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How to Configure an ATS for Success

By Jason Berkowitz

By: Jason Berkowitz

After months of evaluating Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), the decision of which one to select may seem like the end of a very tiring journey. However, selecting the ATS is only the beginning of the journey. Decisions around setup and configuration are, in many cases, more important than the decision of which tool to purchase.

Whether you use an outside consultant or configure the system yourself, here are a few tips to consider as you begin the configuration process:

Begin with reporting in mind

One of the key benefits of a well-implemented ATS is the ability to produce reports. If the system is set up properly, these reports can be used to identify process inefficiencies, areas of overproduction or waste, and lost time due to process-step handoffs between different parties. The key here is to configure the system properly to allow these reports to produce meaningful data. For example, each distinct decision point in the hiring practice needs a corresponding step or status in the ATS in order to allow accurate reporting. In one example of a poorly configured ATS, we worked with a client that had a single ATS step called “manager review” that covered everything from when the recruiter first presented the candidate up to the decision to hire the candidate. Practically speaking, this meant that there was no way to differentiate between a candidate whom a manager rejected after reviewing a resume, a candidate scheduled for a manager interview, a candidate who had a successful first interview and was scheduled for a second interview, a candidate who was scheduled for a manager phone interview, etc. Because all of these instances were essentially the same in the system, there was no way to identify how much time each of these sub-steps took, or how many candidates failed or passed each individual sub-step.

Balance standardization and control with flexibility and customization

One of the benefits of an ATS is that it brings standardization and control to the hiring process. By requiring the use of a standardized workflow in the ATS, the actual hiring process is controlled and follows that process. However, it is important to remember that in the real world, process exceptions do occur, and the system needs to be flexible enough to accommodate for that. For example, part of your hiring process might include a phone interview, followed by an in-person interview, and finally a shadowing day or site visit. However, in cases where a candidate is travelling in from out of town, it might be more efficient to schedule a phone interview followed by the site visit and finally the in-person interview. In that case, the system should be setup to accommodate that change in the order of the process steps.

Build with the candidate experience in mind

When considering the stakeholders who will interface with the ATS, the typical list includes recruiters, hiring managers, HR, and possibly legal or a compliance officer. It’s easy to forget the candidate in this list. However, many key configuration decisions can have significant impact on the candidate. For example, consider the simple requirement to upload a resume. Generally, requiring that a resume be built in the system can take a significant amount of time for a candidate and can discourage some highly qualified, but only semi-active job seekers to drop out before completing an application. Or, consider the simple fact of collecting social security numbers. Best practice is to collect that information at the end of the process at the point which a job offer is imminent or has been made. At that point, the candidate is highly invested in the process and should have built trust with the company. On the other hand, asking for it up front, at the point of application, can give candidates pause and in many cases discourage them from applying. In both of these cases, small decisions during configuration can make the hiring process easy for candidates and make you an inviting employer, or very difficult for candidates and a very unwelcome employer.

Mine for process exceptions

When you are designing the recruitment process flow on a whiteboard in a conference room everything makes perfect linear sense – a job is posted, a candidate applies, they are interviewed, an offer goes out, they are hired. However, in the real world, candidates (and recruiters, and hiring managers) often behave in ways that challenge the standard process flow. A candidate might apply for one job, be matched to another job by a recruiter, get rejected for that job, be moved back to the first job, turn down that job offer, apply for a third job with the same manager, skip the interview entirely and receive and accept a job offer. When making your configuration decisions, we recommend assembling a team of your more creative thinkers and have them come up with 5-10 unusual, but realistic scenarios like the one described above. This list of scenarios can be used to test your hiring workflow to see if it can accommodate the process exceptions which will inevitably occur.

As you can see, the process of configuring an applicant tracking system can be complex and time consuming, but is critical to a successful ongoing hiring process. Rather than considering this a cautionary tale of all the things that can go wrong, I hope you take it as a worthwhile challenge. When putting together your ATS implementation team, advocate strongly for putting together a team with enough expertise and time to make these decisions in a thoughtful and forward-looking way, so you can enjoy all the benefits of an ATS that fits your company’s unique needs and unique culture.

Seven Step RPO: www.sevensteprpo.com

Jason Berkowitz, Vice President of Client Services

Jason Berkowitz brings fifteen years of diverse RPO experience to his role as Seven Step's Vice President of Client Services, in which he holds executive responsibility for program design and implementation, leadership development, and client oversight. Jason previously served as Vice President of Client Services for Adecco RPO (now Pontoon Solutions), where he was named 2013 HR Outsourcing Association (HROA) Global Provider Executive of the Year. Prior to Adecco, he served as Vice President of Business Development for SourceRight Solutions and Vice President and co-founder of Hyrian. Berkowitz has been named one of HRO Today's Superstars four times, served as a board member of the HROA, and was the founding chairman of the RPO Alliance. In his personal time, Jason enjoys playing hockey, competing in triathlons, and playing guitar. He lives outside Denver with his wife and three sons.