The single greatest tool in a company's recruitment arsenal is its ATS. That said, a lot of companies are spending money on a robust and expensive platform well-before they're ready.
There's something for everyone within the recruiting software space, which has been fueled by major acquisitions (Taleo acquired by Oracle for $1.9 billion in 2012, Microsoft's $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016), as well as over $100 million in funding flowing to new solutions like Greenhouse, Jobvite, SmartRecruiters, and Lever over the last few years. We've even seen recruiting database/networking providers like LinkedIn and Indeed Prime building ATS-like functions into their platforms.
These days every ATS checks the basic boxes needed like integration with major job boards, source attribution, and storing data on candidates and feedback, although most still fall a little flat on customized analytics and tracking. With so many options, you should answer a few of these basic questions before you (the Recruiting/People Dev team as well as Finance) drop thousands of dollars per year on a new system.
Can you solve your most pressing applicant tracking problems with tools you already have, or with free solutions like Google Forms and Sheets?
Are your executives or your board asking for more data around the recruiting process?
Which People Dev/HR platforms are you already using, and would integrating them with your ATS save time or headaches around on-boarding or people analytics?
Do you use Gmail, Outlook 365, or another platform for email and calendar management?
Is your recruiting team managing the entire process, or are your hiring managers doing most of the leg work with recruitment acting mostly as a sourcing arm?
How complicated is your recruitment process, and how long does it take to schedule interviews at each stage?
Is your current recruitment strategy focused on acquiring prospects by inbound or outbound sources?
Does your team have the bandwidth to manage prospecting and followup activity, or does it need an automated solution?
Do you work with a lot of agencies and does tracking candidate sources get too complicated?
How successfully do your employees adopt new technologies and processes?
If you can answer these questions you'll be able to avoid a lot of headaches down the road, but if most of these aren't relevant then you probably don't need an ATS at the moment. Companies that just want a pipeline tracker could probably manage most of the recruitment activity in a shared spreadsheet or a service they're already paying for (such as a LinkedIn Premium account). If you decide you do need something more robust, when you're speaking with potential ATS vendors don't forget to also ask about additional features pipeline and planned release dates, or even place a few calls into their Product/Success teams to gather more information.
Regardless of what you ultimately decide, just remember that when you add an ATS you're effectively buying a platform that automates the collection, management, and sharing of data gathered during the recruitment process. Keep that data clean!