Essential guide to using an HR applicant tracking system: best practices and insights



Read time
11 mins

a diverse selection of office workers

If you’re one of the many UK organisations that have an in-house recruitment team, you’ll understand the intrinsic value of HR recruitment software. Enhance your recruitment process with these best practice guidelines and expert insights for making better use of your applicant tracking system (ATS)

The majority of UK organisations — as many as three-fifths — conduct recruitment and hiring in-house for myriad reasons. Considering the average number of applications per low-skilled vacancy spans 200-500, in-house talent teams need the right technology to support their strategy. Regardless of your recruitment team’s size, staffing requirements, or industry, a fit-for-purpose applicant tracking system is a non-negotiable tool.

How can HR and talent teams benefit from applicant tracking systems (ATS)?

To understand the real value of ATS software, look beyond its functional ability to source, screen and hire candidates. Recruitment is the first impression future employees will have of an organisation. With over half (57%) of UK organisations reporting hard-to-fill vacancies, it’s now more important than ever to prioritise talent attraction. A robust applicant tracking system can facilitate a positive candidate experience from the moment they come across your job advert through to onboarding.

Modern ATS recruitment automation software supports every stage of the recruitment process. This central database facilitates and securely stores all interactions from CV screening to communication, scheduling, and pre-employment background and right-to-work checks. Happy hiring teams, happy hiring managers, and happy candidates. But how can HR and talent teams, specifically, benefit from using a modern applicant tracking system? Explore the best practices below for ideas on optimising how you hire.

Six advantages of HR applicant tracking systems

  1. Reduce manual work through your automated hiring system’s ability to screen CVs, schedule interviews, and email candidates
  2. Reduce time spent on under-qualified and unsuitable candidates by inputting ‘killer questions’ to rule out candidates if they do not meet a specific minimum standard or criterion
  3. Cast a wider net to find top talent with the ability to pause, resume, and post multiple jobs at once — sometimes including integration with job boards to automatically distribute vacancies. This is especially useful for organisations with 200-1,500 employees with multiple vacancies, across different specialisms and professions
  4. Find the right people in less time with enhanced screening based on defined criteria including qualifications, experience, and skills
  5. Enjoy peace of mind with enhanced compliance ensuring equality, removing unconscious bias, and aiding blind recruitment (personal information, such as name and age, is hidden from the hiring manager)
  6. Safeguard data integrity and enjoy better data quality: compliantly store CVs for suitable future vacancies, maintain personal data to protect against data breaches in line with the GDPR’s requirements, and capture, monitor and renew soon-to-expire consent in your dashboard for any retained data

The evidence is clear: modern applicant tracking systems are a vital part of any hiring strategy, and benefit employers and future employees in many ways. But how can organisations reap even more rewards from this technology? These best practice guidelines for using applicant tracking systems will help your hiring team optimise every step of the process.

HR applicant tracking systems (ATS) best practices: nine top tips

1. Start strong by choosing the right ATS

Consider an automated hiring system — whether you’re a small, mid-size or, especially, a large organisation — to streamline recruitment processes and free up valuable time. Investing in the right technology, at the right price, with the best features for your needs is the first step to success. If you’re using legacy recruitment systems, or you think your ATS software might be due for an upgrade, request a demo to see if Ciphr's recruitment software could be a good fit for your needs.

2. Take a closer look at your ATS recruitment software’s ability to integrate with other HR systems

Does your recruitment software integrate with other HR systems, or might you want to consider upgrading both at the same time? Syncing these two systems creates a seamless experience for successful candidates while reducing the administrative and compliance burden on hiring teams. Automated data transfers reduce room for error, and real-time updates between the recruitment team and hiring managers help to improve communication, manage expectations, and identify problems early.

Integrating your ATS with onboarding software enhances the induction process – a pivotal experience for new starters that can make or break their future career at your organisation. With our onboarding software, for example, new hires can access policies, complete documentation, and familiarise themselves with your systems all before their first day – easing them into their role and creating a positive employee experience from day one.

3. Make your job adverts work smarter, not harder

Include the relevant keyword(s) in job adverts to attract the right candidates; they should accurately describe the role and must be inclusive — aim for gender-neutral job descriptions as far as possible. Consider if applicants in (or from) other countries might use alternate language and terminology, and include those keywords as appropriate.

Highlight the benefits your organisation offers, including your remote working policy, paid time off, and other relevant perks such as private medical or dental cover. This is as much your opportunity to upsell the advantages of working at your organisation as it is an opportunity for candidates to showcase their suitability for a role.

Be sure to include a salary (or at least a range). Research shows “four in five jobseekers say they are less likely to apply for a job if the advert doesn’t specify a salary” — it’s vital to demonstrate pay transparency if you want to attract the right calibre of applicants, and even more if you are subject to gender pay gap reporting.

4. Create a seamless application process

Talent attraction starts the moment a candidate lays eyes on your job advert. Make the application process concise, straightforward, and easy to navigate. Around 70% of candidates admitted to abandoning an application process if it became too complicated or repetitive, which puts your organisation at risk of losing out on top hires because of an avoidable scenario.

As more digital natives enter the workforce, organisations must ensure that the application process mirrors the user experience they’ve become accustomed to. Progress bars, end screens with next steps, and timelines are a great way to achieve this while simultaneously managing expectations — ensuring more candidates reach the end of the application, more often.

5. Screen more efficiently with customised questions

When hiring teams ask the right questions, they can more easily identify unqualified applicants upfront. Forbes, on “why you only need to meet 40% of requirements in job descriptions [adverts],” says the criteria listed in job postings is often more of a “wish list”. If an applicant’s CV has satisfied the screening criteria, customised questions can help determine how true of a fit they might be, and if they possess soft skills that could make them an even closer match for the role.

Lucy O’Callaghan, our head of talent, shares her favourite customised questions below:

“Tell us a little about yourself and your career to date”

This allows candidates to give us a highlight reel of their career path, and a glimpse into their personality. It might be a clichéd icebreaker, but it helps us uncover important details we otherwise might not pick up.

“What motivated you to apply for the role?”

Rather than asking why an applicant is looking for a new role (or has left their previous one), we like to understand the driving force behind their application. Are they looking for growth? Maybe they’re eager to apply their skills to a new industry, step up into a managerial role, or perhaps are looking for an organisation that offers more learning and development opportunities.

“What was it that interested you about working for us specifically?”

This helps us understand what our strengths are in terms of employer brand: if the candidate excitedly tells us they recognise our name from Newsweek’s Most Loved Workplace awards, for example, or that tells us they value our culture and brand. This is also a great question to help us assess if the candidate displays our values.

After giving candidates a brief overview of the position, we ask them:

 “How do you think your skillset aligns with this particular role?”

This demonstrates how well they understand their own skills and how they can transfer both soft skills and hard skills to master the role. It also highlights how well the candidate understands the requirements, and sometimes uncovers less-obvious talents that fit perfectly with what we need the successful candidates to do in their new role.

“What considerations do you have when looking to change a role?”

Asking candidates what their top considerations are tells us what they value the most, whether that’s organisational values, salary, or working location, for example. This also gives our team the opportunity to highlight to the candidate how their potential role with us aligns with their expectations.

If the role has specific technical or experience requirements, we like to ask:

“Can you tell me about your previous [technical] experience?”

This helps us assess how the candidate responds to issues, and how they handle the project process, and will also highlight how much of a subject matter expert they are. It also gives them an opportunity to showcase their achievements – they might choose to share a career milestone or highlight, and we love to see people enthusiastic about their careers.

Candidate scoring can also help identify the most suitable applicants based on key criteria missed by keyword screening alone – enabling talent teams to prioritise these applications from the outset. The ability to match and progress top-calibre applications at speed is undeniably a competitive advantage – a necessity, even – in a volatile labour market.

Engage with all candidates, suitable or unsuitable, shortlisted or rejected, effortlessly and automatically by setting up auto-responders based on predefined conditions. Unsuccessful applicants will appreciate the closure of rejection emails, and a well-drafted template is (almost) all it takes to make a lasting impression.

6. Make your mark with personalised candidate communications

Solidify the experience with personalised responses. Automated templates allow hiring teams to thank candidates for their time and, where possible, include one or two meaningful points about their application or interview. This helps to build your employer brand, which can have a significant impact on future prospects.

Amplify new starter stories by pre-populating templates for successful candidates to share on social media, announcing their new role within your organisation in line with your branding and tone of voice.

Successful candidates can also be invited to review and sign their contracts digitally, allowing for a smoother, shorter hiring cycle — and less time unnecessarily allocated to paperwork during the onboarding process.

7. Effortlessly track and manage pre-employment checks

Carry out pre-employment checks, including right-to-work (RTW) checks and background checks simultaneously to ensure only qualifying candidates are progressed. These checks are securely stored on the applicant tracking system for ease of reference and compliance with the GDPR guidelines, giving you peace of mind and avoiding (potentially) costly mistakes.

8. Collaborate with hiring managers

Easily share non-sensitive applicant information with hiring managers through blind recruitment. This allows hiring managers to make informed decisions, compare applicants side-by-side, and explore the nuanced skills each candidate offers without compromising personal data. Hiring managers can also provide meaningful feedback that talent teams can use within personalised candidate communications, adding a layer of value to each interaction.

9. Continual improvement: analyse and optimise

Continually improving your organisation’s hiring process is the result of ongoing analysis and fine-tuning. Request feedback from all stakeholders — applicants, candidates, hiring managers, interviewing panels, and the talent team — for insights into what worked, and what needs to be worked on. Keep an eye on online feedback, too; be sure to respond to candidate reviews on Glassdoor, for example, and consider their views.

Reporting and analytics functionality can easily identify key metrics including total applications, time to fill the role, and cost per hire, and, most importantly, help you demonstrate the ROI of your ATS software.

Ciphr HR applicant tracking system: next-level recruitment

An integrated HR and recruitment system can streamline the screening and hiring process, save time and resources, create a positive employee experience, bolster employer brand and sentiment, and provide valuable data for decision-making. There’s simply no denying the benefits and opportunities the right ATS can offer your organisation.

Transform your hiring strategy with the right ATS recruitment screening software, and ensure the free flow and integrity of your people data with our recruitment software. Request a demo or download a brochure to learn more.

Or, if you’re not quite ready for a demo yet, why not learn more about the future of candidate matching – now powered by AI?