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Why It’s Time to Banish the Term ‘ATS’

We live in a world of mislabeled things. How often do you actually put a suit in a suitcase? “Computer” originally meant ‘calculating machine’ – but think about how much more you do on a computer than simply calculate. And in 2017, there aren’t many DJs left spinning actual discs.

There’s one misnomer in our industry that truly makes my blood boil, however. It’s applicant tracking system, or ‘ATS’ as we more commonly know it.

Think about it. The term ATS emerged in the 1990’s when companies began looking for a way to store candidate information in a secure system, rather than having to sift through piles of paper. Flash forward to today, and:

  •  It’s not just about “applicants”. On average, only half of today’s hires actually apply through a job posting; you depend on a mix of proactively sourced candidates and employee referrals for the bulk of the rest.
  • It’s not just about “tracking”. There’s a cold, transactional vibe I get from the notion of ‘tracking’ that is completely at odds with the human interactions that underpin today’s recruitment process. Some amount of tracking may be needed for compliance, but there’s so much more going on.
  • Instead, what modern talent practitioners need is… A talent identification, sourcing, engagement, evaluation, strategizing, offer extension, and headcount-planning platform. Which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.

Back to ATS and my fundamental loathing of the acronym. Maybe you think blood-boiling is an over-reaction… but it’s high time you got mad too. At most organizations, talent acquisition is still fundamentally underrated, misunderstood and underappreciated. Usage of the term ‘ATS’ belies the strategic importance and mission-critical nature of the work you’re doing, day in, day out. ‘ATS’ doesn’t do a thing to help the broader organization understand the value of the work you’re driving.

The trouble is, there’s no obvious replacement candidate. What else should we call the end-to-end recruiting functionality that companies like Lever provide? I’ve seen a variety of substitutes proposed, many of them awkward:

  • Candidate management system
  • Candidate engagement system
  • Talent acquisition solution
  • Talent acquisition suite
  • Talent relationship management (TRM) system
  • more generic labels like ‘recruiting platform’ or ‘recruiting software’
  • Recruitment management system

I’m removing TRM off the bat because the world doesn’t need another lousy acronym that will go out of style in about five minutes flat. At Lever, we’ve settled on ‘talent acquisition suite’ to describe the combined power of Lever Hire, Lever Nurture  and Lever Talent Intelligence (although you’ll still see us dabble with ‘ATS’ on our website; you can thank the search engine gods for that).

So…what do you think? What term would you choose to describe the piece of software that supports the vital work you do?

We’re taking your nominations, because as a product marketer, I can tell you this: every time someone mentions ‘ATS’, they deliver a punch in the gut to your profession’s positioning, messaging, and above all, the value you deliver.