Applicant Tracking System: Complete Guide to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Applicant tracking systems, or ATSs, are widely used tools by recruiting teams. However, the term ATS gets tossed around so much that it’s even used by solutions that don’t match an actual definition of an ATS.

Below you’ll find a complete guide to applicant tracking systems (ATS), information on how to choose and differentiate an ATS from other systems on the market, and explanation of how to get the most value from the solutions that exist.

What is an applicant tracking system

An applicant tracking system is a software tool used to track job applicants through the entire recruiting process — from resume and cover letter (application) sent, through interviewing, and ultimately hiring.

Dream up your ideal applicant tracking systems

Chances are, you’ve been thinking about choosing a new applicant tracking system for a while. Once you finally decide to get the ball rolling, it’s helpful to gather your thoughts on why a new system or switch will be beneficial, and run your thoughts by company leadership. You should also identify the terms of your current contract, if you have one, to establish your timeline for switching.

Understand how a new Applicant Tracking System could help

Do some preliminary research to get a feel for how a new applicant tracking system could benefit your organization. You may choose to read through software review sites, peruse vendor websites, reach out to colleagues, or join some demo webinars. Also look for case studies and data that demonstrate the power of a modern applicant tracking system.

Identify your ATS needs

Sit down with the team you’ve assembled to develop a clear understanding of your company’s top priorities and biggest pains. Consider where your current applicant tracking system falls short of your needs, and how that negatively impacts your organization now—and how it will in the future

Get a team together

Selecting or switching your applicant tracking system impacts people across your organization (recruiters, HR staff, C-Level, etc), so you may want to form a selection committee to ensure you’re looking at systems from all angles. For instance, you may want to rope people in from IT, legal, and finance. At the very least, gather feedback from a variety of users, from hiring managers and interviewers, to executives and your candidates.

Get executive buy-in for the new applicant tracking system

We know you’re busy, so we recommend getting a blessing from the powers that be before you begin evaluating solutions. Share your needs, how you believe a new applicant tracking system should be able to help, and the expected return on investment. You want to ensure your executive team will sign-off on a new applicant tracking system, and establish a reasonable budget.

Common pain points a modern applicant tracking system can help you solve

• You can’t find enough quality candidates to hit your hiring goals

• Employees refer very few candidates

• Candidates abandon the application process because of a poor experience

• Interviewers don’t show up to interviews, or show up late, and have no idea who they’re interviewing

• Administrative tasks are bogging you down, and taking time away from more strategic initiatives

• Hiring managers are not aligned and have little visibility into talent pipelines

• Time to hire is slow, and candidates drop out of your recruitment process

• Poor reporting capabilities don’t allow you to see where you can optimize your processes

How to choose an ATS

Just as in hiring, you want to understand what you’re looking for in an applicant tracking system, so you evaluate all options by the same criteria. Use the priorities you established in the first step to narrow down your choices—and, ultimately, make your decision.

Create your applicant tracking software shortlist

Determine which features matter most. They can be a great starting point for demos. You may also choose to submit a Request for Proposal or attend a webinar of various Applicant Tracking Systems to gather information.

Schedule a demo of different ATS systems

Schedule demos to see each product in action, and learn how it may help solve your pain points. Beware of vendors who tell instead of show—features are not always apples to apples, even if they have the same name.

Compare ATS solutions

Once you’ve attended some demos, start comparing features and usability between platforms. It doesn’t necessarily matter which system has the most features—what matters is that you choose the system that has the features that solve your biggest challenges.

Choose your new Applicant Tracking System

Now it’s time to choose your new system! We suggest you choose the vendor that solves your unique pain points. Get the sign-off from your executive team, and, if you already have a system, let your current vendor know you won’t be renewing your contract.

For more detailed questions for choosing an ATS, as well as an ATS selection criteria worksheet, click here.

Features of an ATS

The main differentiators between the ATS mentioned above are their scale and the features offered by each individual solution, but there are some features that you should expect in any ATS.

Below is a list of standard criteria features you should be able to find in any modern ATS you choose.

Candidate engagement

How will the Applicant Tracking System make sourcing and engagement more efficient, for both active and passive candidates? How will it help you improve candidate quality?

Candidate management

How will the Applicant Tracking System accelerate your everyday workflows and help you improve your candidate experience, so you can close more of your top-choice candidates?

Scheduling & interviewing

How will the Applicant Tracking System help you build a more efficient and scalable interview process?


Does the Applicant Tracking System give you the data you need to make informed decisions, and to report up to company leadership?

Integrations & support

Does the Applicant Tracking System integrate with other key programs your Talent Acquisition and Human Resources team uses? Will you have strong implementation support, and ongoing support if you need it?

Security &Compliance

How will the Applicant Tracking System keep your candidate data safe?

List of Applicant Tracking Software

Online you’ll find several lists of top applicant tracking systems. Different websites have reviewed and rated the best applicant tracking systems based on features, reviews, functionality, ease-of-use, etc.

Here is a list of the best applicant tracking system reviews you can find online, as well as reviews of Lever’s ATS.

ATS Reviews

ATS reviews can be found on many sites, but you should only trust reviews from credible sources who understand ATS technology. We recommend using the ATS (applicant tracking system) reviews from trusted sites such as Capterra, G2Crowd, SoftwareAdvice, and Trust Radius. The list of ATS review sites will be similar to where you can find lists of different ATS software.

Here are some examples of ATS reviews from top ATS experts to give you an idea of what to look for:

Best Applicant Tracking Systems

Finding the best applicant tracking system for your company will require you to compare your needs to the solutions on the market.

The best applicant tracking systems do have some common functionality, but as a baseline, we recommend finding ATS software with the following features:

  • Browser extension for candidate sourcing and employee referrals
  • Recruiting nurture tools to engage passive talent with automated and personalized email campaigns
  • Candidate recommendations to fill roles faster
  • Candidate dashboard for easy talent pipeline management
  • Interview Kits to prepare interviewers with custom instructions, questions, and scorecards
  • Diversity hiring support with passive candidate sourcing tools, structured Interview Kits, and hidden feedback features
  • Slack integration to receive interview and feedback reminders
  • Hiring manager dashboard for easy reporting around hiring status
  • Talent reporting time to hire by role and by function
  • Careers page Out-of-the-box and customizable careers site options
  • LinkedIn Recruiter Integration Connect Lever with LinkedIn Recruiter for streamlined sourcing
  • Easy Book self scheduling links so candidates can book their own interviews

If you’d like to get more detailed information on ATS features, then click here for a free data sheet.

How much does an applicant tracking system cost?

Just like any other software application, applicant tracking systems can vary in cost from free to quite expensive.

Free applicant tracking systems tend to come with job board posting tools, or even as stand-alone systems. Typically, these serve the same purpose as excel spreadsheets and act as temporary stop-gaps until you move to scalable options such as Lever.

As we mentioned, you can expect costs for many ATS platforms to exceed several thousand as you evaluate options such as Taleo, SuccessFactors, and IBM Kenexa.

The most important part of evaluating the costs of Applicant tracking systems is to determine your needs and evaluate the systems by how they meet your current requirements and future requirements.

Free Applicant Tracking Systems:

Features of free applicant tracking systems won’t be as robust as paid options, but can suffice for companies with very low-volume hiring needs.. When evaluating the free ATS options, expect to lose functionality and the ability to integrate with various systems.

Here are common features of Free ATS software based on several free platforms that we found:

  • Job postings
  • Limited number of users
  • Social network posting
  • Basic reporting

Keep in mind, switching applicant tracking systems can be very time intensive. Companies that are serious about their talent functions often select paid applicant tracking systems so that all the foundations are in place when they are ready to scale

If you’d like to learn more about what should be included in a modern ATS, then click here.

Implementing an Applicant Tracking System

Now that you’ve made your decision, it’s time to implement your new solution! We know it may seem daunting, but Applicant Tracking System providers help companies switch all the time! Some even have dedicated Implementation Teams to make sure you don’t have any downtime, so you never miss a beat.

Every Applicant Tracking System implementation will be a little different. If you’ve decided to move forward with Lever, your dedicated Implementation Specialist will build out an implementation plan anchored in best practices and tailored to the unique requirements of your team. We are committed to helping you get up and running with Lever as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is our responsibility to effectively onboard you and your company onto our services, advise you on best practices related to the use of the Lever product, spur early and sustained engagement, and achieve high customer satisfaction.

Data migration

When you switch your Applicant Tracking System, you get to take all of your data with you. A stellar Applicant Tracking System will do all the heavy lifting for you—and can even clean up your data in the process! With Lever, your data migration is handled by your Implementation Specialist. You will simply give us access to your existing ATS, or send us an export or API key of your data from your existing ATS. We can even add data from spreadsheets, if you have it there as well. We will then map the appropriate fields for you into Lever, including resumes, candidate information, and notes.

Internal roll-out

Once everything is in place, introduce your team to your new Applicant Tracking System. With the right solution, your team will need minimal support— some systems are just that intuitive to use. Lever provides guided sessions for Recruiters and Hiring managers, as well as self-guided help articles and on-demand, task-based video training to best suit your team’s style.


Again, a stellar Applicant Tracking System will make integrations easy and seamless. That way, you can continue using the tools you know and love, and continue utilizing your current workflows. Lever has a number of pre-integrated partners and oneclick integrations to help streamline the recruiting process, and the Lever Data API can be used for integrations with other third-party vendors.

Ongoing support

After launch, we will be there to support you and help you evolve as you grow. Post implementation, you are assigned a dedicated Customer Success Manager, who will conduct quarterly business reviews to assess adoption and fit to drive the best possible ongoing experience with Lever. They will simultaneously keep you updated and trained on new features and offers to ensure you are getting the most out of Lever. We also supply a library of training materials, such as documentations, presentations, and videos, so you and your team can stay up-to-date at your own pace.

Final thoughts: applicant tracking systems

Modern applicant tracking systems use a unique set of features that are far different from the legacy ATS tools or basic free ATS software that you might be used to.

If your business cares about the results produced by its recruiting processes, then it’s necessary to upgrade to a modern ATS like Lever, and utilize the different components from Hire, Nurture and Analytics. To learn more about Lever’s popular applicant tracking system, click here.