An ATS is an Applicant Tracking System. It’s the standard tool companies use to post jobs and keep track of resumes and candidate data. There are nearly hundreds of options out there depending on the organization size, hiring volumes, and budget. There are some major players like Taleo and iCIMS. Up and coming web based platforms like Zoho, Jazz, Work Day. Their main purpose is to house one central location for a company’s recruiters to access an applicant database, attach applicants to a specific job, to post jobs to the career site, and communicate to and disposition applicants. I’ve used about 6-8 different programs ranging from a small to major to breakthrough. I can assure you this – THEY ARE ALL THE SAME. They all function and do the same thing. The only real differences you’ll see as a candidate is how much effort the business puts into their career site and landing pages to enhance your candidate experience.
From a recruiters end, the difference to us is how tight the budget is and how much money the company wants to invest in recruitment. Take Taleo for example. It’s one of the most widely used platforms however no two systems are alike. I can walk into any company tomorrow and start recruiting out of Taleo but my experience will be different. Taleo offers options to companies, those options cost money. The company can pay for the Honda version, or they can pay for the Ferrari version. In the end, none of really impacts you as a candidate. They don’t have black holes, they have shitty recruiters on the other end of the screen not doing their job right. They also have terrible hiring managers calling the shots. Did you know that everyone thinks they can be a recruiter and know how to do our job better than us? Yep, fun fact but let’s save that for another post.
So, how do you know which ATS a company is using? How can you use it to your advantage? Most of the time, you can see it in the URL and it’ll look something like this:
This example is a long and clunky URL not hidden behind anything so it’s easy to read. This is a job ad for Zillow and they are using the Work Day ATS as shown above. You’ll also see the job title, which in this instance is “Recruiting Coordinator – Contract” and the position number P12912. All companies have position numbers attached to an open position and this is for reporting and tracking purposes.
Here is another example, this time using Taleo at United Health Group:
Highlighted and in bold again are the company and ATS. Can you spot the position number here? In this instance it’s “783144”, which I’ve highlighted in blue.
Why are these things important? Well, sometimes as applicants, we get frustrated and apply to job after job and forget what we are applying for. This is especially important for the time you do get a call or an email back asking for an interview but you don’t know what job they are referencing! Typically after you apply you’ll receive a notification saying something along the lines of ‘thanks, we’ll be in touch”. In those messages they usually reference the Title or Job Number. You can use the Title and/or Job Number to track down which position you’re looking at and match it to the employer.
Another good thing to note is that you can almost predict the application experience once you realize what ATS an organization uses. I hate applying to jobs that use Taleo and Work Day. They ask for so much information, it’s repetitive and takes forever. I’ve held off on applying for jobs after seeing the ATS because it just sucks the life out of you. That doesn’t mean don’t apply to companies that use those systems, the purpose here is to help you plan your time and manage your expectations. It’s also a good step in learning some of the process and backend things recruiters manage. If you get to know their world, you’ll be able to navigate it expertly!
What do you see in this example?