What is an ATS?
The Ultimate Applicant Tracking Systems Guide

What is an applicant tracking system Hero Image

An Applicant Tracking System organizes and streamlines the hiring process. It also provides deep insights into applicant pools.

Below, we explore what ATS stands for, how they work, their key features, and how they benefit organizations in streamlining and scaling hiring processes across industries and geographies.

Table of Contents

ATS definition and meaning

The definition of ATS

“ATS” stands for applicant tracking system. Applicant tracking systems are defined as a type of recruiting technology and the means by which employers collect and store information on individuals who have applied for a position. Its use has continued to evolve alongside technology, and now it’s often used to define software that extends beyond its primary purpose of applicant data storage.

How do ATS platforms differ from HRIS? An HRIS platform helps to organize employee data similarly to the way in which an ATS organizes all aspects of applicant data. ATS vs HRIS

multiple applicant profiles in a lineup

What ATS means within your hiring process

Here is how an ATS helps automate key tasks throughout your process. Using an ATS means your team can spend their day-to-day on more valuable time expenditures, including getting to know qualified job applicants. The average recruiter spends approximately 13 hours, a third of a regular work week, sourcing candidates for a single job opening.

ATS used in your hiring process

How applicant tracking systems are being used in recruitment

Applicant tracking systems are used by human resources to track and manage every applicant throughout hiring. ATS technology helps keep teams organized, which means that it ultimately reduces time-to-hire.

Here’s an overview of top functions and what ATS means for your hiring team’s day-to-day.

Green checkboxPost open positions to job boards and career pages to collect applications

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Green checkboxStore and continuously update applicant profiles as part of system tracking

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Green checkboxScreen, filter, and organize applicants based on experience, skillsets, and qualifications

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Green checkboxAdvance or disqualify applicants with automated workflows

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Green checkboxWould you like to engage applicants through SMS messaging?

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Green checkboxSave applicants for a future role, which means you can re-engage them at a later date

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Green checkboxCollect/administer necessary documentation, meaning contracts or background checks

Large hand writing

The history of applicant tracking systems in business

HR tracking systems first emerged in the late 90s after the introduction of online job boards a few years earlier (monsterboard.com, later monster.com paved the way for online searches launching back in 1994).

The first version of ATS was very basic, meaning that it created a way for recruitment teams to bring a paper-based process online. During the 90s and early 2000s, it was a simple system that offered a simple, digital solution to organize and centralize recruiting information. As time progressed, tracking systems evolved into less of a centralized hub of information and more of an applicant tracker, meaning employers could better monitor, manage, and engage potential hires throughout their journey.

Old computer printing applicants
ATS profiles around the world

How tracking systems are being used to address hybrid workplace dynamics

Work models are evolving post-COVID-19 and hybrid work environments becoming normalized. To remain efficient in an asynchronous work environment, organizations need a strong ATS to coordinate decision-making, manage the hiring process, and communicate with candidates.

What does an ATS mean for the hybrid environment? Employers can automatically send SMS and email communications to candidates as reminders for upcoming interviews, or as a post-interview ‘thank you’ that outlines the next steps. This means they can reach out to and stay in touch with potential hires from anywhere. Within the context of global hiring, they help scale your recruitment processes by effortlessly pre-screening thousands of applications.

Applicant tracking systems can also facilitate onboarding, which helps to optimize collaboration across complex working schedules. ATS and onboarding software can be used to coordinate acceptance letter communications, payroll/HRIS, and share communications or resources with new hires.

Phil Strazzulla headshot

“An applicant tracking system is necessary for recruiting teams to stay organized in hybrid work environments. With some members in the office and others at home, recruiting teams face the challenge of collaborating effectively. The right ATS can help recruiting teams on track, with the outcome of providing a positive candidate experience.”

Phil Strazzulla

Founder, SelectSoftware Reviews

Why you should use an ATS

Organizations benefit from the scalability and ability to make better hiring decisions, which are made possible by greater automation, applicant ranking, and applicant tracking capabilities. Here are a few reasons why your organization may want to consider implementing an ATS.

2 people looking at an applicant profile

Applicant database

Organizing all potential hires in a centralized, searchable database

2 people looking at ats analytics

ATS analytics

Gaining insights into your applicant pool and internal efficiencies

ATS ranking of applicant profiles

Applicant ranking

Quickly filtering through high volumes of applicants and moving them forward

Applicant tracking systems are designed for high-volume hiring, helping you organize, filter, and automatically advance thousands of applicants based on pre-defined qualification requirements. The system can automatically communicate with applicants and simultaneously notify your hiring team that an applicant has progressed to the next stage.

Depending on whether you’re hiring globally or facing seasonal hiring peaks, receiving hundreds or thousands of resumes means it’s important to have in place a solution that helps streamline the process.

What does the applicant tracking system ROI look like?

Efficient workflow

More efficient workflow

Reduced admin tasks

Reduced admin tasks

clicking on profile

Fewer resources required

talent pool

Qualified talent pools

ladder in the clouds

Faster time-to-hire

Searching profile

Better completion rates

Better visibility

Better visibility into talent

Return on investment

High ROI


Better candidate experience

Streamlined interview process

Streamlined processes

How applicant tracking systems manage candidates

Applicant tracking systems provide a single storage location for everything applicant-related. In other words, ATS and CRM go hand in hand. As a result, a candidate ATS solution can facilitate applicant tracking, applicant ranking, and applicant management, all on the same platform. As an HR candidate tracking system, they store candidate profiles and documentation, recorded interviews, interactions, and evaluations.

There are many occasions when someone would make a great hire, but the right role isn’t available yet. In relation to this type of candidate application tracking, ATS talent acquisition software allows you to flag, filter, and move these individuals into their own workflow to revisit at a later date.

As early as 2014, half of all job searches on Indeed were made on a mobile device. In this highly competitive talent market, it is crucial to keep up with the competition using mobile-friendly candidate management software.

Recruiters looking at profile on a mobile device

Managing the candidate journey for a great experience

The employer-candidate relationship has undergone a significant power shift during the past decade. The focus of candidate sourcing, and their management in the process, is now on how employers can provide a positive experience for all applicants. Candidate experience, a candidate’s perception of their participation in your hiring process, is a key consideration when evaluating software options and setting up the process flow.

Applicant tracking software with built-in communication tools facilitates faster response times to increase engagement and keep top candidates moving forward in the process. Applicant tracking systems can also provide specific stage metrics that can help identify and reduce bottlenecks in the process. Within the platform, candidate perspective can also be collected from automated surveys to get a full view of the hiring process.

Online applicant tracking systems

Most organizations now use an online applicant tracking system. For global talent acquisition strategies, using an online ATS means they can efficiently manage recruitment at the local level while maintaining company-wide standards and policies worldwide.

An ATS allows you to post to, and integrate with, marketing channels such as job boards and careers pages. The integration allows you to monitor performance and calculate ROI.

Cloud-based applicant tracking system considerations

Cloud-based applicant tracking systems place a greater emphasis on encryption and cyber security measures. When evaluating cloud-based online ATS providers, industry-leading security standards (GPPR, PIPEDA, CCPA, VPAT), certifications (SO2, ISO), and data encryption (in transit and at rest) are important considerations.

Person sitting on a chair reviewing cloud-based ATS features

Is an Open-source ATS right for your organization?

An open-source ATS can be a free option. While it still contains some of the same core ATS features, it generally does not come with any support. In other words, it requires having an in-house programming team to implement and maintain the platform.

Is an open-source platform right for your organization? While they provide job applicant tracking and ATS search capabilities, they may not be as equipped to support the evolving needs of your organization as open-source ATS options tend not to offer advanced features. Your organization would also be responsible for housing the system and all the associated data. This makes you ultimately responsible for storage, security and privacy considerations

Top ATS features

There are many platforms on the market with a wide variety of requirements, functionalities and ATS features.

What to consider when choosing an ATS:

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Green checkboxDo you have the right hiring team members in place?

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Green checkboxDo you have a defined hiring process in place to map to?

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Green checkboxHave you analyzed your current processes to identify what is working well and where there could be improvements?

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Green checkboxWhich tools will you need within an ATS?

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Green checkboxHow will a new applicant tracking system support your internal hiring standards?

Applicant tracking systems database

  • Candidate database: A centralized database is the core function of an ATS. This involves storing applicant profiles and documentation, interview notes and ratings, communications, assessments, and evaluations all in one place.
  • Onboarding assistance: An ATS serves as a central point of storage for candidate data, which means it can be used to help streamline the transition into employment.
  • Resume parsing: An ATS will upload and re-organize resume information to create candidate profiles that your team can filter and search through.
Women working on a computer

Applicant tracking system automation

  • Automated workflows: A recent SHRM report defines the average time-to-hire as 36 days. However, top talent stays on the market for far less, with reports suggesting it’s as little as 10 days. This means automation is crucial in saving time, as well as reducing the resources needed during recruitment. you can set-up automated workflows to perform a number of different recruiting tasks. Here are some examples of workflow functions that may be automated:

    Green checkboxPosting positions to a careers page and job boards with a single click

    Checkbox connector

    Green checkboxProgressing potential hires as a result of pre-defined test results

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    Green checkboxReminding applicants that they have an upcoming interview

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    Green checkboxAsking unsuccessful candidates if they’d like to be contacted for future positions

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    Green checkboxNotifying your team when a job applicant has completed a task

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    Green checkboxReminding managers to evaluate a completed interview

Example of ATS automation
  • Marketing automation: An ATS allows recruiters to maximize visibility on open positions with very little manual work. You can post your latest openings on multiple job boards and your careers page with one click.
  • Automated reporting, analytics, and dashboards: Through ATS reporting, recruiting teams can create dashboards and gain insights into their applicants. They can also pull pre-defined data across all stored ‘profiles’ into a single report. Here are some popular types of reporting:

Applicant sourcing
Insights into which job boards/sources applications are coming from

Applicant management
An overview of where each potential hire is within a defined hiring journey

Candidate feedback reporting
Survey results, which provide an overview of their experience with your organization while applying for a role

Time-to-hire reporting
How much time it takes to hire an individual, on average, and for each position

Hiring team reporting
The activities undertaken and the amount of time spent on each activity, on average, and as defined for each manager

Custom reporting
Data pulled from a custom range of information. For example, specific information defined by program objectives or skill sets

ATS job requisition capabilities

Job requisition workflows help to streamline the workforce planning process in an ATS, meaning the collaboration between managers and human resources. It also allows you to automate the approval process so that new roles move forward automatically once sign-off is received. As a centralized storage facility, applicant tracking systems can store pre-defined contracts and order forms as templates.

Recruitment team using ATS to hire

Careers page hosting and building

The top ATSs have the ability to build and host a careers page on the company website. Some allow careers pages to be customized with branding, tailored messaging, and videos to showcase the organization’s brand. Some solutions can build custom career sites from scratch. These pages can include more complex features, such as visual maps showing candidates the exact location of all nearby positions.

ATS integrations

Many organizations find it beneficial to integrate with additional tools as part of their ATS, meaning that they can increase their capabilities and end results by ‘plugging in’ to tools for HRIS/payroll, skills testing, reference checking, etc. Integrations with other tools can help streamline your existing ATS, meaning you can increase functionality without having to switch platforms.

Integrate your ATS

Types of ATS

Applicant tracking systems are a popular tool for optimizing talent acquisition strategies and accelerating corporate growth – meaning that most Fortune 500 companies use one. Many small to mid-sized companies also use applicant tracking systems to reduce time spent on administrative tasks and to ensure fewer hiring resources are needed.

Below, we explore how different types of ats can help many organizations, from start-ups to healthcare organizations.

Start ups


Applicant tracking systems can help start-ups manage their process and increase their time-to-hire with fewer resources. Automating recruiting tasks such as pre-screening allows smaller HR departments to rapidly increase their volume of hiring.

Enterprise business


With scalability and growth top of mind, an ATS can handle high-volume recruitment scenarios and pre-screen hundreds and thousands of applicants. They also strengthen collaboration between recruiting teams globally and within hybrid work environments by providing a single tool for all recruitment activities.

Government agencies


An applicant tracking system helps to standardize and digitize the hiring process. Government agencies can standardize the job requisition process and keep details records of activities throughout the hiring process for internal compliance and auditing purposes.

Staffing firms


For recruiting and staffing firms, applicant tracking systems streamline recruitment processes for optimal hiring results. Recruiters can spend time with their qualified candidates rather than completing administrative tasks. Many applicant tracking systems integrate with other hiring tools, which offers flexibility in meeting a range of individual client needs.

healthcare providers


An ATS can help keep hiring on track within a busy environment with automated workflows. Workflows can also send reminders to hiring managers to ensure they complete ratings. Platform branding and the ability to highlight the unique qualities of the healthcare facility help to attract and retain top talent.

Hospitality services


Applicant tracking systems support high-volume recruiting by pre-screening thousands of applicants and can reduce time-to-hire by automating recruiting tasks. They also help minimize drop-off rates by increasing candidate engagement through automated reminders and communications.

Education districts


By automating recruiting tasks, applicant tracking systems can speed up the hiring process. As a result, they help K-12 school districts outpace the competition in making an offer to top talent. For admissions, an ATS helps save time when screening a high volume of applicants and makes it easier to identify top applicants.