How To Choose Your ATS: Q&A with Jackye Clayton

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Recruiting technology expert Jackye Clayton shares insights and tools to help you choose the right Applicant Tracking System for your team’s needs.

Jackye Clayton, an editor at Recruiting Daily and expert on recruiting tools.

(Credit: Jackye Clayton)

Jackye Clayton, the editor of, knows a thing or two about picking the right applicant tracking system. We hopped on a call to talk about what questions you should ask, tools you should use, and steps you should take before you say yes to an ATS.

“If you’re doing four jobs a month, it’s probably time to look at getting an ATS.”

What’s the point of having an applicant tracking system in the first place?

It’s about knowing where you are in the recruiting process. An ATS will help you stay organized because you need to be able to track your applicants and report back analytics. It can also help you see if the tools and websites you’re using to recruit are working; It’s important to track not only your applicants but also which websites they’re coming from.

How much hiring should a company be doing before they buy one? Can a company without an in-house recruiter or HR function still use an ATS?

If you’re doing four jobs a month, it’s probably time to look at getting an ATS. Just so that you’re keeping your pipeline of candidates, and the information is organized.

Why? Let’s say you hire a salesperson, but they don’t work out. If you don’t have an ATS you’re pretty much back to square one. Even if you still have the previous candidates’ resumes, they’re probably unorganized, and you probably don’t know if somebody else at the company already spoke to them. This is not exactly the best way to attract top talent. ATS tracking can also be life-saver if you face an employment-related legal issue.

As for companies without an HR function, the short answer is yes, they can use an ATS. We’re seeing a lot more tracking systems or recruiting technologies that are built for people who don’t have a recruiting department.

Who should be involved in the software purchase decision-making?

Definitely your recruiting staff, but you also need to include the people in IT. Some of the tools you’ll look at will store data differently—self-hosted, or cloud based. So you need to have a talk with IT about where you want your recruiting data stored. Also, your company might already be using software that can function as an ATS. For example, JD Edwards is an accounting system, but it does have some ATS functionality. So maybe you don’t have to go purchase some large package, maybe your company already has something that meets your needs.

Are there trends in recruiting software that employers should be aware of before they start ATS shopping?

In the past, most products came off-the-shelf. Now, your ATS isn’t just an ATS; you have to figure out what else you’re going to use the application for besides recruiting. Blogging, video interviewing, content marketing—all of these things are becoming more popular. If those are things you are doing as part of your recruiting strategy, make sure your system allows for integration and tracking of social media and whatever other tools you’re using.

The other thing employers should be aware of is that a lot of recruiters use different tools at home from what they use at the office. For example, some recruiting tool Chrome extensions don’t work on Windows. But for many recruiters, those extensions are a major player in how they work. you can’t download Chrome and use those extensions and those are a major player for recruiters. So I would try to make sure that you have the bandwidth for all the tools that are out there now.

Are there any questions you should ask yourself before you begin to look at different ATS options?

You need to figure out where you are in your recruiting. Are you trying to hire faster? Are you trying to be more organized? Are you trying to implement reporting? Do an analysis of your existing recruiting team. See where their strengths and weaknesses are, and take that into consideration when you’re looking for your ATS.

And remember that you can keep building out. There are tons of standalone products that you can buy after you’ve implemented your ATS. So I would start with the simplest ATS and know that you’ll be able to find tools that can grow with you.

“Start with the simplest ATS and know that you’ll be able to find tools that can grow with you.”

Where do you start looking for options?

Start with, duh! [Laughs] You can do searches on the topic and there are so many blog posts that will give you helpful insights. Actually, we did a webinar on this exact subject. You can also try searching Quora for questions other people have asked about selecting an ATS.

Try and have your team test the tool out themselves. In a demo, which every vendor is eager to offer, you’re seeing a perfect environment—but that’s not necessarily the environment you’re in.

When is it time to replace an ATS?

When you’re not getting any return. If your recruiters are using it the way it was designed and you’re not hiring faster or making better placements, time to start looking for a new system.

You do have to make sure your recruiters are using the ATS the way it was designed, though. It’s not always the system. Sometimes, people aren’t using the tool properly—sometimes they’re not even using it at all!

That’s why I suggest, when you first implement an ATS, you hold meetings about it every couple weeks. This way you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t.

“The question to ask is: where is your recruiting focus?”

What are the most common mistakes employers make when choosing their ATS?

The most common mistake is choosing an ATS based on what I call a “golf decision.” That means someone mentioned—no doubt while you were out on a golf course—a particular product was working well for them, and you go out and buy it expecting it to work the same for your company. Nobody’s needs are the same. Do your own research!

Read more of Jackye’s insights on Twitter @jackyeclayton and at

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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