How does a Recruitment Agency choose an ATS or CRM?


In this article, I will specifically cover software (ATS/CRM) for the ‘Permanent Recruitment ‘ business. Software for temping agencies (or Contract Staffing Agencies) is a different ballgame and will be covered in a later article.

Do you require an ATS/CRM?

Many agencies at the startup stage prefer working on google docs and store their database on local computers. I suggest that the first thing to do would be to subscribe to a ‘recruitment agency software’. Yes, the greatest challenge is to choose from the multitude of various software available in the market. Most software nowadays is available on the cloud and on a monthly/annual subscription basis.

The cost of such software could range from 25$ to 150$ a month per user. Buying on an annual basis could get you a 20 percent discount. Once you are sure a software suits your purpose it makes sense to subscribe to it on an annual basis. Business software is not something that you would be changing frequently. Therefore it is imperative that you choose the same wisely after deliberate considerations.

I have come across various articles on the net which compare software based on features and rate them based on customer review. I, however, believe that for choosing software, the agency must understand the need for various features and then decide which ones are the ‘must have’ and which features are the ‘good to have’ ones.

What is an ATS and a CRM?

Otherwise, it is easy to get lost in the endless lists of features offered by software providers. Another thing to be careful about is to understand the difference between an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) and Recruitment CRM. Typically recruitment software is used by recruitment agencies as well as by hiring companies.

Here the ATS, which is basically adding a candidate to the system ( ie maintaining an applicant database) and seeing her through the selection process is the common feature. However, the big difference is the different workflows handled by these two entities.

The hiring company gets direct applicants and also gets resumes from recruitment agencies, which need to be tracked. For recruitment agencies, they need to send resumes to the client(hiring company), keep track of the candidates as well as bill a successful placement. Therefore both these entities require different software.

There is also other software in the market like RPO software (recruitment process outsourcing) and VMS software (Vendor Management System). Even these are more relevant to the Hiring Company than to a recruitment agency.

Platform Features – ‘Must haves’ & ‘Good to have’

I will hereon list out the features in the order of importance to a recruitment agency. The need for features will increase as the agency grows, works with more clients has a larger database and of course a larger recruitment team. It is left to you to decide what are your ‘must have’ and ‘good to have’ features. And yes, when you are just starting, your choice will also depend on the price of the software. I will now list out some features that I feel are a must have (and good to have) for a Recruitment CRM.

1. Candidate Database – (Must have)

a. Database size limits if any (data of how many candidates can be stored). Anything more than 10000 candidates per user is good. Yes, more the merrier. (Must have)

b. How does data enter the database? Does it need to be typed or can a resume be parsed? (Parser – Must Have)

c. Can the database be searched?

  • Boolean search (This is being able to search for some resumes with specific keywords, and that too with operators like ‘AND’ ‘OR’ & ‘NOT’)? (Good to Have)
  • Filter search – Based on specific fields. (Must have)

d. Ability to store customized fields. You may want to store the ‘hieght’ (just kidding!) for all your candidates. Not possible if you do not have such a field available. (Must have)

e. Saved searches – You may be using specific criteria to search candidates for a particular job (or type of job) and may want to save that for use again. (Good to have)

f. Candidate Hot Lists – These are lists created of specific candidates in your database for quick reference. (Good to have)

2. There must be a similar database to hold data regarding ‘Clients’, ‘Contacts’ and ‘Jobs’. (Must Have)

3. Ability to stores files & notes attached to each entry in the database (Good to have)

4. Ability to format resumes as ‘agency resume’ with your agency branding before sharing with the client. (Good to have)

5. Assigning Jobs to recruiters and assigning Candidates to Jobs (Must have).

6. Ability to configure various stages of the recruitment process and ability to move candidates from one stage of recruitment to another while recording the date/time and taking notes. (Must Have)

7. Ability to schedule appointments and send/receive notifications/ reminders to/from candidates & contact. (Must have)

8. Ability to collaborate on specific jobs with team members. (Must have)

9. Ability to share resumes with clients online (Good to have). One can always send these through good old emails.

10. Email Integration with the recruitment CRM (good to have)

11. Mobile Application. (Good to have)

12. Calling candidates & contacts through the application and recording the conversation. The recording part depends on whether local privacy laws allow the same. Nevertheless even calling through the application is useful to keep a track of all communication with the stakeholders. ( Good to have)

13. Ability to view candidate history with your agency. Which jobs did you present the candidate for? Till which hiring stage was the candidate considered? Remarks of various clients regarding candidate? (Good to have)

14. Communication History – Ability to view all communication (email/telecall) as well as any notes taken during face to face meeting recorded, in one place. It will give you a quick background view before a new conversation. (Good to have).

15. Radius Search – This is basically searching for a candidate within a specific distance from a particular location (normally the job location). Mostly applies to flexi or temp staffing but may also be useful in permanent recruitment sometimes. This requires the candidate address or pin code to be stored in the database and is searched with a mapping API. (Good to have)

16. Social Media Recruiting – Many applications are integrated with popular social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook. This allows recruiters to post their jobs to these platforms with a single click. It is important that candidate who clicks on these posts are able to apply directly to these jobs and you can see their resume inside the app/database. (Good to have)

17. Job board posting– This is a similar feature like the one above except that the job gets posted to specific job boards (Good to have)

18. Bulk Emailing – Many time a recruiter may want o email many candidates at once to convey some message or to check their interest in a specific job. Hence the ability to choose a set of candidates based on specific criteria and then mailing them is useful. (Good to have)

19. Mail Scheduling  – Ability to schedule emails, maybe reminder emails is another useful feature. (Good to have)

20. Billing/Invoicing – Ability to generate an invoice through the application for successful candidates and tracking the payment received. (Good to have)

21. Integrations with different applications- Recruitment agencies may be using other software like financial accounting, mailing software, internal communication or even a LinkedIn account etc and it helps that the ‘recruitment agency’ software is seamlessly able to integrate with other application with just a few clicks. (Good to have)

22. Admin functions – The application must allow the owner to decide on the access level of the recruiters. For example, only the accountant can see billings, or that a recruiter can view only their part of the work and not the entire organisation etc.

23. Reports -The need for reports increase as the team size increases. However basic reports like recruiter KRAs, candidate pipeline, upcoming tasks etc are a must. (Must Have)

24. Ability to work with different time zones & currencies (Good to have)

25. Chrome Widget – A plugin that allows you to capture candidate data on a website and store it in your database as a candidate record. (Good to have)

26. CV Formatting – Many agencies put their brand (watermark) on the resume before forwarding to clients, many a time the personal details like name, contact number & email ids are also masked. So this is a tool to automate that process (Good to have)

27. Candidate suggestion– based on the job description entered for a job the application can suggest suitable or matching candidates. (Good to have)

Much as the above list is exhaustive, it is surely not complete and newer features will keep appearing in various applications from time to time. Apart from the list above another three important things to consider would be –

1. Monthly/Annual Subscription fee – Obviously lesser the better

2. The speed of the application – Many a time if the databases and query functions are not optimized by the software vendor, the use of the application can be very excruciating slow. You cannot be waiting a few seconds for a page to render every time you click on something.

3. The ease of use – The application must be intuitive to use  and should need minimal training. A good pleasant interface is an added bonus.

How do you choose which platform is best for you?

So we are back to the question, how do you choose which software to subscribe to?

I have explained various features in this article. Some I have tagged as Must have and some as Good to have. I have tagged them such considering a one or two person startup. As a recruitment agency grows and with it the number of candidates, clients, and jobs, the need from the software shall also increase. One simple method of deciding on the software is to list out the ‘Must have’ features. You could use the ‘Must haves’ that I have suggested or refine the list.

So goes without saying that any application which has even one feature missing from your ‘Must have’ list is a ‘no go’. Next based on the list of ‘Good to have’, rate each one with one or two points (or even three points) based on how important or useful you feel the feature would be for the kind and volume of work your agency does. When you are reviewing the shortlisted application, give these points to each feature.

Finally, add up these ‘Good to have’ points and consider buying the software with the maximum points.  Also check the points for the three parameters I have mentioned (price, speed, and ease of use). Here speed becomes the most important of the three provide the price is within your budget/reach.

I have attempted to explain most of the features that exist in a recruitment agency software and laid out a broad methodology of making a choice. A good fit recruitment software can do a lot to enhance the efficiency of your agency and need to be given due importance.

Originally published at