Applicant Tracking Systems Are Dead.

media_previewIf you’re paying any attention to the deluge of recruiting related content and conferences out there (and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are), then these past few months, you’ve almost certainly heard the term “CRM” become commoditized to the point of becoming cliché.

It’s a hot topic in recruiting, but, like most talent tech trends, the conversation about the use of CRM in recruiting seems to be missing the bigger picture – and the bigger opportunities this trending topic actually represents for talent acquisition.

The thing is, most employers today approach CRM as a way to overcome existing capability gaps or augment their existing systems and solutions.

This is why so many solutions in the space serve as integration partners or middleware add-ons with traditional systems of record instead of being developed as robust, standalone solutions. The problem is, as effective as these point solutions may seem to be, they are product marketing’s answer to putting lipstick on a pig.

Software as A Disservice.

57246403And if you think you can actually transform a system of record into a system of engagement, you must be high on the hog. Instead of approaching CRM as an additional feature set or functionality to extend ATS/HCM capabilities, talent organizations who really want to maximize their recruiting technology ROI should instead consider taking the exact opposite approach.

Given the increasing importance and integration of consumer and inbound marketing strategies throughout the talent attraction process and at every stage of the hiring cycle, it’s important for recruiters to combine high tech with high touch, automation with personalization.

This takes more than some stripped down CRM bolted onto the same shitty ATS that’s to blame for most of your process problems and talent challenges in the first place.

I’m encouraged by the increasing adoption of CRM technologies (finally) within the recruiting industry and think any shift that causes recruiters to think and function more like marketers is only a good thing for our customers, clients and candidates.


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The thing is, so much of what’s being packaged and sold as a “CRM” is, in fact, nothing more than an ATS in sheep’s clothing, a “solution” that’s being created by the very same vendors responsible for creating the problem.

If a CRM offers ATS integration, it generally means that they’re structuring their data and building their workflow for the HR system, not the other way around – a devil’s bargain for access to a market dominated by a few major players, and one that sacrifices consumer convenience and ease of use for compliance and complexity (as HR is wont to do).

To really maximize recruiting efficacy and efficiency, at least from a systems standpoint, employers would do far better to buy a standalone CRM with ATS configurations (which, on these more sophisticated SaaS solutions, are far easier to build than the other way round).

4 Signs Your Recruitment Marketing Solution Isn’t Really A CRM.

B7JrhW9But the reason so many emerging and existing players in HR Technology are moving into the CRM space is that the distinction between a CRM and an ATS isn’t always clear. The resulting confusion means most vendors have to do little more than recode and reskin their existing offering, along with a few slight custom configurations and API calls.

This, of course, comes at a pretty steep premium, particularly if there’s an existing HCM services contract in place, as is almost always the case for Tier One ERP providers. The resulting confusion comes with a fairly significant risk.

If employers and recruiters continue to make the erroneous assumption that what’s really an ATS is actually a CRM and that by adding these specious “SaaS” solutions to their existing stack, then they’re all up to date, then we’re actually falling behind – and stand the risk of getting royally screwed by our systems.

This potentially dangerous misconception (or misunderstanding) around what distinguishes a CRM and an ATS is understandable; superficially, these two technologies look a lot alike.

But dig a little deeper, and there are some surefire signs that whatever ATS, HCM or database you happen to be using, it’s not really a CRM. No matter what the vendor’s sales guy happened to call it.

  1. There are too many required fields or structured forms that have to be manually inputted by recruiters or candidates, negatively impacting time to fill, candidate conversions and completed applications, among many other metrics
  2. The Database Is Largely Seen As Administrative instead of an actual asset; data is entered for the purposes of process workflow and compliance, but it’s rarely leveraged for analytics, reporting or direct sourcing. It’s seen as a waste of time instead of a powerful platform for achieving recruiting ROI.
  3. The System Doesn’t Measure Engagement and gives end users no quick way of seeing how active or engaged a client or candidate might be; instead, candidate activity is limited to formal interactions instead of additional engagement, information and insights on the candidate and their interaction with the company and/or recruiter. Similarly, talent organizations have no standard or centralized way to measure or monitor recruiting relationships.
  4. You’ve Still Got To Screen Resumes and have no way of figuring out what they want to do instead of what they’ve already done. Additionally, it’s not a CRM if the system stores data that’s almost completely reliant on information inputted by candidates themselves, with little to connect the dots. In other words, the only information the system can tell you about the candidate is coming directly from the candidates themselves.

If any of the above information is true, then you’re still stuck with an ATS, not a true CRM solution.

The good news is, there’s still hope – and there’s no better way to get a fresh start (and competitive advantage) from your recruiting systems than to start from scratch and replace them with more sophisticated, more user friendly and more effective marketing solutions.

True CRM systems are designed to integrate with a variety of third party products and services, and their flexibility/configuration means that almost every one, as a structured database with strict data governance, advanced user permissions and comprehensive documentation, can easily function as an ATS, too. Hell, that’s the easy part.

There’s no doubt that the move to CRM systems has been significant, if not seismic, in the world of recruiting and hiring.

But if we’re not careful to remember the distinction between CRM and ATS, and continue to polish our tech turds while failing to make them shine, then we’re all going to be stuck putting up with the same old ATS shit.

And come on – no one wants that.

This post was originally published by Talent Tech Labs.
The above opinions are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views of Recruiting Daily or its partners.


Matt Charney

Matt Charney is the Executive Editor for RecruitingDaily. Follow him on Twitter @MattCharney or connect with him on LinkedIn.


Matt Charney is the Executive Editor for RecruitingDaily. Follow him on Twitter @MattCharney or connect with him on LinkedIn.

  • Disclaimer: I previously designed and ran an ATS for the US services ind., and if anyone without IT knowledge is reading this, they should skip the next paragraph.

    Yes, in the early days of operating as a SaaS, we had customers to complain the system was far too transactional, and they could not easily find people or their information inside. We took it seriously, and implemented a search on top (like you see on Facebook and everywhere else these days) and a centralized events tracking after clicking on someone’s name (in other words they saw everything, including docs, once they clicked on their name). And ever since, we never got anyone to complain about the system being hard to use or not being able to track the “relationship”. I would also argue with you on the difference between a CRM and an ATS and the advantages between them for filling in different (services or not) positions, or for civilized/structured hiring, but the reason for me writing this comment is different.

    To me, nowadays the discussion is no longer about CRM vs ATS, but about APPS targeted at solving specific problems. Today, the challenge is to build the app that is smart and capable enough to create value for their user (on a given screen size). Since the HR job is around people, we’re not in luck when it comes to metrics – it is hard to measure people (and it should always be). That is why it is so hard to build a dashboard with people inside it and to keep everyone happy.

    And one more thing, don’t be surprised if you see even sizable businesses to get back to the drawing boards when it comes to tracking / predicting / prescribing HR retention strategies, even with spreadsheets, since there is a massive disruption taking place towards evidence based hiring and analytics (everything is fueled by the shift to mobile) – podcast 33 from Matt Alder has an example.

    Kind Regards,
    Danut Croitor

    • I can’t argue marketing with the person who bought Thank you for weighing in with your perspective, I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I assume that the time invested was worth it, but you have the world’s coolest URL and I suck at math, so will defer to your expertise on that front.

    • Matt Charney

      Nice meeting you, by the way.

  • Sylvia Dahlby

    A good question to ask your ATS vendor is if they use their own software for CRM, candidate engagement, networking and business development. Happy to say that’s been the case with SmartSearch since I started here in 2001. The first thing I did was import all my contacts from ACT! and never looked back. it amazes me how many ATS vendors have such weak CRM they don’t use their own products. Yes, integration is also important if the customer prefers a stand-alone CRM to work in synch with an ATS. And corporate employers have long been behind the curve of cultivating a database for networking & engagement – which is something the staffing environment has to do well to grow its business and successfully source & recruit passive candidates.

  • NO. I wonder where is this is coming from. It’s trending software and used widely in HRs. Applicant Tracking System is not dead. This is the next generation software streamlines recruitment process and helps staffing firms for hassle free recruiting. ATS is far from dead and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  • Matt Dodgson

    Hi Matt, Which ATS in your opinion is the one to use? Really trying to find an ATS with a decent CRM element i.e. email automation. Thanks Matt

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