Enabling TechnologyInnovation

The New And Improved ATS

Many tech platforms have received face-lifts and offer a wealth of beneficial features.

Russ Banham

In today’s highly competitive labor market, the applicant tracking system (ATS) is a key tactical weapon in attaining a sustainable talent advantage. Having the right skill sets aligned with the organization’s culture and energized by its value proposition can dramatically improve business outcomes.

Organizations should expect an ATS platform to handle job candidate sourcing and relationship management, video interviewing, candidate analytics, application management, and even the onboarding process. To maintain a pipeline of passive candidates, an ATS must be designed to engage a job seeker into a “dialogue” that will conclude with extending the person a job offer.

“Employers need to stop worrying about filling their talent funnels and become more concerned about getting the right people to opt into a relationship with them,” says Paul Rubinstein, a partner in Aon Hewitt’s human capital advisory practice. “This requires an ATS technology stack designed and engineered with intent and consistency.”

In just the last year, several ATS platforms have upgraded their offerings to achieve these ends. In a quest to enrich the relationship with passive job candidates, technology has adapted sales and marketing technology applications that are designed to strengthen the organization’s connection with consumers. Gone are the 14-page employment applications that job seekers were once required to fill out before the process could move forward. In their place are a series of carefully crafted interactions designed to cultivate a close relationship.


This is the case at Intuit Inc., a provider of financial, accounting, and tax preparation software and related services for small businesses, accountants, and Individuals. The maker of Quick Books and Turbo Tax has invested in a multifaceted talent acquisition system that elevates both the company’s brand and the applicant’s experience.

“We pride ourselves on delivering awesome customer experiences for individuals and small businesses,” says Allan Sabol, the product leader for Intuit’s talent acquisition systems. “To attract this type of employee, we must provide candidates with technology experiences that reflect our culture as a company. This positive experience extends from when they first apply for a job through their final on boarding experience.”

In 2016, Intuit wanted to gauge the experience of job applicants and the impact that experience had on applicant conversion rates and brand perception. Insights from the site analytics indicated problems from the “create account” phase through the job requisition phase. “The process wasn’t ideal, and candidates were abandoning us, which was untenable from a brand perception standpoint,” Sabol says.

To improve user experience, the company designed an experiment called “Awesome Apply” (one of Intuit’s values is to “Deliver Awesome”). The goal was to drive higher conversion rates by making the application process so simple and delightful, Sabol says, that candidates could fill out the application on their smartphones in two minutes or less, compared to 15 minutes in past.

The result was highly encouraging. The overall site abandonment rate was cut in half. Even better, the company’s net promoter score (NPS) -tallying how willing a job applicant will be in recommending Intuit to a friend or colleague -increased by about 40 percent. “We learned that investing in the applicant’s initial experience reaps huge dividends, assuming you remain engaged with the person and build a relationship over time” says Sabol. “You need to think like a sales and marketing organization.”

To reach out to and consistently engage candidates, Intuit experimented with new technologies such as the Sales force platform. In 2013, its HR technology team delivered an onboarding solution that leverages the platform and was well-received by new hires. The company then developed a job requisition tool on the platform that saved its hiring mangers as much as 25 minutes for each job requisition. At the same time, the NPS related to this user experience jumped from -50 to +85.

Next, Intuit used the platform’s Talent Objects application to build a candidate relationship management (CRM) tool that tied into other marketing applications, such as Sales force Marketing Cloud, and supported its recruiting strategy. “This gave us the opportunity to work with the world’s leading CRM and marketing platforms to build and sustain our relationships with top technical talent,” Sabol says.

Intuit is in the process of implementing these new solutions and developing three additional custom applications around performance management. “People say they don’t want to build their own stuff, but with Sales force, you have this interesting hybrid between `build vs. buy,’ where you can get the best of both worlds on an open, hosted SaaS platform,” Sabol says. “The draw is the flexibility to extend the functionality to support your unique business processes, while delivering awesome experiences for candidates, hiring managers, and recruiting team alike.”

From ATS to RPM

Intuit’s experience demonstrates the strides being made in recruitment. Much ground has been gained in a very short time, according to John Bersin, founder and principal at Bersin by Deloitte.

“The traditional ATS platform handled the resume submission, parsing, and some of the candidate assessment, but little else,” says Bersin. “The new-breed ATS handles all these processes, plus manages the video interviewing, artificial-intelligence-based candidate assessment, and even on boarding. Such recruitment process management (RPM) systems go well beyond the traditional ATS, and they’re all growing rapidly.”

This evolution is occurring because attracting, sourcing, interviewing, and assessing employment candidates has become an increasingly complex process.

“Employers have to store resumes and track all these activities (related to the passive candidate) while managing job advertising and sourcing performance, and, on top of that, also handling the analytics of hiring by manager, role, and location -a tremendously complicated workflow for HR,” says Bersin. “To manage it all effectively requires an integrated, end-to-end ATS software platform.”

Rubinstein agrees. “You can’t sort through all these tasks with elbow grease alone anymore,” he says. “The trick with an ATS is to make the entire recruitmenttoon boarding process seem like one curated experience.”

Today’s platforms are embedding a variety of effective sales and marketing technology applications. “We want to make sure the job seeker feels welcome when they visit a client’s employment site, and we do that by presenting them with engaging content that picks up the conversational threads from their last visit,” says Jack Coapman, chief strategy officer for gr8 People, Inc.

This information can be found in marketing materials citing company advancements such as new product releases, market and geographic expansion, and business growth, as well as interesting stories about the organization and its employees. A key goal of this drip marketing campaign is to redirect the person back to the company’s website to join its talent community. From that point on, “the conversation can flourish,” Coapman says.

He adds that many employers’ job application processes involve too much, too soon -and it’s better to start the conversation slowly. “As you engage them further at the other points of interaction, you have the opportunity to collect more information,” he explains.

Having a holistic view of candidates from sourcing to onboarding allows for a more efficient and effective process.

“The challenge for recruiting teams is remembering to schedule messages with so many different candidates,” says Leela Srinivasan, Lever chief marketing officer. “By creating an automated workflow and configurable templates populated with custom fields for different roles, this administrative hassle eases greatly.”

For instance, the fields in a template can be filled in with personalized messages that resonate with a particular job candidate. Employers can then schedule the delivery of these messages to the person on an iterative basis, plotting what will be said on a digital calendar. When a candidate appears highly interested in coming on board, an “engagement alert” can be automatically routed to the company’s recruitment team to take immediate follow-up actions. Such consistent, timely, and personal communications alleviates much of the burden associated with staying in touch with job seekers.

“When reaching out to a passive candidate, one message will not do it; neither will two or three,” Srinivasan says. “Consumer research indicates that response rates go up significantly once there have been four to five touch points.”

She adds: “Successful sourcing requires personalized, relevant content that speaks to a candidate and that candidate alone.”

Peter Wiedemann, general manager of the talent acquisition unit at Lumesse, agrees that personalization is a highly effective way to engage candidates in a recurrent conversations. “There’s a tendency to spam people with too much content that has very little relevance -no good,” he asserts. “At the same time, there’s this buckshot approach of targeting all passive candidates with the same messaging -also no good.”

To increase the quality of hires and reduce associated recruitment costs, Wiedemann espouses the use of pre-hiring assessments to ensure that the recruitment messaging for an open position is aligned with the skills and experience of a passive candidate. To assure a good fit, he advises pulling facts from a passive candidate’s LinkedIn account and then augmenting this information with other data compiled throughout the engagement process. His firm has found success using interactive gaming to accumulate some of this personal data.

As these various developments indicate, the focus in today’s recruitment space is on making the process of finding a job and hiring the right person easy and fun for candidates and employers, assuring a productive alignment between the parties. As Wiedemann says, “The last thing you want to do is to lose track of interesting people.”

Russ Banham is a veteran business journalist and author of 24 books.

SIDEBAR: High Impact

Software provider Intuit was looking to drive higher candidate conversion rates by simplifying the application process. The goal was to enable candidates to fill out the application on smartphones in two minutes or less, compared to 15 minutes in past.

And it worked: The overall site abandonment rate was cut in half. Even better, the company’s net promoter score (NPS) increased by about 40 percent.

Tags: January February 2017

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