7 Best Applicant Tracking Software Solutions (and How to Find the Right One for Your Business)
Posted on February 14, 2023
Using applicant tracking software (ATS) is a great way to manage the hiring process without draining your time and resources.
Knowing where to start can be overwhelming if you’ve never used an ATS before, especially with so many platforms to choose from.
We’ve rounded up seven of the best ATS solutions for different small business and startup purposes. We’ll also clarify what applicant tracking software is, why to use it, and show you how to find the right solution for your business.
Table of contents
- What is applicant tracking software (and how does it work)?
- 7 of the best applicant tracking software solutions for small businesses
- How to choose the right ATS for your startup
- Get your hiring process started with Polymer
What is applicant tracking software (and how does it work)?
Applicant tracking software is a system that simplifies and streamlines the recruitment process. It allows hiring managers to track candidates throughout the application process. You’ll have visibility over how many applicants have applied, the stage they’re at in the process, and how much they fit the role.
Some systems also use artificial intelligence (AI) to screen applications and narrow down the candidate list. In this case, the system identifies keywords in a candidate's resume or in answers to application questions to determine whether they meet the requirements for your role.
For example, if your top applicants must have three years of experience in a management position, the system will approve applicants who meet this requirement.
Many ATS systems can also help you source the right candidates by integrating your job post with other career sites. Polymer, for example, integrates with Google Jobs so your job ad appears in its search rankings.
To give you an idea of what to expect, let’s take a look at a typical five-step process for ATS systems:
- Create the role. First, you’ll need to create the job description within the ATS.
- Publish the role in the system. When you’re ready for your role to go live so candidates can find you, it’s time to publish. Some ATS systems require payment upfront, but other systems (like Polymer) only charge per job posting when it goes live. This model gives you ample time to develop the best job description.
- Screen and review applications. Either manually or using a system’s AI, you’ll filter applications and narrow down job seekers that fit your requirements. Some systems let you create and send a template email depending on how you’ve filtered your candidates (e.g., offering an interview or gently rejecting their application).
- Interview candidates. Select which candidates you’d like to interview. You can also automate the interview scheduling or assessment request emails with some ATS solutions.
- Hire the candidate. Finally, you’ll send an offer letter to the best candidate.
From there, some systems can automate parts of the onboarding process, such as delivering documents for signatures.
Every hiring process will be different depending on the role you’re hiring for and the capabilities of your ATS platform, but the list above should give you an idea of how an ATS can support you.
We’ll look at ATS capabilities (and how to identify the features you need) in more detail later. First, let’s look at some of the benefits of using ATS systems.
Why should you use applicant tracking software?
Small businesses and startups have to be precise with resource allocation; any spending needs to support business growth to get and remain profitable.
So, why should you spend any budget at all on an ATS platform when a spreadsheet has been serving you just fine? An ATS helps you:
- Free up time to focus on your business. Unlike large businesses, small and medium-sized businesses don’t often have the luxury of experienced human resources managers and recruitment agencies. With an ATS, you’ll spend less time manually searching for resumes, organizing applicants, sending emails, and more, giving you more time to grow your business.
- Speed up the hiring process. Using an ATS speeds up the hiring process in several ways, chiefly by helping you get organized. With the right application questions (and, in some cases, AI), you can narrow down your applicants quickly and filter them into specific workflows. With automation, you can then send templated bulk messages to each group, letting them know the next steps.
- Build talent pipelines of qualified candidates. Not everyone that applies for a position will be right for the role. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be right for another job further down the line. Your ATS platform keeps past applicants on the books, giving you a pool of high-quality new hires to choose from when the right role comes up. Plus, with Polymer, applicants can sign up to receive notifications about future job openings at your company.
- See better reporting and analytics. With an ATS tool, you can analyze the entire talent management process. Some tools will provide analytics natively, while others will integrate with analytics tools. With better applicant organization alone, you’ll be able to assess metrics like cost-per-hire, cost-per-applicant, the timeline from application to hire, and other KPIs that can help you optimize your hiring process.
- Customize workflows. Depending on the ATS solution you use, you can create the perfect recruitment process for your business. With Polymer, for example, you can edit your application forms, insert video headers, add new hiring stages, and create custom hiring flows.
7 of the best applicant tracking software solutions for small businesses
Knowing which ATS to choose can feel overwhelming. To make your search easier, we’ve shortlisted seven of the best applicant tracking systems with the features and capabilities to support a small business.
1. Best for beautiful job descriptions, intuitive dashboards, and flexible pricing: Polymer
From distributed startups to brick-and-mortar shops, Polymer allows growing businesses to manage the entire hiring process in one location.
Polymer's simple and intuitive interface has all the features you need to streamline your hiring process. Its key features include:
- Customizable job boards. Create a branded, truly unique job board to attract the best talent with Polymer’s custom job boards. You can tweak template job boards or create your own from scratch using the developer API. Stand out from the competition with an exciting, beautiful job description that’s easily found on a filterable job board.
- Candidate messaging. Message candidates directly on the platform with built-in candidate messaging. Streamline the hiring process by sending bulk messages to multiple candidates at once and using premade messaging templates. Give them the next steps or let them down gently in just a few clicks.
- Collaborate with team members. Add user roles and job assignments to create a collaborative hiring process with your team. Share applicant profiles, send messages, and add private notes all within the platform. With no limit to the number of users on your account, you can add as many collaborators as you like.
- Integrate with third-party tools. If you’re using external tools as part of your hiring process, you need a platform with integrations. Polymer lets you host your job description on Polymer's platform or on your Webflow site, share it to We Work Remotely, get notifications in Slack or Discord, and track visitor behavior on your job board with Google Analytics.
Polymer also offers per-job pricing instead of monthly per-user pricing, meaning that you only pay for published job posts. Filled your role and archived the job posting? Polymer will automatically add the prorated credit to your account for any unused time.
Because you only pay for published job posts, you can try Polymer for free, set everything up, and get a feel for the platform before you commit.
Above all, Polymer makes hiring simple. It doesn’t take long to set up; you can jump straight in and create a hiring workflow that’s perfect for your business—no matter how big or small it is.
2. Best for accessing a pre-existing candidate pool: Breezy
The appeal of Breezy is its Kanban-style hiring workflow and candidate database.
Breezy also has strong candidate sourcing capabilities, which is great for a hiring manager who’s strapped for time. As a Breezy user, you’ll get access to their candidate database with millions of job seekers (really!).
Within the database, you can use a Boolean search to find candidates that fit your requirements (e.g., using the word “and” to ensure terms both appear in the search or using “or” to broaden the search).
For example, to find a website developer with experience using Shopify, you can search “website developer and Shopify.”
The platform will then show any candidates that match these phrases.
You can also conduct video interviews within the Breezy platform, keeping everything in the hiring process under one roof.
In terms of pricing, Breezy offers a free plan with limited features for a single job post. From there, the “Startup” plan is $143 per month on an annual plan and includes features like messaging automation but doesn’t include automated reference checking or multiple recruiting pipelines.
3. Best completely free ATS: SpringRecruit
SpringRecruit is a free hiring system with many of the features of a paid platform.
You can create a customizable job board, schedule interviews, and automate different parts of the hiring process. You can also collaborate with team members and use SpringRecruit’s mobile app to manage candidates directly from your phone.
The platform itself is simple and not quite as visually engaging as some of the others out there, but user reviews suggest that the platform is a solid starting place for SMBs that need to hire on a shoestring budget.
Having said that, you might need an ATS with more features as your business grows.
For example, SpringRecruit doesn’t have an option to add pre-qualifying questions for applicants, and some reviews suggest that the structure of the interface isn’t always efficient.
A lack of scalability is something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about using SpringRecruit for the long haul. For those looking to post multiple jobs today for free, it’s your best bet.
4. Best for an all-in-one CRM and ATS solution: Tracker
Tracker is a combined customer relationship management system (CRM) and ATS platform, making it ideal for anyone looking to manage their marketing, leads, sales, and recruitment in one place.
Tracker’s dashboard is built around its reporting features. You can easily pull reports to see the success of your processes and identify areas for improvement.
Let’s say you’re concerned about how long your hiring process takes. Using Tracker, you can pull a report that shows:
- How long the entire hiring life cycle is on average
- The most time-consuming parts of the hiring process
From here, you can figure out how to optimize the process, save resources, and make it a more enjoyable experience for your candidates.
Tracker can also integrate with a variety of other job boards, social media, or networking platforms, making it a well-rounded platform for a lot of your hiring needs.
Because of its all-in-one nature, the platform can take a while to get your head around. To use it effectively, you’ll need to invest time getting up to speed on its features.
Tracker’s pricing is available upon request, so you’ll need to book a demo to get a quote for your business’s needs. This means it might be a great solution for anyone looking to house everything under one roof, but you won’t be able to go live with your job post today.
5. Best for busy teams with standard hiring processes: Recooty
Recooty is ideal for teams that want simple and efficient automation. Here’s what you can automate with Recooty:
- Shortlisting candidates
- Interview scheduling
- Importing candidates from various sources
- Updating job listings everywhere when you change your Recooty listing
Recooty has most of the features a small business needs to track and manage the hiring process, namely integrating with other job sites and platforms, creating a branded career page, and tracking the entire hiring process.
Recooty’s basic plan is free, although you’re limited to one user and one job posting. If you want access to more features and more users, paid plans start at $49 per month on the Pro plan for 10 users.
User reviews suggest there are limits to its customizable features. One critical downside is that you can’t edit the hiring pipeline steps to make it unique to your business.
Recooty is great for busy teams looking to “set it and forget it.”
6. Best for top-quality customizations: Zoho Recruit
Like Polymer, you can add or remove stages from your hiring process, create email templates, and integrate with your company website. You can also color-code different elements, customize your internal interface, and tag data to help you organize your hiring.
Zoho is free if you only need one active job at a time. If your business is growing and you need more live job postings, you can upgrade to the standard plan for $30 per month.
Zoho’s big box of features come with a learning curve. Similar to Tracker, it’s not a platform you can jump straight into. You’ll need to dedicate time to understanding the ins and outs of the system to get the most out of the platform.
7. Best for those wanting on-hand customer service: Lever
Lever is an easy platform to use with great customer service options, making it helpful for less tech-savvy ATS users.
Lever is also another HR software that works alongside a CRM. Because of its CRM functionalities, it’s ideal for performance management and analysis.
It also has several features that make it a great ATS for smaller teams. It has a handy interview scheduling feature and offers integrations. For example, you can verify referrals and conduct background checks on your applicants.
Although the system is easy to use, some user reviews suggest there’s room for improvement, particularly with the job description formatting. Lever also only integrates with LinkedIn and Indeed job boards, so you’re limited to where you can distribute your job posting.
How to choose the right ATS for your startup
Choosing the right ATS solution is a big hurdle to jump when it comes to streamlining your hiring process.
To identify the right applicant management software for your business, work your way through the following steps.
Step 1: Start with your budget
First, you need to know your budget. To do this, ask yourself how much you’re willing to spend on a platform, whether you can pay monthly or annually, and how it’ll fit into the overall company budget. This makes it clear what you can afford and helps you narrow down ATS providers within your price range.
If you need to pitch your budget to a finance team, you’ll also need to predict your return on investment (ROI). This means determining how much time, money, and resources you’ll save by investing in an ATS platform.
Here are some factors to consider when figuring out your ROI:
- How much time you’d spend sourcing and hiring candidates vs. the cost of using an ATS
- The resources you’d need to source and hire candidates vs. the resources needed to use an ATS (such as people power or other tools)
- The cost of hiring the wrong person for the role vs. using an ATS to increase your chances of hiring a qualified candidate
- The amount of time you spend working on other areas of your business instead of hiring vs. the amount of time needed to use an ATS
From here, you should have a good indication of how much money you’ll save in the long run and how much you’re able to spend upfront.
Step 2: Outline the features you need
ATS platforms have a lot of features, some of which might be unnecessary for your hiring process. You can considerably narrow down your search by identifying the features youactuallyneed.
So, how do you know what features you need? A good place to start is by answering these questions:
- Are you looking for a cloud-based or desktop system? You can access a cloud-based system from anywhere, whereas a desktop system lives locally on a computer. Most modern systems are cloud-based because they offer flexibility, real-time access, and little maintenance. If you have a distributed recruiting team, a cloud-based system is your best bet.
- Do you want a system that’s customizable? You might prefer a more flexible platform, in which case you'll need one that offers customization. This sometimes means more expensive plans. In Polymer's case, you can customize your job boards, apply forms, and your internal dashboards, and still only pay per job posting.
- Do you want to integrate third-party tools? Integrating with external platforms allows you to reach a wider talent pool than hosting on your website alone. For example, if you integrate with a platform like We Work Remotely or LinkedIn, your job ads will appear on their career pages. As a result, their community of job seekers can view your job posting.
- Will you need to collaborate with team members and stakeholders? If the hiring process involves more than one person, you’ll need recruitment software that enables collaboration. With Polymer, for example, you can easily add new members to the hiring team, share candidate feedback, create a group message feed, and collaborate throughout the entire recruitment process.
Once you’ve got a handle on the functions you want, you can start to search for platforms that offer those features. This should help you narrow down which ATS solutions are right for your business.
Step 3: Assess user reviews
Before you commit to any platform, read user reviews from other hiring teams. These reviews will give you valuable insight into how the platform performs and whether other employers would recommend it.
Websites such as G2, Capterra, and PCMag all have user reviews about ATS platforms. The feedback splits the good and the bad, so you can quickly see whether the platform is right for your business. Here’s an example:
It’s also important to look at reviews from job applicants as well. This is because you want to use ATS software that makes it easy for candidates to apply. If you choose a system that’s clunky for candidates, your top-talent applicants may shy away from applying.
Take a look at online forums like Quora and Reddit to see what applicants think of different ATS platforms. This will also give you a better understanding of the features applicants want, which you can consider when reviewing different platforms.
For example, a lot of applicants don’t like having to set up a candidate profile to apply for a job. Use a platform that allows them to apply without creating a login.
Step 4: Use up-to-date systems
Put yourself in the shoes of an applicant.
You see a job ad for a role you’d be perfect for. You start the application process, but it’s a hassle. The interface is confusing and you have to fill in all of the same information your resume contains in the form fields. You then find out you must do this several times at different stages of the process.
How long would you stick around before getting too frustrated? Probably not for long—especially if another company has a similar job opening with an efficient and modern system.
Applicants struggle with the functionality of outdated systems (take a look at this Reddit thread to see for yourself). But with an up-to-date platform, you’ll avoid the common issues that crop up with older systems. Your system will be efficient, easy to use, and provide a better candidate experience.
Take a look at this job ad (created using Polymer) as an example of an easy application process:
The job advert is clear and provides plenty of detail about what the job involves. The “Apply Now” button is visible and it takes job seekers to a simple application form. There’s no confusion about how to submit the application and the applicant doesn’t need to sign up to do anything.
As we’ve said before, every hiring process is different. No matter whether you’re hiring for a senior role or a junior position, whether it’s just one job or multiple, make it a great experience for both your hiring team and the applicants.
Get your hiring process started with Polymer
Using an ATS can take a weight off your shoulders, but there are a lot of platforms to choose from.
Ideally, look for a system that fits your business needs now, can grow with your company as you need more customization, and helps you deliver a streamlined application experience.