From ATS to talent acquisition platform

Does the term ‘ATS’ (Applicant Tracking System) conjure up a slightly passive system nowadays? I think so.

When we meet customers who don’t yet have e-recruitment, and who run and manage their information in spreadsheets, they nearly always call it their ‘tracking spreadsheet’. To me, ‘ATS’ just sounds like a web-based version of this.

In reality, it is so much more. Online recruitment technology today should be labelled in a way which reflects its capabilities. I think ‘ATS’ has become an outdated term for a lot of systems which have evolved beyond applicant tracking in its purest sense. Instead, we should start to refer to these solutions as talent acquisition platforms.

The importance of data in talent acquisition

Now applicant tracking systems are still relevant; the ability to manage every piece of information relating to your jobs and candidates remains essential for internal recruiters.

In fact, as a supplier, we’re always being asked the same questions. Queries around users’ access to data. Questions like, ‘How can I report?’, and ‘What can I report on?’ We’re asked, ‘Can I search the database?’ and ‘How does keyword searching work?’

Data and reporting capabilities are of paramount importance to our customers – and as such the applicant tracking elements of talent acquisition platforms are still crucial. But whilst an ATS is fundamentally just a live database, a talent acquisition platform looks at a much bigger picture.

It provides you with tools to manage the attraction stage and to reach the pools of candidates that you want. This is technology that facilitates the attraction, engagement and subsequent hiring of talent.

The future of talent acquisition platform technology

I see talent acquisition platforms increasingly becoming mobile optimised. By that, I mean them becoming ‘app-like’, so a hiring manager will see on their phone, very clearly and with no training, what they need to do. Tasks like approving vacancies or interview actions – these will be completed on their phone with the ease of any other app.

This technology should become natural, like everything else on our phones. We know instinctively how to use our internet banking apps; which buttons mean yes, which mean no, how to move across different screens.

The actual heart of the recruitment technology will not be simplified or compromised. The powerful tools that internal recruiters use today will still be there but, like with all apps, the complexity will be disguised with an engaging and simple user interface.

Complexity masquerading as simplicity within talent acquisition platforms

Ultimately, the use of a system should always simplify the work that people need to perform. The aim of technologists like us should be to make things appear, look and feel to be as simple as possible.

That’s a challenge because with flexibility comes complexity. In order to do things your way, a system must be able to accommodate a variety of options. We can’t simply say, ‘This is the way this works’ if you want to post a job. Instead, there need to be multiple intuitive and flexible options so you can post a job in a way that suits your needs.

You can buy a cheap Applicant Tracking System that forces you to work a particular way. But that’s the kind of ATS we’re increasingly talking to disgruntled users about, as they’ve been locked into a way of working that doesn’t meet their specific needs.

To me, striking this balance between complexity and usability is one of the most exciting and significant challenges within software development. When it comes to a talent acquisition platform, it’s essential to anticipate the needs your users will have tomorrow, today.

The in-house recruitment industry is one of flux and change

Talent acquisition technology has to keep up with the pace. As complementary technologies such as video interviewing and CV parsing tools continue to evolve, it will be more important than ever for the ATS or talent acquisition platform to integrate with and support these additional services for a 360° recruiting strategy. The ATS should lie at the heart of this, storing and managing data from multiple other platforms.

In terms of capability, the focus will continue to be on reporting, with a real emphasis on increasingly sophisticated and bespoke reporting tools.

And I’d like to see recruitment software positioned in a more strategic role within organisations. A powerful talent acquisition platform will provide valuable reporting and success metrics, enable a centralised view of recruiting across a business, and will connect recruiters with hiring managers and senior leadership.

As I said at the beginning of this piece. Online recruitment technology is now so much more than just an ATS.

Jeremy Ovenden is the Founder and Managing Director of Hireserve.

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About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.