Need To Know Series: Purchasing an Enterprise ATS


Part 5: ATS Workflow

This article will look at ATS workflow concerns, and we’re going to start with a little tightrope walk. When we surveyed TA leaders on “What problems do you want your new ATS to solve?” here’s what we got back:

  • Recruiting and workflow inefficiency (37%).
  • Recruiting and sourcing inefficiency (27%).
  • Recruiting, sourcing, and workflow inefficiency (22%).

Clearly, there’s a belief here that some magical, mystical ineffectiveness or inefficiency lurks within your present ATS, and a switch can heal it, shaman-style. This is largely the result of the belief that “tech saves us” and “software is eating the world,” perpetuated by the sales bro level of some ATS vendors and other SaaS solutions.

In reality, we know from experience that process often beats software soundly. If you put process and software in a bar fight, the software would have a hard time walking out of Finnegan’s. If your process is a train wreck — and, unfortunately, many hiring processes still are — then having a new piece of software will not fix those issues. 

A better way to consider tech and software

Software — and tech in general — is a force multiplier. In recruiting, it works really well as a way to reduce task work for top-of-funnel hiring activities, i.e. screening and sourcing and even interview scheduling. If you save your human recruiting force time on those things, which tend to consume 6-7 of every 10 minutes across their week, then ideally what you get back is:

  • More strategy.
  • Skills gap analysis.
  • Long-term workforce planning.
  • Better relationships with hiring managers.
  • More proactive recruiting.

All these bullets are valuable, but the last one is super valuable. We actually met a recruiter in Tampa once at a trade show. She almost never filled an open requisition for her company. Rather, she had built a proactive pipeline by taking the best tech talent in the Tampa area out to lunch, out to coffee, out to happy hour, etc. When they were ready to jump, they called her. She went to her silo heads and hiring managers and got them in the door. She had brought in some of the most impactful people in the company, but she wasn’t on the recruiter hamster wheel trying to fill new openings constantly.

And why? How did she use tech? She used tech to save time on a lot of her tasks so that she could go to those lunches and coffees and happy hours. And in the end, her having more time — which tech provided for! — got the company some true A-Players and made them a bunch of money. 

Software should free you from BS (often necessary BS) without creating more BS. That’s what it does well, especially with large volumes of data. It cannot fix your recruiting process, because …

Yes, why can’t software fix process?

The recruitment process is often human-designed, and with it comes a lot of title flexing, assumptions, politics, backstories, etc. People want to protect their perch in jobs; it’s an increasingly uncertain career time for many. Many processes end up designed from this place of fear, not from “this would logically be good for the business.” When you buy an ATS, unless you wipe clean the entire emotional slate of your pre-existing human workforce, the ATS can not change or adjust or “fix” the current processes you have. Those are rooted in humans wanting to feel a certain way about their connection to this company. Software will not fix it, and hastily-introduced, low-context “hey we bought this new thing” software might make it worse.

Jon Stross, co-founder, and President of Greenhouse had much to say about this topic! 

“The core question here that companies have to answer when evaluating a new ATS is,‘What’s your ambition for what you are you are trying to do in hiring?’

If you merely want a nice online job application and some knock-out questions, that’s a totally different thing than if you’re trying to upgrade your whole function, change how people collaborate, collect better data and systematically reduce bias.

While, of course, none of those great things happen magically the moment you plug in a new system, they are awfully hard to accomplish outside of technology.

What we see consistently is companies who are making a commitment to improve their recruiting function by instituting structured interviewing and are using technology to help make that change. To your point, it’s not easy and it doesn’t always work immediately. But, the alternative of instituting that sort of process change without a supporting system seems near impossible.

My recommendation to ATS buyers would be to truly understand what you’re trying to accomplish and find a system that will enable it. And, of course, don’t kid yourself that the tool will do all the heavy lifting of organizational behavior change for you.”

So what now?

Well, you should not believe that a new ATS is somehow a magic bullet, although many of our TA leaders did seem to believe that, at least at a low level. We have two options right now:

  • Change our minds about what software is and does (hard, but see above).
  • Become more collaborative about process engineering (also challenging).

As we mentioned in a previous piece, many of our respondents had their current ATS less than 1 year, or 1-2 years. There’s a lot of switching going on in the space. That’s why we did this series to begin with. And what’s driving a lot of that switching is this “magic bullet” belief, which unfortunately isn’t true. If your processes and workflows suck, the new software will not change them — and remember when we said software is a force multiplier? It might actually exacerbate your pre-existing problems. 

Now, in the next article, we’re going to discuss CABs or Customer Advisory Boards. That’s a forum in which vendors and practitioners work closely on the issues in the space. Right now, CABs are not being used too well in the TA world, but there’s some hope there that could get us to products with simplified workflows that might help to alter some of your internal BS around process — although, as always, there’s that pesky business of trying to get 10, 50, 500, or 1,000 human beings on the same page about a work process.

***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.