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The Future of ATS's (Applicant Tracking Systems)

I have been using various Applicant Tracking Systems in recruitment for the last 12 years.  The first system I ever used was Bond’s Adapt, a then UNIX based database that has become a market leader in the UK & Ireland.  I moved jobs and used ACT! for a while, which had some nifty features but was far inferior to Adapt so we went back to the tried and tested Bond product.

I moved abroad for a few years and found myself using spreadsheets as my “ATS”, quite the challenge, so when I returned to Ireland to co-found Select People, I was determined to find a powerful, modern ATS to help drive our business forward.  We were introduced to the founders of Caliber, an Irish owned software company who were selling a new SAAS based ATS, mainly to direct employers but they had a strong agency version of their product that we tried out and really liked.  The Software as a Service idea has always appealed to me and having an ATS that was on-line worked well with out business model that sees our consultants logging in from different, remote locations every day.

That was 2008, U2 had yet to release No Line on the Horizon and the economic slow down had not yet developed into a full blown recession.  Like many other recruiters, we still largely relied on web and print advertising to attract candidates to “apply” for our vacancies and we then screened, shortlisted and submitted these candidates to our clients for review.  This is how most agencies have done this for decades.  All of the ATS’s on the market are designed around this workflow, i.e. person applies for a job, you screen them and then submit them.  You set up interviews, make offers and invoice.  How things have changed!!!!

These days I am suspicious of people who apply to one of our assignments with a CV having never spoken to me before.  I question why I haven’t heard of them before, why didnt I know they existed?  99% of the time, I approach someone and ask them if they would be interested in discussing a move.  Chances are they don’t have a current CV and certainly aren’t actively looking for a job.  I target them because my research has led me to believe that they are near perfect for my requirement.  We engage in dialogue, I present my client and their opportunity and if its seems like a good fit, the person draws up a CV and we get them talking directly with our client.   How do I find them?  I network on social media, I tweet, I write blogs, I engage with professionals in various industries and I build relationships.  I get to know my target market and they get to know and trust me.  When my client needs quality people, I can dip into this network and find the right person at the right time.  I source people; what I used to do was select people; there is a huge difference.

This brings me back to ATS’s; very few are designed for the modern recruiter, hence they have become increasingly redundant and you find yourself spending more time on the web, on Tweetdeck, flicking through different sites and onto spreadsheets and into emails, generally using 10 different apps at once, not very productive!  After only 18 months of using our own ATS, Caliber, we found that we were using it less and less and really only to store data which meant a lot of copying and pasting from emails and web sites.  If you consider that for any one assignment we might engage with 50-100 potential candidates, that is a lot of admin!  We were therefore delighted to hear from our ATS vendor a couple of months ago when they approached us asking us if we felt that the software needed to be improved.  We took our chance and shared with them our vision of the future of recruitment and how the market was waiting for a vendor to tie in all the great recruitment tools into one application.  They nodded their heads, made some notes and headed back to their development labs.  2 weeks later we begun to see the first fruits of their labour…

A typical consultant generates upward of a hundred emails in any one day, not counting replies and received mails.  It is vital to store this information against your candidate records and vacancies as this information becomes your swiss army knife when presented with a difficult case to crack.  I firmly believe that the quality of the information you gather and the speed at which you can retrieve relevant information is what differentiates good recruiters from great ones.  The first improvement that Caliber rolled out to us was integration with Google Apps.  What this means is that our webmail (which is hosted by google apps, by the way) is now seamlessly integrated into our ATS.  I can send an email from my smart phone, my laptop at home or an internet cafe on holidays and Caliber will know that I sent it and match the email address and message against the relevant client or candidate record.  I can then code this against a vacancy or client record and easily retrieve it whenever I need it.  I can send mails from my ATS or my web client, it doesn’t matter, the ATS treats them the same way and they are all searchable in my Google Mail (why try and build a better mail client in your ATS when Google do such a good job of it).  Next up on the Google Apps side is seamless integration with my Google Calendar meaning that I can use Google’s great reminders to encourage me to follow up on my tasks, without having to worry about how they all link up.

Today we saw Phase 2 of Caliber’s upgrade, the ability to search and parse information from Linked In from within the ATS.  This is a massive step forward.  I can click my search button and bring back very targeted public profiles from Linked In and add them to my database with the click of a button, parsing all of the information I need in one move.  The structure of this allows Caliber to integrate social searching from any source, all within the Caliber ATS with intelligent Boolean search operators and strings running in the background.  If you are a professional recruiter, you’ll appreciate the power of this seemingly simple innovation.

So what is next?  I can tell you that the guys have lots of really exciting plans but I’m not going to share them with you just yet, I want to play around with them and ensure we get the advantage of this cutting edge innovation first!  Caliber is a privately owned Irish company meaning that they can quickly innovate and develop a new product by listening to the needs of their customers and watching how quickly the market is moving.  It’s time to look again at what your ATS provider is doing for you; do they really know your business and are they focused on the now or on the future?

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