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“ATS”: Applicant Tracking System – 20 years is long enough

By Elaine Orler |

Applicant Tracking Systems ( or “ATS”) has been the most commonly used description of recruiting technology for 20 years. In the beginning the description fit, today it is antiquated – it no longer defines the value technology brings to the recruiting process. It is time for a new title for recruiting technology.

10-7aOver the last several weeks, twitter traffic and conversations with my industry aces leads me to conclude that the term ATS really only offers comedic value and describes the frustration of recruiting applications not the value. Some of these made me laugh out loud:

  • Apathy Through Software
  • Application Trashing System
  • Always Tormenting Staffing
  • Absolute Time Suck
  • Antiquated Task Software
  • Always Transactional System

The first generational ATS systems were client-server applications that required an engineering degree to know how to use. I’m referring to Resumix (Resumes on Unix) and ResTrac (Resume Tracking). These applications while the first to really drive the shift from manual recruiting to automated resume processing. Each with their ability to scan, parse and store resumes of applicants, gave organizations the ability to manage the volume of paper resumes in the day. In the early 90’s I had the fortune of implementing the Resumix 2.1 software at Qualcomm. I had two UNIX interns to support the database, and I was coding the career site in 1995 in HTML every day. The ATS was just that – the system to store the 1000+ resumes we received a day, ensure response cards were sent and recruiters could find the resumes when needed.

In the late 90’s there was a shift in recruiting technology. The internet was here to stay, and all of our IT organizations were tangled up in the challenges of getting all existing applications to be Y2K compliant before the world ended on January 1, 2000. Recruiting was booming for many of the technology companies and ‘outsourced’, ‘application service provider (ASP)’, became the only way for aggressive organizations to get the technology need to manage the increased volume of jobs, applicants and hires. This shift, in my mind should have been when we found a new term to replace ATS – but we didn’t. We were established in our client-server system mentality and we were excited about the new functionality. Career sites hosted by the ‘ATS’, job distributions – publishing our opportunities online, and the ability for a job seeker to create a profile. The user audience for our ‘ATS’ expanded beyond recruiting and HR and started to enable the line manager/hiring manager, as well as the applicant.

10-7bThe speed in which we have evolved since early 2000 surpasses the speed of light. The basics of (actually complex) integrations with our recruiting service providers for background verifications, HCM applications for foundation data and our website for careers, is old news. The alignment of compliance for applicant tracking and the strategic aspect of sourcing candidates (Candidate Relationship Management) are considered mainstream. We’re rounding the corner on the value of Assessments, Onboarding facilitation and internal mobility integrations. The new edge is social and collaborative in nature. Dynamic relationships, instant messaging, real time results and feedback are driving the next wave of technology – and it is already here. Recruiting is no longer defined by tracking applicants. It is about sourcing and engaging a digital world.

With all of these options, directions, solutions I do believe we can rebrand the value that technology brings to our recruiting efforts. We need a new name. Let’s call recruiting technology something better than Applicant Tracking – because in my mind it is so much more and very exciting. I’m very interested in your suggestions and comments – it’s time to promote the value of recruiting not the transactional work.