2016 Trends In Applicant Tracking Systems

New direction: single platform for continuous recruiting

By Russ Banham

Yesterday’s ATS (applicant tracking system) was a great way to manage the flood of job applications that overwhelmed hiring managers in the past. By automatically filtering the submissions based on a range of candidate criteria, these applications could be handled in a streamlined and regulatory-compliant manner.

Today’s ATS does this and much, much more.

The insatiable demand for talent in an extremely tight employment marketplace compels companies to transform their ATS into a single platform. The single platform ATS promotes more personalized talent communities, markets the employment brand across multiple channels, identifies an applicant’s cultural and behavioral fit through predictive analytics, and makes the user experience less arduous for recruiters.

By tearing down organizational silos and keeping all aspects of talent recruitment, onboarding, and management in one place, recruiting teams can source, brand, hire, and communicate across all workforce types and in multiple countries and time zones. “You’re creating a continuous recruiting environment of information, communication and agility,” says Diane Smith, CEO of gr8 People, a Pennsylvania talent recruitment solutions provider.

Since all data related to the HCM process is stored on this single platform, predictive analytics can be applied to the disparate data to generate insights guiding better workforce recruitment and retention decisions. “The ability to benchmark, measure, and shape the workforce using a single set of data—from pre-candidacy to exit—allows companies to utilize predictive analytics for internal hiring, learning and development, succession planning, and much more,” says Kate Heath, global head of RPO, partners and alliances, at Lumesse, a UK-based provider of talent acquisition and management solutions.

Building a single platform for HCM ranks as the top talent recruitment, onboarding, and management trend in 2016, according to these solutions providers and others. With talent being such a hot commodity, companies cannot afford to wait for someone to knock on the employment office door and endure a subpar application process. Rather, organizations must proactively reach out to identify and engage future talent, nurture these relationships, and make applying for a job as easy as fielding an email.

Expanding the Scope of ATS

Traditional applicant tracking systems lean more towards administrative and compliance needs such as managing information related to background screening and onboarding activities, while ensuring compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations governing hiring fairness.

Certainly, these functions are extremely important, but they have very little to do with bringing in the best talent.

“There is a huge difference between the processes needed to support bringing talent into the organization and the processes needed to bring in new prospects and promote the employment brand,” says Jack Coapman, chief strategy officer at gr8 People.

Rather than just being used to track applicants, systems are being expanded in several ways and can now assemble a rich profile of job candidates. “Early ATS products were predominantly focused on managing the process of tracking inbound candidates, but today this is largely a solved problem,” says Rob Stefanovic, director, HCM Product Strategy, at Oracle. “This has freed up both vendors and customers to shift their focus to proactively connecting and engaging with a much larger pool of prospective candidates.”

The goal is to identify a candidate’s alignment with both the job at hand and the hiring organization’s culture. Assuming the candidate is an excellent fit, recruiters can leverage social media to nurture the relationship until an employment opportunity surfaces. “Companies want to stay top of mind with potential job seekers,” Stefanovic explains.

With a robust suite of integrated sourcing tools, businesses can build pipelines of pre-qualified talent ahead of actual demand, in much of the same way marketers reach out to prospective buyers. More enlightened organizations are using predictive data analytics to compare incoming candidate data with the company’s culture and internal workforce dynamics to ensure better fit.

“Algorithmic screening is the latest iteration of technology being used to improve the candidate selection process,” Stefanovic says.

Such advances would not be possible without an endto- end, continuous recruiting platform. “The key tenet of the platform concept is workflow optimization—a programmatic approach to defining recruitment activities and having all these engagements in a single location,” Coapman says.

All for One, One for All

The shift to end-to-end HCM on a single platform captures within it several other emerging trends in the ATS space. The change assists the ongoing integration of ATS with social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, the development of smarter products using algorithms to improve candidate selection for online skills testing, and the use of candidate self-assessment tools to verify early on in the application process whether or not their particular skills and background match up with the position’s requirements.

To win the war for talent, businesses can draw from these new talent recruitment and application management software tools. But, providers believe the more robust tactic is to integrate these products on a single platform, given the vast storehouse of insights provided by predictive analytics—not to mention the clear efficiency, productivity and expense savings gains.

One such benefit is that users in the hiring organization no longer have to log out of one program to log into another. “With all the different solutions out there and their weak integration, the end result was an inconsistent user experience,” says Coapman.

Others agree. “The more functionality we can pull into our software user experiences that is powered by us and our partners and integrated into a single suite, the less a client has to leave one solution to log into another application,” says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS, a New-Jersey-based talent acquisition software provider. “It’s a one-stop-shop.”

At the “shop,” clients can expect to seamlessly attend to such needs as the development of promotional material with appealing and personalized job content for distribution across multiple online channels. They can pursue advanced recruitment marketing campaigns to further the employment brand while touting the hiring company’s valuable accomplishments in text, photos, and videos. They can deploy sophisticated candidate relationship management (CRM) systems and talent communities that cultivate candidate relationships. All of this and more can be done while facilitating the user experience.

This continuous recruiting concept offers tremendous agility to organizations because everything from recruitment marketing, background screening and drug checks to the actual onboarding process and ongoing assessments of employee engagement has a common interface and uses a single vernacular.

“This is pure machine learning. The system starts serving up better possibilities and ideas to the recruiter and job seekers based upon the millions of transactions it supports each day,” Vitale explains.

The more two-way interactions a company engages in with prospective employment candidates, the better the situation is for both sides. As Heath puts it, “Supported by sophisticated technology systems, the learning gathered through this process can be used to gain real-time knowledge of candidate fit, mentoring, engagement, and marketing.”

The Talent Nexus

Other ATS trends tie into this end-to-end process, including the use of candidate self-serve assessments. By responding to a short series of automated questions, an interested job seeker can validate his or her skills insofar as their alignment with the hiring organization’s needs and employment culture. This helps employers quickly compare these behaviors to their actual needs and pare the time it takes to sift through a mountain of applications. “Because the applicants are pre-screened, you’re already in the seventh inning,” says Coapman. “That drives down your costs-per hire.”

Stefanovic is also a fan of self-service assessments.

“The hiring process has always suffered from a great deal of subjectivity both in the candidate’s description of their skills and experience and in the interview team’s evaluation of them,” he says. “This has increased the risk of bad hires, with their resulting downstream costs. It also squanders the opportunity to find those diamonds in the rough who may not have been as adept at selling themselves or their skills.”

He adds, “Why use ‘three years of experience’ as a proxy for a candidate’s ability when you can actually test these abilities [through] behavioral assessments that identify personality traits and behaviors that are statistically validated to materially impact the person’s ability to be successful?”

Self-assessments will become more common in future, the interviewees contend. But, as Smith points out, “Such assessments really aren’t valuable unless you have candidates to complete them. The key for employers is building a set of deep, talent-specific talent communities, through which the employer can market its brand and career opportunities.”

Another trend expected to pick up steam in 2016 is the use of social networks as recruiting tools. Employee referrals have always been a top source of quality hires, but these lead sources were often invisible to the hiring organization. This will no longer be the case, says Stefanovic. “With the existence of social networks, the relationships have now been cataloged and moved online,” he says. “Modern recruiting systems can proactively reach out to these people to promote their jobs to targeted segments.”

Smith agrees that employee referrals provide a tremendous pipeline of potential job candidates categorized within different talent communities. To build upon this value, she says that companies should encourage their employees to “share employment-related information, such as news or newly created positions, leads to an increased flow of this qualified type of talent.”

By integrating the recruiting platform with such sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, recruiting teams can post job openings to a worldwide audience, at the same time mining a potential applicant’s personal profile on social networks for deeper insights. “The knowledge and data acquired from online social practices allows recruiters to analyze the successes and shortcomings of candidates for greater relationship building,” Smith says.

Social networks also offer a powerful way to drive down overall recruitment expenses.

“Companies achieve massive scale in their recruiting efforts at minimal cost,” Stefanovic explains. “Since the average employee has anywhere from 100 to 300 network contacts, the sourcing process transforms from finding the talent to marketing to the talent.”

This pronounced shift to social recruiting, candidate nurturing, and brand building will accelerate, particularly as companies expand their use of social channels to position their unique culture and career opportunities “the way a modern marketer turns prospects into buyers,” he adds.

But Vitale warns that companies cannot merely dip their toes in the water. “A lot of employers use social media to post jobs on job boards, but what they need to really be doing is making it easier for people to source jobs through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and integrate their experiences with the hiring organization’s other recruitment and brand building systems,” she says. “This is why an integrated recruitment platform is such an important development.”

This brings us back full-circle to why the trend toward end-to-end recruitment is the hot topic for 2016. As Coapman succinctly sums up, “An all-in-one-place platform is the place to be.”

Russ Banham is a Pulitzer-nominated business journalist and author of 24 books.

Posted February 2, 2016 in Talent Acquisition

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