The Past, Present, and Future of Applicant Tracking System and How to Choose the Right One

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Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, are programs that automate and optimize much of a recruiter’s hiring processes.

They are much like CRMs only for recruiting, and they have infiltrated the entire recruiting process. They save recruiters and hiring managers from an impossible mound of applications to manually go through and streamline the entire hiring process, even onboarding.

But you may be wondering:

  1. How long did the online applicant tracking system software has been around for
  2. What recruiters did before they had them
  3. How to choose the right online applicant tracking system
  4. Pricing options for ATS

We’re going to answer all that and more below.

Precursors to ATS

Precursors to ATS

Before any ATS was created, recruiters and hiring personnel relied on paper resumes, phones, and non-computer-based ads such as bulletin boards, classified ads, and signs.

Sourcing and networking relied on word-of-mouth and a pretty small number of people who saw your advertisements or who you spotted somewhere locally. Also, applicant information was only as safe as you could keep your physical documents.

The first applicant tracking systems were created in the early 1970s. There was computer use, but not widespread internet use, so these systems were limited to the computer and did little more than store resumes in an easy-to-find-and-read format on a physical network.

Jobs were still posted on bulletin boards, run in classified sections, and shared by word-of-mouth and signs outside the buildings. Recruiters would reach out to candidates by phone. These early applicant tracking systems did perform two of the vital functions we expect today:

  1. they made handling resumes more efficient
  2. and helped eliminate liability issues.

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Eventually, one could scan paper resumes to be entered into the ATS, cross-reference candidates, and track the employees’ steps through the hiring process. These early systems were incredibly complicated to use.

It was a skill people had to build, rather than a simple, user-friendly interface as we expect in today’s software. Despite the difficulty, companies already recognized the benefits of ATS and, by 1994, even medium-sized businesses were using them.

The following is an excerpt from a 1997 essay:

“Smaller companies are also using the software. The Association of Human Resource Systems Professionals, in a 1994 study of nearly 400 companies, found that 4 out of 10 companies with fewer than 1,000 workers were using a free online applicant tracking system to keep tabs on people who apply for employment.” (Kennedy & Morrow, 1995, p. 11)

The Internet & ATS Systems

The Internet & ATS Systems

ATS systems began to take on more of their modern-day features in the mid to late 1990s when the internet broke out in all its glory. In fact, many consider this the true beginning of ATS. Recruiters could advertise jobs online, candidates could apply online, and resumes could be immediately parsed and uploaded into the ATS.

With online job advertisements came a wider reach, meaning more people saw each job opening. It was also easier to apply to these jobs, meaning more people who saw the opening applied to it. The desire for ATS systems exploded.

Because of internet connections, ATS systems could be shared within companies with much greater ease, allowing for more streamlined hiring efforts across multiple locations. This is the age of the On-Premise Applicant Tracking Systems.

With new and improved ATS systems, recruiters could manage and track instant email communications with candidates, immediately reject candidates by email, post job opportunities to multiple online job boards at once, and more.

As wonderful as all of these new opportunities were, they were not perfect, and ATS couldn’t rest on their laurels.

Job candidates had long distrusted ATS systems, and the more prominent ATS became, the stronger the feeling grew.

These systems:

  • could simply not “see” a candidate if their resume wasn’t in the right format or didn’t contain the right keywords.
  • Would rank them based on keywords in their resume.
  • Instantly reject them based on keywords and specific qualifications.

Job candidates have tended to believe their resumes are being unfairly missed or rejected because of this automation. While they have always significantly reduced resume handling time for recruiters, this keyword-based selection could cut into the benefits, even for recruiters and hiring managers.

Free Online Applicant Tracking System