How to choose an ATS for your HR department: ATS buying guide

zinc logo icon
Jordie Black
Updated on:

When done right, an applicant tracking system (ATS) can be a powerful recruiting tool. The question is, how do you go about choosing the right one?

With a landscape of ATS options that are constantly evolving, it can be hard to pick the right one and make sure you've made an informed decision. To ensure success, understand your objectives. This means paying attention to data points like feature sets, customer satisfaction ratings, and integrations with existing tools.

Additionally, consider customer support among the deciding factors – will your team receive adequate help if something goes wrong? Making all the necessary considerations in advance can help save you precious time down the line.

Choose wrong, and you'll end up doing the very thing the tool is supposed to support: wasting time.

With so many options on the market, any comparison guide quickly becomes outdated. So, we’ve compiled a framework for how to decide which ATS is right  for you

Here's what we'll cover:

  • What is an ATS: applicant tracking system Explained
  • Growth stage: How the size of your company impacts your needs
  • ATS features to consider: the basics
  • Security: How to keep your data safe when choosing an ATS partner
  • Implementation: Tips for a smooth roll-out
  • Integrations: How to get the most out of your ATS with other software
  • Evaluating ATS vendors: what to look for

What is an ATS?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a type of software used by recruiters and employers to collect, sort, scan, and store job applications.

ATS tools are designed to streamline the recruiting process by automating repetitive tasks, such as; posting job ads, screening resumes, scheduling interviews and tracking applicant progress through each stage of the hiring process.

Many ATSs also have built-in resume parsers that can extract data from resumes and automatically populate fields in the candidate’s profile. Additionally, some ATS systems can also be used to assess candidates using skills tests and performance-based assessments.

Alongside this, consider:

  1. Team Tailor
  2. Workable
  3. Freshteam
  4. Pinpoint
  5. Comeet
  6. Ashby

Recent data from TrustRadius highlights that although there are some market winners, the split between market shares is all somewhat similar. 

In addition to automating repetitive tasks and storing data about applicants, an ATS can also help you keep track of which positions have been filled and which ones are still open. This is especially helpful if your organisation experiences high turnover or frequently has open positions.

While Applicant Tracking Systems can be a helpful tool for managing large volumes of applications, they have come under criticism for being biased against certain groups of candidates, such as those with non-traditional work histories. In addition, some ATSs may use keywords to screen candidates, which can lead to qualified candidates being overlooked if their resumes do not contain the right keywords.

To avoid these biases, choosing an ATS that is configurable and allows you to control which factors are used to screen candidates is essential.

Growth stage: how the size of your company impacts your needs

When it comes to selecting an ATS, the size of your organisation is an essential factor. Before you start shopping around for a system, take some time to consider what level of functionality you need now and in the future.

Smaller organisations can get by with essential features such as applicant tracking and resume parsing, while larger organisations may need additional capabilities such as advanced analytics and reporting.

For rapidly growing companies, an ATS with scalability is critical — you want to ensure it can grow with your organisation. Consider the number of recruiters you plan to use the system and any other departments that could benefit from integrating with your ATS.

However, there are a few general indications that it may be time to consider investing in an ATS. For example, you spend a significant amount of time sifting through resumes and applications or need help keeping track of all your candidates. An ATS can help automate and streamline these processes.


Additionally, if you want to improve your candidate experience or make your hiring process more efficient, an ATS can be a valuable tool. Ultimately, whether or not to implement an ATS should be based on your specific needs and goals.

If you are a small business with only a few job openings each year, you may not need an ATS or prefer a less-feature-rich option. On the other hand, if you are a large enterprise with hundreds of job openings and a complex hiring process, you will likely need an ATS that is more robust and can handle a high volume of applicants.

"The business research you should be conducting prior to selection is vital. The ATS you select should work for every stakeholder's needs... and that includes your candidates"

Nathan McLaughlin
Senior Partnerships Manager, Teamtailor

ATS Features: the must-haves, the useful, the nice to have, bespoke

The price of many online HR tools depends on the features you require. The same is true for Applicant Tracking Systems, which can vary widely in terms of price and functionality.

To help you choose the proper ATS for your needs, we’ve compiled a list of essential and optional features to consider.

Essential ATS features: 

These are the core features that an ATS should have to manage the job application process effectively:

  • Candidate tracking: The ability to track and manage candidates through the hiring process, including resume submission, application Review, and interviews.
  • Job posting: The ability to post open positions and manage applications.
  • Resume parsing: The ability to extract relevant information from resumes and add it to the candidate's profile in the ATS.
  • Search and filtering: The ability to search and filter candidates based on specific criteria, such as skills or experience.
  • Communication tools: The ability to communicate with candidates through the ATS, including email and messaging.

Essential features of an ATS

  • Candidate database: A centralised repository to store and manage candidate profiles, resumes, and applications.
  • Job posting integration: Ability to post job openings to multiple job boards and social media platforms.
  • Resume parsing: Automatic extraction of relevant information from resumes for easier sorting and filtering.
  • Search and filter: Robust search options to easily find candidates based on skills, experience, location, etc.
  • Workflow management: A system to track the recruitment process stages for each candidate.
  • Compliance tracking: Features to ensure that the hiring process complies with legal requirements.
  • Reporting and analytics: Basic metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of recruitment efforts.
  • Communication tools: Email templates and automated responses for efficient communication with candidates.
  • Import and export: Easy data import and export for seamless migration and external analysis.
  • Universal search: Quick and robust search capabilities to find candidate records easily.
  • Tags: Custom tagging for segmenting your candidate database.
  • Collaboration: Team-based features for reviewing and rating candidates.
  • Customisation: Ability to tailor workflows to your specific recruitment process.
  • Messaging: Bulk messaging with personalisation options.

Useful features

  • Collaboration tools: Features that allow multiple team members to review and rate candidates.
  • Interview scheduling: Automated tools to coordinate interviews between candidates and hiring managers.
  • Skill assessments: Built-in or integrated tests to evaluate candidate skills.
  • Onboarding integration: A seamless transition from candidate to employee through onboarding features.
  • Mobile accessibility: A mobile-friendly interface for on-the-go access.
  • Candidate sourcing: Helps build a robust candidate pipeline and automate outreach.
  • Structured interviewing: Streamlines the interview process with scheduling, structured kits, and DEI tools.
  • Candidate relationship management (CRM): For nurturing relationships with future potential hires.
  • Centralisation of data: Keeps all candidate-related data in one place for easier management.

Nice to have features

  • AI-powered matching: Advanced algorithms to match candidates with suitable job openings.
  • Video interviewing: Integrated video interview capabilities.
  • Social media scraping: Collect additional information about candidates from their social media profiles.
  • Chatbots: Automated bots for initial candidate engagement and screening.
  • Custom branding: Ability to customise the look and feel of the ATS to match your company branding.
  • Google Apps integration: Useful for teams already using Google Workspace, but not essential for all.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): Advanced analytics related to DEI.
  • Recruitment marketing: Enhances the candidate experience at every touchpoint.
  • Automation and personalisation: Automates repetitive tasks while offering a personalised experience.

Specific use-case features

  • Freelancer management: For managing freelancers alongside full-time employees.
  • High-volume recruiting: For handling a large number of applicants.
  • Industry-specific compliance: Necessary for regulated industries like healthcare and finance.
  • Remote hiring: Features that facilitate hiring remote employees.


How to keep your data safe when choosing an ATS 

When it comes to HR data, security is always a top concern. When selecting an ATS, look for a vendor that takes data security seriously and has robust measures to protect your information.

Some things to look for include the following:

Encryption: Ensure your data is encrypted in transit and at rest. This will help to protect your data if there is a security breach.

Access control: Only give users the access they need to do their job. This will help to minimise the risk of unauthorised access to your data.

Two-factor authentication: This adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to enter a code from their phone or email in addition to their password.

Auditing: Choose an ATS that keeps track of all user activity, so you can easily audit and review any suspicious activity.

ISO 27001 Certification: This certification indicates that the vendor takes data security seriously and has the necessary controls to protect your information.

Customisation: How to tailor your ATS to your specific needs

Every organisation is different, and your ATS should be able to adapt to your unique needs. Look for an ATS that offers a high degree of customisation, so you can change the system as your needs evolve.

For instance, many HR department and teams use existing software, whether it be. Cloud-based, hybrid or on-premise, to manage their processes. Look for an ATS that integrates with existing systems to streamline workflows and gain access to your needed data.

"Don't overlook implementation and support. Its always challenging to get a team on board with new tools and processes —look for a partner who will make the processes easier, not harder."

Beth Skelton, Director of Partnerships

Implementation: Ease of use

Using a new tool can be a significant change for any organisation, and while some confusion is typical, adjusting to a new tool should be manageable.

When looking for an ATS partner, see if you can demo or trial the tool before committing. This will allow you to see how it works and whether or not it's a good fit for your needs.

Check to see how much support is offered during the implementation process. A good vendor should help you every step of the way, from importing your data to training your staff on how to use the system.

Finally, ensure the vendor offers good customer support if you encounter any problems. Additional resources to look for are an active user community and helpful documentation, video walkthroughs and a knowledge base.

Your ATS should play nice with the other software in your tech stack. Look for an ATS that offers pre-built integrations with standard HR tools such as background checking, performance management, and learning management systems. If you already use several tools and are happy, it's worth checking to see if the ATS integrates with them before making the switch.

Discover a better way for reliable automated background checks