What is an applicant tracking system?

By Talent Management

Applicant tracking system:

Streamline the application process to find and hire top talent

In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. businesses had more than 6.5 million job openings.[1] In the face of a growing and complex job market, many companies are looking for better ways to find, assess and hire top candidates.

An applicant tracking system is a database application that helps organizations manage their recruitment efforts more efficiently. The software uses filtering technology to quickly process resumes and applicant information. The objective is to reduce the number of unsuitable candidates for a given position or opportunity and identify top talent.

Applicant tracking systems are similar to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, but with an emphasis on search capability. The tracking software collects and stores resumes and related information from company websites, social media or online job boards.

Hiring managers use keywords to search the stored information to find job seekers with requisite qualifications, usually based on a specific job posting. In response, the software filters applicant data and ranks or scores candidates based on relevant skills and experience. Multiple resumes can be screened very quickly, and the findings presented to recruiters with one or two clicks.

An automated tracking system leaves hiring managers with more time to do other tasks. This includes evaluating and following up with those candidates that are the best match for a position in the organization.

By automating the application process, applicant tracking systems can reduce the drain on resources and lower costs. An estimated 70 percent of companies use them to screen job seekers.

Related resources


2017 North American Talent Board candidate experience benchmark research report Read about the current state of the candidate experience, as well as the tools, processes and technologies employers today use in their recruiting practices.

Why applicant tracking systems are important

For every job posted, companies can receive hundreds of applications. Manually processing this information is time-consuming. 80 percent of a hiring manager’s time can be spent searching for candidates and scanning resumes. As a result, they spend as little as 5 to 7 seconds reviewing a resume.[2]

Without applicant tracking technology, recruiters are challenged to find the best candidates. They may inadvertently discard top contenders while wasting time reviewing inadequate resumes or screening unqualified applicants.

On the flip side, job seekers can be frustrated due to the volume of other applicants pursuing the same opportunity. A 2017 report found that 52 percent of candidates didn’t receive any communication in the two to three months after applying.[3]

An automated tracking system accelerates the hiring process by enabling recruiters to handle multiple tasks efficiently. This includes posting opportunities on job boards and social media, searching resumes, managing requirements, identifying and reviewing qualified talent, and tracking candidates throughout the hiring process.

Over time, the system helps build a pipeline of candidates with higher predicted success, which can lead to more productive employees who are retained longer.

Good applicant tracking systems also provide a user-friendly experience for those applying for positions on a company website. This includes support for devices such as mobile and sending automated emails when a position is closed.

Examples of applicant tracking system success

Recruiting is no longer taxing for H&R Block H&R Block needed a way to gain efficiencies, and enable district managers to focus on hiring the right people at the right time in the right place.

The company launched an applicant tracking system with IBM®, which enabled them to post requisitions and centralize part of the recruitment process. This allowed field leaders to focus on finding qualified candidates with less of an administrative burden. The company also redesigned its hiring process, reducing the time to move a candidate through the system from 12 days to 1 day.

“At the end of the day, we’re not selling widgets or products for the most part. It’s our people who are serving clients. If we can’t get them hired through the process quickly and efficiently, that has a real impact on our business and our bottom line.” Kerri Jones, Director, Talent Acquisition Programs, H&R Block

Red Lobster: Finding, attracting and nurturing talent Red Lobster was looking for ways to shorten the hiring process and find better candidates. Since hiring managers are not professional recruiters, it was important to minimize the amount of time they spent in the application review process.

With the help of IBM Kenexa® software, the company has been able to deploy tools and application resources that help streamline hiring in different areas of the organization including the hourly workforce.

“We wanted to get more from less. To shorten the amount of time that a candidate needed to spend but get greater predictability of who were the best candidates out of the process. IBM helped shepherd us through that.” Jim Hughes, Senior Director of Human Resources, Red Lobster Seafood Company

IBM Smarter Workforce blog



IBM named a leader in the IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Modern Talent Acquisition Systems 2017 Vendor Assessment Career assessment capabilities are helping power IBM talent acquisition solutions. Read the report to learn more.

The far-reaching impact of candidate experience The IBM Smarter Workforce Institute surveyed more than 7,000 job applicants about their experience as job candidates. Read about their findings.

[1] https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet

[2] https://www.ere.net/why-you-cant-get-a-job-recruiting-explained-by-the-numbers/

[3] http://www.thetalentboard.org/article/2017-talent-board-candidate-experience-benchmark-research-reports/