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Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a software application used to manage the recruiting and hiring process. ATS is used as an abbreviation for these HR software systems.

Definition of Applicant Tracking System

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) provides an organized and centralized way for HR professionals and hiring managers to post job openings, source, track, qualify, and communicate with candidates through the entire recruiting workflow. Key features usually include a searchable resume database, automated resume screening, candidate communications, interview scheduling, offer management, and analytics reporting.

Origin Story

Back in the old days of paper applications and literal file folders, recruiting was extremely manual, tedious work. HR professionals had to sort through a ton of resumes, schedule interviews manually, and keep track of candidates via spreadsheets or notes. As you can imagine, things got messy fast!

Once technology entered the picture, the first versions of ATS systems focused mainly on helping to digitize and store candidate resumes and applications in an organized, searchable database. The term “Applicant Tracking System” became widely used in the 1990s to refer to this HR software category. This was game-changing at the time! No longer were recruiters totally overwhelmed by stacks and stacks of paper.

But there were still lots of manual tasks like entering candidate data, emailing and following up with people, coordinating interviews with hiring managers, you name it. ATS companies realized automating more of the recruiting workflow would be even more helpful.

Key Processes Supported in ATS

Over the years, Applicant Tracking System tools evolved from just resuming repositories into robust platforms that can:

  • Centralizes all candidate information
  • Post job openings across multiple sites
  • Screen incoming resumes using smart algorithms
  • Automatically schedule interviews based on calendaring
  • Allow coordinated feedback from hiring teams
  • Send customized communications to candidates
  • Filters and ranks resume based on qualifications
  • Provides metrics and analytics on hiring performance
  • Integrates with other HR systems like HRIS
  • Offer approval and management

ATS Abbreviation Usage Examples

Here are some examples of how the ATS abbreviation is used in practice:

  • “We use Jobvite as our main ATS to store and source candidate resumes.”
  • “The ATS helps us reduce time-to-fill metrics by automating screening.”
  • “Our ATS provides useful analytics on our recruiting funnel which helps identify process bottlenecks.”
  • “The integration between our ATS and HRMS allows candidate information to flow seamlessly into the employee profile.”

Compare/Contrast to HRMS

Here’s a comparison of some key differences between an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and a Human Resource Management Software (HRMS):


  • ATS – Focused specifically on recruiting and talent acquisition workflows.
  • HRMS – A broader system that handles many HR functions like payroll, time tracking, benefits admin etc.


  • ATS – Stores applicant and candidate pipeline data.
  • HRMS – Maintains employee records and HR data.


  • ATS – Posting requisitions, applicant tracking, automated resume screening, interview scheduling, and offer management.
  • HRMS – Maintains employee profiles, manages compensation, tracks attendance and time, and handles performance reviews.


  • ATS – Can integrate with HRMS to share hiring/employee data.
  • HRMS – Can integrate with ATS to bring candidate info into employee profiles.


  • ATS – Used by recruiting team, hiring managers, and interviewers.
  • HRMS – Used organization-wide by all employees for HR needs.


  • ATS – Provides recruiting-focused metrics like time-to-fill, source of hire, and cost per hire.
  • HRMS – A wider range of HR reports around compensation, retention, and time tracking.

While they have some overlap, an Applicant Tracking System is focused solely on hiring and recruiting workflows whereas an HRMS serves broader HR needs across the employee lifecycle. The two systems can provide richer insights when integrated together.

Here are some related terms and abbreviations that are commonly used in relation to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS):

  • TA (Talent Acquisition or Talent Acquisition System): The overarching talent acquisition process and systems. ATS is a key component of TA.
  • RMS (Recruitment Management System): Closely related to an ATS, an RMS also deals with managing the hiring process. Sometimes used interchangeably with Applicant Tracking System.
  • CRM (Candidate Relationship Management): CRM features help nurture and track relationships with candidates in the ATS.
  • HRIS (Human Resource Information System): The core HR system for employee records. ATS integrates with HRIS.
  • VMS (Vendor Management System): Some ATS platforms include VMS capabilities to manage contract/contingent workers.
  • Hiring Manager Interface: The module within an ATS where hiring managers can view candidates and collaborate.
  • AI (Artificial intelligence): Some ATS platforms incorporate AI for autonomous features like screening.
  • Job Board Integration: Integration with major job sites to syndicate postings from the Applicant Tracking System.

The terms above work in conjunction with or relate closely to the core capabilities of an Applicant Tracking System.

Here are some common mistakes people make when it comes to using or understanding the ATS abbreviation:

  • Confusing ATS with HRMS: Because both are HR software systems, some mistakenly use ATS and HRMS interchangeably. But an ATS is specifically for recruiting tasks while an HRMS has a broader functionality.
  • Assuming an ATS is only a resume database: While earlier ATS systems focused on digitizing and storing resumes, modern ATS tools do much more around process automation. This misconception overlooks the workflow capabilities.
  • Not integrating ATS with HRIS: Leaving these two core HR systems disconnected can cause challenges with data sharing. Tight integration allows for better analytics and a unified employee profile.
  • Using manual processes outside the ATS: Some hiring teams use manual spreadsheets or communications outside the ATS, undermining its purpose. All recruiting workflows should live within the ATS.
  • Expecting the ATS to be the only recruiting tool needed: An ATS cannot fully replace the expertise of skilled recruiters. It’s an enabling technology, not a solution by itself.
  • Not keeping ATS data up-to-date: If a candidate’s hire data is not maintained accurately, it severely reduces reporting usefulness. Garbage in, garbage out.
  • Overlooking user training and adoption: Lacking proper ATS training can lead to spotty usage and suboptimal processes. Change management is key.

Watch out for these common hitches to ensure your organization gets the most value from its Applicant Tracking System!

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Commonly Used ATS Software

Here are some of the most widely used Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software platforms:

  1. Workday Recruiting – Part of Workday HCM, advanced cloud-based ATS.
  2. Greenhouse – Intuitive ATS with great candidate experience.
  3. Lever – Strong capabilities for collaboration and diversity hiring.
  4. SmartRecruiters – Highly configurable, full-featured ATS.
  5. Jobvite – A popular ATS with lots of integration options.
  6. JazzHR – Affordable ATS aimed at small/midsize businesses.
  7. iCIMS – Robust ATS focused on enterprise-level recruiting.
  8. SuccessFactors – SAP’s talent management suite, including ATS.
  9. Newton Software – ATS with a strong AI matching engine.
  10. Bullhorn – Specializes in staffing and contingent workforce.

The ATS market has many mature players like Taleo along with newer entrants like Greenhouse. Most offer similar core functionality but differ in areas like ease of use, configurability, and integration.


The ATS abbreviation refers to Applicant Tracking Systems – talent acquisition technology that is invaluable for managing high-volume recruiting and streamlining cumbersome hiring workflows. While an Applicant Tracking System won’t totally replace the need for savvy recruiters, it has become a core technology for managing high-volume recruiting in large companies. Hiring teams can work collaboratively while the software handles the busy work behind the scenes. No more stressing over spreadsheets!

I know that was a lot, but hopefully, it paints a clear picture of how indispensable these ATS tools have become for streamlining the hiring process. Of course, no technology is perfect, but it’s hard to imagine recruiting without the efficiencies provided by today’s powerful applicant tracking systems.

FAQs About ATS (Applicant Tracking System):

What are the key benefits of an ATS?

The main benefits are streamlining recruiting workflows, centralizing candidate data, automating tedious tasks, improving collaboration between hiring teams, and providing analytics on the hiring process. This saves recruiters time and makes hiring more efficient.

How is an ATS different from an HRMS?

An ATS is specifically for managing recruiting and talent acquisition processes, while an HRMS (Human Resource Management System) handles a broader range of HR functions like payroll, time tracking, benefits administration, etc.

Does an ATS completely replace recruiters?

No. While an ATS automates administrative tasks, skilled human recruiters are still critical for strategic planning, sourcing top talent, assessing cultural fit, negotiating offers, and more. It augments recruiters rather than replaces them.

What are some key features of an ATS?

Key features include a searchable resume database, customizable requisition workflows, automated resume screening, interview scheduling, candidate communications, hiring team collaboration, and analytics reporting.

How can you integrate an ATS with other HR systems?

Most Applicant Tracking System (ATS) platforms offer integration capabilities to connect with the HRIS, background check systems, job board aggregators, and more. This enables data sharing between systems.

Is an ATS worth the investment?

For medium to large companies hiring high volumes, an ATS delivers a significant return on investment through improved efficiency, better candidate experience, data-driven decisions, and reduced manual work for recruiters.

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