What Features Should I Consider in a New Applicant Tracking System?

HR Question:

My company is considering purchasing an Applicant Tracking System to help organize and bolster our recruitment process. There are so many options out there in the market! What Applicant Tracking System features should we keep in mind as we go through our search?

HR Answer: 

As we roll into 2021, companies are beginning to see an increase in demand and are eagerly preparing for an uptick in business as the push for “normalcy” continues. With an increase in business comes an increase in the need for talent, which can cause a scramble for candidates if companies are unprepared. However, by implementing an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), organizations can be better prepared to tackle their talent needs. The options are endless and easily overwhelming, so it is important to know what key features and functions of an ATS will support your organization’s recruitment goals.

At the beginning of 2020, Strategic HR went through the process of selecting a new Applicant Tracking System and learned several lessons along the way. Through our research and experience, we discovered a myriad of categories to prioritize in our search and have created a go-to list of categories and questions to consider as you navigate your ATS search.


Just as with any large software purchase, it’s key to identify a range for how much you’re willing to spend before you begin your search. This will determine the level of implementation support you can achieve, the number of technical questions or concerns you can submit post-implementation, and the level of customization you have with the system.

Customization / Setup

Once you have established your budget, evaluate the flexibility of the systems within that budget range. Can you adjust and customize the system to work with your organization’s recruitment workflow and hiring needs? Can this customization be done alone or does it require additional involvement and potential cost from the vendor? How easy is it to configure and update the process flow as your recruitment needs and team structure adjust? What is the implementation and set up timeframe? All of these questions will determine not only the time required to set up and implement the program, but also the time that is taken up later by questions, concerns, and changes that inevitably come about when working with a new system.

Recruitment Flow

How customizable is the workflow? How easy is it to see all of the candidate information from their resume to their LinkedIn profile, past job submissions, notes from other recruiters on the team? How easy is it to see and move candidates through the different steps in the recruitment process? Can you send communications, application forms, and schedule interviews through the ATS? How well does the system automate the recruitment process from auto-populating candidate’s information to scheduled automated messaging for candidates throughout the interview process?


Parsing is the process of moving candidates from your job portal or your email into your ATS. How seamless is that process now, and what improvements can the system make to the process as it stands today? Does the system automatically input candidate contact and address information from their resume? Does the ATS recognize and flag duplicate candidates in the system? Does the system automatically parse in candidates who apply through certain job boards? How easy is it to determine if a candidate is submitting a new resume for a job, or one you already have on file? Does the system also parse in any cover letters, references, and certification information for easy review? How well does the ATS track the requisition ID and referral source of a candidate for reporting purposes?

Sourcing / Screening

How fast and accurate are the search capabilities? Can the system search multiple online sources for key skills and easily parse them in as a candidate profile? Can you search, add prospects to your new ATS account, and contact them directly in just one quick submission? Can you create tags for key skills and prospect folders for future recruitment and highlight strong future candidates?

Job Posting / Employer Branding

Your employer brand is one of the most vital (and free!) pieces to a successful recruitment process. It’s important to protect and maintain that brand through any job posting or career portal you use. So, as you begin to explore the system’s career portal capabilities, ask if the career portal allows for employer branding and how customizable it is. How easily can you make changes to the portal and how frequently does the system update? Is the career portal mobile-friendly? How user-friendly is the candidate application process? Does the system easily integrate and push to national job boards? How many job boards does it integrate with?


You most likely already have several different systems set up to support your recruiting efforts. The more integrations a system might have, the easier the transition may be. Does the system communicate with your email provider to track communications? Does the ATS have a texting platform or integrate with one? Does the system have a calendar integration for scheduling interviews? Does the system have a CRM feature and how well does it coordinate with the ATS? Does the ATS have a video interviewing integration? Does the system integrate with any other systems, like payroll, and how customizable are the integrations?

Data Storage

What is the data storage limit on the system? This is important if you have a large amount of data to import into the ATS.

Mobile Application

If 2020 taught us one thing, it was to be ready to take our work anywhere. Does the system have a mobile application? How user-friendly is the mobile application? What features are not available on the mobile application? Does the mobile application work with Android and iOS?


There’s nothing worse than diving into a new system without sufficient guidance. Ask your salesperson if training is offered as part of the implementation process? Is there an extra cost for training? Does the system offer a Help Center, and how useful is the content? Is there ongoing support and how quick is the response time from the support team?

Reporting / Analytics

Assess your reporting needs, and ask the following questions: How robust are the systems’ reporting and analytics capabilities? Can you build your own reports? Can you create recurring scheduled reports? Can you filter reports and how well is the information displayed for review? Can you easily export or share reports? Even if you don’t currently have an in-depth reporting structure, the data you collect today may help you tomorrow.

Financial Investment

Does the platform allow for unlimited users? If not, what is the cost per user in the system? While preparing for unlimited users may be more expensive at first glance, this package may benefit your organization (depending on the number of members on your team and your expansion plans in the next three to five years). How much will it cost to import/migrate your existing candidate data? Is there an additional cost for training and customer support? Is there a contract length requirement? Is there a cost associated with customization to the system or to integrate features such as text capability?


In the end, you will need to choose which applicant tracking system features mean the most to your organization. In Strategic HR’s case, we used each of these key features to review our top ten ATSs and rated each system by these features to narrow our search to the top four. We then went through multiple in-depth demos and trial runs with the sales and integration team for each system, allowing for multiple potential users to ask questions. By utilizing this step-by-step process, we were able to save time on the selection process, involve multiple team members in the search process, and clearly define those items that were top priority in a new ATS (versus wish list items).


Thank you to Lisa Johnson, CIR for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week.

Need help picking out an Applicant Tracking System of your own? Call Strategic HR today at (513) 697-9855 or email us for a free recruiting consultation. Let us tackle your recruiting challenges so you can have time to do what you do best.