happier HR coordinators and managers. Position codes are assigned to the right job requisitions and candidate information like background checks and drug tests are available inside of the ATS itself. This information is pushed through to the other HR platforms. This is especially important for example, if you are hiring drivers with specific compliance projects like the DOT.
    • I-9’s and Other Documents Are Easier to Get a Handle On. At that same employer who had the unsecure storage container, their I-9’s were the stuff of nightmares. Now with ATS systems that allow for electronic hiring processes and onboarding, we can send offer letters and use I-9 e-verify systems to ensure that this information is verified, signed for and entered properly. Because no one likes a surprise visit to look at I-9’s.
    • Reporting, Reporting, Reporting. With tools and technology comes the ability to understand and identify potential problem areas in your hiring process and quickly address them. Depending on the technology you have, you spend less time developing charts and graphs for power points and creating Excel formulas and more time educating yourself and your leadership team on metrics and numbers that are driving results.

The Golden Years of the ATS May Be Over But Not For Everyone

Yes, we’ve come along way since the golden years of the ATS, but with still so many companies still relying on Google Spreadsheets and tools like Evernote to help manage the hiring and recruiting process especially for small business. We still have such a long way to go. Innovation in the HR technology space takes time as does the buying process. HR is rooted in process, compliance procedure, but it can also be a barrier to change. In order to really take advantage of some of the ATS system innovations, we need to dig in, get uncomfortable and get out of our own way.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


  1. Mark de Leeuw says

    I’m super glad you mention collaboration as one of the main reasons to start using an ATS. I am convinced that the modern recruiting process will come to rely on teamwork from all stakeholders combined with tech. Using an ATS to streamline this process is one thing, but changing the culture in your organization to support it is another.

    For one, the team must be open to the thought of sourcing and hiring together. If the employees are not convinced through the culture alone, referral bonuses and other incentives can be implemented. At Recruitee, we build our platform to suit the collaborative hiring process, and published a whitepaper to support those ideas. I would love to hear your thoughts about it, it’s available for free here:

    Thanks for sharing your insights.


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