Most Applicant Tracking Systems Do Not Track Applicants

Although measuring candidate sources is vital, most ATS's fail to make the grade.

Many companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to find top job seekers faster and improve hiring efficiency. But many of these systems do not accurately record which job boards are sending quality candidates to their clients, says the world's largest alliance of employment Web sites, Companies who rely on applicant sourcing reports that are often hopelessly inaccurate may make online recruiting decisions that end up lowering the number of quality candidates they actually receive.

Founded in 2001, markets the services of 11 member job boards, each targeting a specific industry or profession.'s expertise and massive audience, a combined 3 million visitors, makes the group a leading authority on recruiting trends and practices. Many clients process applicants through ATS's. These systems are designed to screen candidates and track their progress through the hiring pipeline. They also claim to record information about hiring trends, including where companies locate their best employees.

The only effective way to track the source of hires is through "tracking tags". The least effective way is by giving each candidate a complex tree of choices to indicate where they heard about the opportunity. experts say that some ATS's rely on drop-down menus where candidates are asked how they found a job opening. Some list only a few of the sites being used by their clients. Other systems force job seekers through a maze of several Web pages and menus to determine how they've learned about a job. The more menus and choices, the more likely the candidate will either lose patience, not find what they're looking for, or simply select "corporate site" or "from a friend".

Here's a simple example of how drop-down menus result in bad information:
A candidate goes to, finds a job board, locates a job, then clicks through to the company's ATS. When asked, the candidate is likely to indicate that they found the job through Google - that's where they started. But the job would not have been found if it were not posted on the job board.

Here's another example:
A candidate goes to a crossposting network website, locates a job, clicks through to the job board where the job is hosted (which is paying to advertise on the crossposting network to increase reach), then clicks through to an ATS. When asked, the candidate cannot find the crossposting partner, so has to choose something arbitrarily. Even if the crossposting partner is listed, the actual source of the candidate is the original job board who used the network, which does not get credit.

A third example:
A candidate goes to an ATS system from a job board. When asked, the candidate wants to appear loyal to the company they are apply for (as if it is the only company they would ever want to work for), so choose "Corporate Website" or something similar.

A fourth example:
A candidate receives an E-mail from a friend who has seen an ideal career on a certain job board, telling them about the opportunity and giving them a link to the job details on that job board. The candidate visits the job, then clicks through to the ATS. When asked, the candidate will say they heard about the job from a friend.

A fifth example:
A candidate finds a career opportunity on a job board. To find more information about the company, the candidate visits the corporate website and then applies directly on this site. There is no record whatsoever that informs the company how the candidate originally saw the job.

What is a "tracking tag"?
A tracking tag is a piece of information embedded into the URL of the application link (such as source=TelecomCareers). This is tracked throughout the entire candidate application session, and allows the ATS to give a fully accurate picture of candidate sources. Does your ATS use tracking tags? Call and find out.

How inaccurate can ATS source reports be?
One client of recently said it had received about a hundred applications and had five candidates on interview for various jobs placed on this board. However, the web site log showed that had delivered more than 2,000 candidates. In countless other similar instances, ATS reports were showing little or no traffic from job boards even though they had funneled 100's or 1,000's of quality applicants their way. "If companies don't know who's providing the best value, they have no way of picking and supporting the winners," says Eric Shannon, the creator of member, which serves Spanish-speaking, bi-lingual workers. "Not having information (or having bad information) locks them into a cyclical pattern where they're using the same boards over and over and not getting the results they need. The way out of the cycle is to track the results of all the players, niche boards and others. ATSs should provide accurate information (through tracking tags) and if they're not, companies have to speak with their ATS providers about fixing this."

As a result, job boards may not receive credit for providing promising candidates. Such information is vital for companies deciding how to allocate their recruiting budgets. They should be spending more money on online services that generate the largest volume of strong candidates per dollar and to cut spending on less effective job boards. "Organizations need to know where their richest sources are," says Don Firth, founder of and creator of two of the group's member sites, and, the nation's leading boards for the logistics and retail industries. "As they scrutinize their budgets, they seek the best values. If they don't have the right information, they can't make the best decisions."