Articles by Smart Recruit Online

Why is my ATS NOT working as an effective Recruitment Tool!!!

If you operate in or around in house recruitment and have already acquired or you are looking to acquire or upgrade an ATS, HR System, CRM or recruitment management system, then you should find what I am about to share with you quite interesting and potentially eye opening.

In fact, I hope that I can make you think very carefully about what it is that you actually want and need, and to look out for the misleading sales pitches that you are about to encounter.

Or maybe you already have a system in place that is not doing what you were lead to believe it would do and you want to establish why that is and what you can do about it?

The reality is, that every HR & Recruitment vendor out there is going to tell you that they are the best and that their solution is going to satisfy all your requirements. And if they didn’t, then no one would buy their kit.

What I have discovered in the last 10 years, is that the majority of recruitment technology acquisitions are not really fit for purpose and do not deliver half of what the client was told it would.

Online surveys and customer reviews suggests that around 70-80% of in house Recruiters believe that their recruitment technology doesn’t work effectively and in the majority of cases these are HR and ATS systems with a recruitment plugin or recruitment module. The rest are probably in denial or have had to make some serious adjustments in order to  accommodate their needs and objectives or maybe they just don’t know any better?

I want to use this article to explain to you why most in house recruiters are at the very least disappointed by their recruitment technology acquisition (or in many cases, the tech that they have inherited from their predecessor) and to look at what a modern recruitment technology solution should look like .

If you are unsure whether this topic is relevant to yourself and your organisation, start by asking yourself the following questions:

– Does my vendor encourage me to judge them based on key recruitment metrics like my fulfilment rates? (Providing this information against just your data via a reporting tool is not the same as being judged by the outcomes)

– Does my current vendor support key elements associated with talent attraction? Like Media selection and acquisition, job advert generation, keyword optimisation and multi-media posting etc?

– Does my current vendor provide any meaningful ongoing customer support that aids the recruitment process  (Not just technical support)

– Does my vendor support, provide or contribute to delivering a range of alternative solutions such as social media marketing, programmatic PPC marketing, Data Mining and email marketing, Referral programmes etc

– Is my vendor continually upgrading their service to incorporate the latest tools, technology, services and methods for attracting talent?

– Does my vendor work with me to evaluate the data generated by the system to understand it and to actively contribute, with ways to make improvements to my recruitment processes, in the future?

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Before I get really stuck into this discussion, I want to be totally transparent with you, especially anyone that doesn’t already know me.

I confess, that I do have a business that provides recruitment technology services  and we do develop solutions that enables a business to recruit smarter, faster and always at the lowest possible cost.

And without being egotistical about this, we are genuinely pretty good at it.

In fact, statistically, we attract higher volumes of applications per job across all industry sectors and fill a higher % of jobs from direct applications, using an online strategy, than any other online recruitment service in the UK, so I also think that we have earned the right to have an opinion on such matters, as to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to online recruitment technology and services. However, you will be pleased to hear that I will not be ramming our business down your throat, throughout the article.

I confess  that I am totally biased, but there is an awful lot of science, research, objective evidence and common sense that back up my opinions on these matters and I am very open to anyone challenging me on them.

In fact, let’s start a constructive discussion right here. Please feel free to post your comments in the thread below, so that we can debate the topic openly….

So let’s start with the statistics. I have searched and reviewed lots of satisfaction surveys as well as personally surveying more than 500 recruitment technology users in the UK myself and its fairly clear to me that the % of people that are dissatisfied with their recruitment technology provider is well over 70%.

So ¾ of all acquisitions in this space have under delivered on their promises and many technology platforms I would go as far to say are unfit for purpose. Now if that isn’t a wake -up call for anyone looking for a solution, then I don’t know what is. It’s a four to one chance that you will get something that you are happy with?

One of the primary reason that so many of us are dissatisfied with our vendor provider, is because the vendors sell their product, with a massive emphasis on how their technology will solve problems and deliver solutions that are recruitment related. So expectations in this area are set pretty  high from the get go.

This isn’t a cheap acquisition either, with typical ATS/HR System set up costs and license fees in the region of £20-£50k and for larger corps considerably more than that. So it’s hardly surprising that recruiters are frustrated to find that the system that they fought for or inherited doesn’t aid the attraction of talent as well as should be expected.

In fact many ATS systems are even counter-productive to direct hiring strategy. Yes you did read that correctly. Application numbers have been known to go down significantly after introducing an ATS, especially if you introduce a career page into your application process, where you are capturing and screening all applicants that are redirected from third party media channels, job boards etc.

This is because 91% of all online applications are made by people who are already in employment. And these people don’t want to fill out application forms or screening questions at the start of the process. If you haven’t worked out that redirecting candidate traffic from 3rd party advertising channels significantly increases applicant drop out of the best prospective candidates, then join this webinar that I am running that is based upon a case study of a major, national insurance company that discovered its true drop off rate was in fact 83%. Webinar: Research that will change the way that you recruit online (or if you don’t have time to watch this, just message me and I will send you the report)


The reality is, that most ATS systems just don’t work as a talent attraction tool and this is obviously such a critical stage in the process. So, unless you have a magic wand that can turn poor candidates into good ones…….

You see, ATS systems and also CRM’s just aren’t designed to work that way and they don’t want to be measured or judged against any key outcomes or against any obvious metrics that would determine whether they were any good at filling jobs. No one will deny that they are highly effective at storing and tracking applicant data, but that’s not really the difficult bit.

You could even argue that the reporting features on an ATS have cleverly managed to avoid any personal criticism by  turning the data that they generate into your metrics and your fulfilment rates.

I think that all this would be far more acceptable to most users if only the vendor hadn’t sold the virtues of their talent attraction and campaign fulfilment capability so much at the start.

Despite all this, I do believe that ATS’s and HR systems have an important role to play, especially in larger multi-site operations with higher volumes of recruitment in more complex environments and we have seen significant changes in the last few years, with more of them moving to cloud based solutions and integrating more easily with third party tools through open API’s. However, I still think that these vendors are missing a massively important key component if they want to truly evolve in line with the needs of their target audience and the constantly evolving technology landscape.

And that is to change the way that they support their users.

I have only ever heard of one ATS provider in the UK ever, that delivered any ongoing proactive supports to its users, that went beyond initial training and technology support. And I haven’t seen any evidence that this was any more than a piece of good account management by an individual, rather that company driven policy.

The reason quality ongoing support is so important, is because the effectiveness of a technology solution is as much down to the processes and methods deployed, as it is down to the technology itself.

Let me explain this point because it is really important. Simple improvements to process can have significant impacts on results. Here are two practical examples of what I mean.

A client was struggling to get applicants to complete a screening task. After consulting with the client and advising them on a slightly different approach they were able to improve the completion rate of the task from under 50% to 90% second time around. In another instance we helped a client optimise their job advert so that it appeared on page 1 in the job board results instead of page three. They subsequently generated 15 times more applications second time around. These are very basic examples just to emphasise my point and  I could go on to add simple examples of such practical improvements at every stage in the recruitment life cycle. I am suggesting that such simple support and expertise ‘could be’ and maybe even ‘should be’ provided by the vendors as part of a more effective service, if you consider that the technology is only half of the overall solution?

I was introduced to some new terminology about two years ago,  ‘Human Computation’,  which represents that important blend between science and art, that is required to deliver an effective recruitment solution. After all, we are dealing with people that respond to emotions as well as to logic.


Do not under estimate the importance of this in regards to how effective your recruitment strategy is. An effective modern recruitment system should enable you to minimise administration tasks and avoid duplication of efforts, but it also needs to facilitate and encourage more human engagement and in order to do this effectively, there is often a subtle educational piece that is required to encourage best practice to enable this to happen with each user.

The level of proactive support that is required in the early stages of a new users experience and the knowledge and expertise required to deliver this effectively simply does not exist right now within the ATS community and is a major differentiator if your primary objectives are to drive improvements to key areas such as, talent attraction, retention of the more passive prospects during the recruitment process, better selection methodology to administration time and ultimately to direct hire fulfilment rates.

For me and for many in house recruitment teams that we work with, the technology alone is not enough, even if it was more intuitive, flexible and best in class.

ATS and CRM’s tend to provide technology platforms and not processes and solutions.

This may seem like a biased view, because I represent the type of technology and service that I am promoting within this article, but surely it makes sense for any business and for every recruiter to want to work with a best in class suite of technology that is complimented by equally intelligent processes that optimise and maximise the outcomes at each and every stage of the recruitment life cycle?

If you have acquired an ATS or Recruitment Management System that delivers all of this, then I congratulate you, as you have selected well, and if you haven’t, then you will be pleased to know that there are systems out there that can work both independently or alongside or even be integrated with your current technology vendor.


– Don’t be persuaded to believe that you need one single end to end system. Always select best in class.

– Check out key metrics like fulfilment rates and force your provider to be more accountable

– Find out how far their customer support goes. Will they help you to come up with plan B or C and contribute towards the discussion about where improvement might come from

– Ask to see a selection of testimonials that highlight their customer Satisfaction credentials and  ask to check their validity

– Ask about future developments that are included and planned

– Confirm that you can integrate new technologies and systems that come along at little or no cost and within a reasonable time frame.

– Stay focussed on your primary objectives and don’t be swayed by tons of features that you will never use

Here are the 10 most common objectives that in house teams want to achieve with help from their selected vendor

– Achieve better value for money from direct advertising budgets

– Overall cost reduction and remove the need for recruitment agencies

– Improved quantity and quality of direct applications

– Improved campaign management efficiencies, transparency and collaboration

– Introduce Automation of mechanical and administrative processes (i.e. via parsing software)

– Improve the candidate experience

– Access to customer support throughout the recruitment lifecycle on each campaign

-Reductions in to time to hire and administration time during each campaign

– Allow better use of applicant database

– A flexible and adaptable system that can be tailored to specific needs and process

…I hope that you found this topic helpful or interesting?

There has been a 100% increase in online job related search activity in the last 10 years and adapting to this, capitalising on it and  harnessing this to our advantage is a dedicated passion of mine.

Selecting the right tools and applying the best processes is central to our understanding of how you achieve this.

About the author

mark st

Mark Stephens has worked within the recruitment sector for nearly 20 years both in-house and agency side and more recently within the technology environment. A previous winner of the prestigious Chambers – Innovation in Business award, Mark is a serial entrepreneur and is the founder of Smart Recruit Online, the Recruitment Alliance and The HR & Recruitment Resource Library. Mark has dedicated his time since 2007 researching the online recruitment sector from a user, technology, and candidate perspective and is regularly published and quoted by leading industry publications for his research and personal opinions.

Connect with Mark Stephens on LinkedIn.