thebombI’ve been a recruiter for 14 years now, and during that time, have been able to witness the evolution of the applicant tracking system first hand. Over the course of my tenure with my long time employer, I’ve been subjected to at least four different ATS solutions.

In each case, migrating and implementing each successive applicant tracking system represented a significant investment in terms of time and resources. The purported ability of each to help us make better placements faster and more efficiently, of course, seemed well worth the associated frustrations of having to learn all the bells and whistles of yet another new system. Yeah, right.

I will admit, each incarnation of our system of record has been exponentially more sophisticated than the last. They’ve become much more complex, with a litany of additional features and functionalities, evolving from out of the box software to full “integrated talent management solutions” delivered from the ubiquitous “Cloud.” And yet, ultimately, each of them was programmed to more or less achieve the same end: to track applicants.

At this, they have more or less succeeded. What remains questionable, however, is how much impact they’ve ever made on actually converting those applicants into hires. By this critical outcome, it seems to me, the track record is decidedly more mixed.

The Doomsday Machine.

Back in the day, I started off my career in the ultimate old-school: MS DOS. If you’re over 35, you already know what I’m talking about – a completely out of the box WYSIWYG (‘what you see is what you get’) style platform featuring a flashing yellow cursor over a flat black screen. To do something as simple as switch between black screens, you had to enter an F-function button – which was about as easy as that early system got.

Still, with no basis for comparison, it was marginally better than nothing, I thought at the time. I’ve got to admit, I barely remember the names of any of the other applicant tracking systems that followed, much less the pros and the cons. They were basically same shit, different skin. And a whole lot of headaches, too. Suffice to say, these subsequent systems were forgettable, which I suppose is probably a good thing.

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Like any recruiter, I have found my way around these enterprise systems by collecting an ever increasing pile of notebooks and files, which, while messy, is pretty much the easiest and most reliable way to manage candidates and reqs yet discovered.

I know I’m not alone when I say that it’s always been easier for me, as a recruiter, to fill up notebooks with notes and names instead of having to learn an entirely new ATS by scratch, much less migrate data or manually enter records – which is what you’ve got to do when most of your candidates aren’t yet actually applicants. Needless to say, my desk is a little messy, but unlike every ATS I’ve used before, there’s actually a method to my madness.

Of course, these days, my desk is getting a whole lot cleaner, and it’s got nothing to do with my decision to retire my spiral notebooks in favor of file folders. In fact, it’s been quite some time since I’ve even reached into one of these folders, much less populated them with reams of paper records and handwritten notes as has been the case throughout my career.

Old recruiter habits die hard, but in this case, it was pretty easy to give up my OG approach. See, after a whole lot of trial and error, we finally found an ATS that delivers as promised. An ATS that’s actually useful – and actually used.

And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

Condition, Read: How To Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Your ATS.

otbGranted, learning our new ATS hasn’t always been easy. It’s taken me a full on year – more, even – to fully grasp and understand how, exactly, to use this system. That investment has paid off – now that I know how to actually align my system of work with my system at work, I use it for pretty much everything.

I’m talking like, everything – I’ll bet I’m probably one of the few end users who may or may not have, uh, figured out that the custom dashboarding is capped at 50. I have over 150 saved searches in the system – OK, I might be the sourcing equivalent of a hoarder, but I’m telling you, I use them and depend on them.

Most of these features or functionalities I’ve figured out on my own, and while I’m sure I’ll continue to discover new workflows and workarounds, for now, I’m comfortable with where I’m at, and satisfied with my applicant tracking system.

I know, it sounds weird for anyone to say that, but at this point, it’s true.

I’ve learned a lot more about recruiting ever since I took the time to really learn the ins and outs of my ATS. Some of my discoveries were shocking.

For example, when I started building dashboards around the number of applicants for a particular position and the number of candidates in our system who met the minimum criteria for the position, I was amazed to discover how many applicants we were already sitting on that we’d missed simply because we didn’t know they were there.

Or, in most cases, because the recruiter didn’t fully understand how to search through their own ATS. We were sitting on the best talent community conceivable, and turns out, it’s the database of candidates we’ve been building up for years without even knowing it.

I’ll be the first to admit having written off this system, like I had all the others, when it was first implemented. It would have been easy to sit back and dismiss it, figure out more workarounds and fill more file folders, as I’d done over the course of my career. But for once, I decided to suck it up and actually take the time to learn a system, and my newfound productivity and proficiency are worth all the pain it took to figure out how to maximize the return on our ATS investment.

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We all go through a quick training course, maybe get some flashcards, but we have jobs to do and reqs to close and no one has time to really figure out anything more about their ATS than is absolutely necessary. Like any recruiter, I’ve always hated the ATS – until I realized how far applicant tracking systems have come since the days of DOS.

If you’re going to to spend the money it takes to replace your applicant tracking system, as so many organizations are, it’s imparative you spend the time learning to maximize and optimize the new system, too. Remember: what you get out of an ATS depends on what your recruiters put in, first.

If your recruiting is broken, stop blaming your ATS for a change – don’t hate the player, hate the game, as they say.

And never forget, all applicant tracking systems are only as good as the recruiters using it. If you suck, it’s probably not your system’s fault. But if you’re already a good recruiter, having the right tools and tech just might make you a great one.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUAAAAAJGQ3N2YxZTg4LWRlNDQtNDM2NS1hNDI1LWM5NzUwNGQ0NGM5OAAbout the Author: Bahar Studdard has been an agency recruiter for over 14 years, working in the transportation, manufacturing and logistics fields in staffing. She works remotely, supporting 12 offices in 4 states (Colorado, Albuquerque, Oklahoma & Wyoming).

She directly supports the Regional Vice President by working with her offices on their recruiting challenges and needs and works directly with 2 clients in Longmont for their skilled placements.  She has also owned her own business, and enjoys writing.

Follow her on Twitter @TrendyBahar or connect with her on LinkedIn.