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7 Ways an Online Applicant Tracking System Can Help Your Bottom Line

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Using an online applicant tracking system (ATS) transforms a staffing business — and if you rely on an ATS, losing that technology can feel like a throwback.

Paul Sabatino had been working at a large publicly traded company and using an ATS. When he moved to Harmer Consultants, the contract and contract-to-hire consultancy of Harmer Associates, his initial experience with Harmer’s systems was a little like stepping back in time.

“It had a very manual process — resumes on a server, manilla folders, querying through Outlook,” he says. “It was extremely difficult.”

He found an open-source ATS and began working with it. “As my group grew, we built our business on it,” he says, and in 2010 he was chosen to head the company’s ATS committee. The company then went live with Bullhorn in June 2011.

“The main thing that I kept in mind was that an ATS should provide accessibility, transparency and business intelligence for your book of business,” Sabatino says. “When the features of the ATS support these, they do a great job of saving time and effort — and in the staffing business, that has a direct effect on the bottom line.”

We talked recently with Sabatino, now vice president and technology recruiter at Harmer Consultants, about the different ways an online applicant tracking system can boost your bottom line. You’ll find that “increased efficiency” is a common thread; here’s how it breaks down.

Time Saved with Automation

Staffing firms have a lot of manual and redundant processes. A good applicant tracking system can automate many of those that take up time and money, and help improve your bottom line.

For example, Sabatino says he was able to automate the timesheet submission and approval process through the ATS, which was a huge time-saver. “It used to be done on an Excel spreadsheet that you had to sign and fax back to the front desk,” he says.

Other aspects of staffing that online applicant tracking system is especially good at automating include background checks, Sabatino says. “Regardless of your ATS vendor, with most of these systems it’s just one single point of entry that allows you to run the check,” he says.

Streamlined Workflows

Acquiring an online applicant tracking system can be a wake-up call, because there’s a lot of time, effort and resources required up front to get it right, Sabatino says. You’ll need to map your organization’s workflow to get an idea of the state of things, and you’ll likely find inefficiencies along the way, he says.

When you finally implement an ATS, regardless of vendor, remember that it’s built on best practices and provides a structured workflow right out of the box, Sabatino says. “You’re at a crossroads there — do you customize the ATS to fit your workflow, or do you take a look at your workflow to change for the software?” If you can be open-minded, changing your processes to fit the software can help you get everyone on the same page and operating more efficiently, Sabatino says.

Increased Business Intelligence

One of the biggest ways applicant tracking software can boost your bottom line is through the insights it generates about your clients. “Quick reporting of annual revenue, placements in a month, health of relationship with a candidate or client — you can look for patterns,” Sabatino says. That business intelligence can translate into better customer service: If a client always comes to you in March and October, you can start to anticipate their needs and be prepared to reconnect when the time comes, he says.

In addition, being able to pinpoint a candidate with ease and determine exactly where they are in the pipeline makes your work more efficient. “If you’re in delivery or recruiting and sending candidates to sales, you can see exactly when interviews are picking up,” Sabatino says.

Better Reporting

An online applicant tracking system is excellent for generating reports that clarify business decisions. “The reporting capabilities help everyone get an honest read on where your spend is garnering the most return on investment,” Sabatino says. For example, Harmer tracks what the candidate source is — CareerBuilder, Dice, their own website, a referral, etc. “Having the ability to run a report at the end of the year on how many candidates we entered into the system from paid sites and how many came to fruition from those sources, we can better negotiate contract renewals, or realize that the value isn’t what we thought it was,” Sabatino says. “We could then reallocate that spend elsewhere where it could affect the business better.”

You may also find that incomplete reports uncover gaps in your information collection, with some reports being a case of “garbage in, garbage out,” Sabatino says. “The more you put into your reports, the more meaningful those reports are for the desk, division and company,” he says, noting that better reports increase efficiency.

Increased Productivity

How do your recruiters spend their time? If you — or they — don’t know, an online ATS can help provide a clearer picture and illustrate whether the results are worth it. “Activity reports can give an honest read on what people did this week,” Sabatino says. “I’ve seen that fuel a lot of individuals who thought they were doing OK but realized they could work more efficiently and do better with their time management.”

This approach applies to clients as well, Sabatino says. Metrics such as average duration that a job remains open, fill ratio and candidate submittal-to-interview ratio can indicate issues with a current client. “It may be too time-consuming for the efforts recruiters are putting forth and not really having much success or winning business,” Sabatino says. “Sometimes you have to have those hard conversations and say goodbye when there’s no longer ROI. But the bottom line is, it’s given you that insight to determine where time is best spent or why revenue in an account dipped from last year to this year.”

Retained Institutional Knowledge

Any time a recruiter leaves your organization, you know a lot of information is walking out the door with them. “As employers, you’re facing higher turnover rates than ever before,” Sabatino says. “A well-run ATS helps stem the loss of institutional knowledge with a structured approach to documentation.”

Having a record of conversations, candidate interactions, submissions and interviews a recruiter has worked on ensures no one drops the ball, even when recruiters move on. “It’s like having an entire history at your fingertips,” Sabatino says.

Greater Accessibility

How easy is it for your recruiters to check up on accounts when they’re not in the office? A good online applicant tracking system will be full of features that save time, but it’s important to keep the program’s accessibility in mind to make working more efficient for your recruiters. A program that relies on a desktop operating system ties recruiters to desks at certain hours. A cloud-based system makes it easy for your recruiting base to access their work from wherever they are, whether they’re working from home, on the road between client meetings or managing a staffing emergency while on vacation. “This option saves time, frustration and effort,” Sabatino says — and that all affects the bottom line.

How to Choose an ATS

Investing in an applicant tracking system takes time, money and effort, and it’s no small task to get everyone up to speed on it. But the returns are worth it if you do it right. A few tips to consider if you’re in the market for an ATS:

  • Keep your user base in mind.  When you’re picking an ATS, Sabatino says, “you’re searching for something that fits your budget and workflow, but if it’s clunky and not intuitive and frustrating to use, the adoption rate will be extremely low, and the return on the investment goes out the window.”
  • Think ahead. Look three to five years down the road, Sabatino says. “Doing things manually may be OK as you’re starting out; you might have only eight or 10 consultants on a project. But what happens when you get to 50, or 100? Will your infrastructure support it, or fall on its face? Scalability is the No. 1 thing to keep in mind.”

No matter what online applicant tracking system you pick, make your decision with an eye on the bottom line. Wherever you find efficiencies — streamlining processes, spending less time on non-revenue generating tasks, identifying overspending on certain clients or niches — a good ATS can help you save money in the long run by working smarter and faster.

Curious how your firm compares? Learn how other firms use ATS in our new report, How Does Your Staffing Firm Stack Up?