Need To Know Series: Purchasing an Enterprise ATS


Somewhere north of 90% of the Fortune 500 uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Makes logical sense, of course: at that type of scale and hiring needs, having a centralized system to organize everything — and, more importantly, stay compliant — is huge. But if you’ve danced the #HRTech dance for even a year, or ever been a job-seeker, you know the picture around ATS is never completely rosy. (Hell, it’s usually not even halfway rosy.) We’ve all encountered the thought leadership on X-amount of reasons you need an ATS, but we’ve also encountered the reality of having one: 

  • They’re often clunky.
  • They’re hard to customize.
  • They don’t seem to do what you want (or when you need it). 
  • It pisses off candidates.
  • It pisses off your internal IT. 
  • You get pissed and want to switch.
  • You’re afraid of landing in the same pile of manure, so you either act quickly or go to analysis paralysis. 
  • Rinse and repeat.

Most candidates hate ATS. The common joke you’ll see from job-seekers online is the whole “Why did I upload a resume and then have to input all that data across 27 screens?” joke, usually with a cat throwing a laptop across the room or something. Those are memes and meant to be funny, but they’re not lies. Many ATS move you away from candidate experience, and many might actually have a negative impact on your overall brand.

Even though we’ve been in these loops for years, we find ourselves constantly talking about the best ways to buy HR technology. This time, we wanted to apply some data and share our discussions with real ATS-purchasers and decision-makers into everything. Let’s walk through what we did and how we’re going to roll it out to you.

What we did

We partnered with Greenhouse to sponsor the research. We realize the value of this study would benefit everyone, and we needed a partner who would support that approach. As Jon Stross, co-founder and President of Greenhouse put it, “we see a lot of people embark on the journey of replacing their ATS with similar challenges. They also end up making the same mistakes. We’re behind any effort to help demystify the process. But also, we obey the first rule of dealing with HR Tech influencers never pass up a chance to provoke Tincup!”

We surveyed (and had subsequent discussions with) roughly 100 talent acquisition leaders from a variety of industries, including genetic testing, banking, pro sports, Big Tech, e-commerce, direct-to-consumer sales, and more. 

In those discussions, once we got their basic demographic data, decision-making authority, title, etc., we asked them about the ATS purchasing process through these lenses:

GEM Recruiting AI
  • Who gets involved in the demo?
  • Who gets involved in buying?
  • How soon do you discuss contract terms?
  • The role of software training and when that comes up.
  • The various integrations you need, from “must-have” to “nice to have”
  • Who do you have brand recognition of in the space as the process begins?
  • Is headcount a factor?
  • How often do you switch ATS?
  • How many vendors do you bring into the process, usually?
  • How early (if ever) do you discuss implementation?

That’s a snapshot. We asked a bunch of questions on top of this, then did follow-ups. 

We took the information, cross-tabbed it, broke it down, and decided to turn it into an eight-article series. You are currently reading (hi!) the first article, which is just an introduction to what the hell we’re doing here. 

What happens next

There will be six articles focused on a specific aspect of the ATS purchasing cycle, those being:

  • Switching.
  • RFP Process.
  • Integrations.
  • Workflow.
  • Customer Advisory Boards (CAB).
  • References.

So we’ll roll out those six, and then the 8th and final article will put a bow on everything, link back to the others, and draw some conclusions. If you are considering jumping ATS in 2020, looking at the final article and relevant article sections from the six above would be a great start.

Happy to have you on board. Let’s get going, and try to make your ATS reviews more valuable going forward.  And speaking of going forward, find check out what we learned about Switching an ATS here.  


Editor’s Note:***This eight-part series (and survey) was partially underwritten by Greenhouse

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.