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Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems: The Ultimate Guide to Better Hiring

Discover how an Applicant Tracking System functions, streamlines candidate management, and automates application tracking with examples.


Sifting through hundreds of resumes. Scheduling endless interviews. Managing cumbersome candidate paperwork. If all this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Many recruiters wrestle daily with hiring workloads that feel never-ending. 

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) promise to ease these pain points through extensive automation and fool-proof coordination. But with so many options promising hiring miracles, how do you choose the right solution?

The key is finding a streamlined tool that automates repetitive tasks yet retains the human touch needed for strategic hiring. After all, while the tasks of screening resumes and scheduling interviews beg to be automated for efficiency, evaluating applicants requires discretion. 

Therefore, the best ATS amplifies talent acquisition efforts through a smart blend of automation and analytics. This eliminates busy work without sacrificing the customized assessment to hire the right fit.

In this guide, we'll cover how to select an ATS that works smarter for you, not harder–one that helps you automate high-volume activities, gain data-driven insights, and still provide tailored, personal outreach to top candidates. 

Let's explore the key capabilities that set apart feature-rich applicant tracking systems to find the right solution for your recruiting needs.

What is an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system is recruiting software that helps companies streamline and automate their hiring workflows in one centralized platform. It tracks and manages job candidates through every stage of the process—from sourcing and screening to interviewing, assessments, and offers.

Key functions of an ATS

Some core functions of an ATS include the following:

  • Storing all candidate documentation, like resumes and cover letters, in an organized database
  • Posting openings to multiple job boards through integration
  • Automating tasks like scheduling interviews and sending rejection letters
  • Providing dashboard analytics on metrics like time-to-fill and cost-per-hire
  • Ensuring compliance by keeping detailed records of the hiring process.

In short, an ATS acts as a command center that powers efficient, insightful recruiting at scale.

Why do you need an applicant tracking system?

Implementing an ATS provides immense value in three key ways:

  • Greater efficiency: By automating repetitive tasks like resume screening and email sequencing, an ATS reduces the time spent per applicant. This enables recruiters to focus on more strategic priorities.
  • Improved candidate quality: Advanced analytics give data-driven insights into the hiring funnel, helping identify better sourcing strategies and reduce unconscious bias through anonymized screening.
  • Compliance and auditability: Maintaining detailed applicant records ensures adherence to equal opportunity laws. Custom reports also aid compliance audits.

Vital features of an ATS

When evaluating ATS solutions, look for these must-have features:

1. Customizable reporting

The ideal ATS compiles specific metrics like time-to-hire, quality of hire, and diversity ratios. It then transforms these data points into digestible, actionable intel through customized tables, graphs, and visualizations.

For instance, a report may reveal that hiring for senior creative roles takes far longer than marketing ones at your organization. With this knowledge, you can kick start creative director recruitment well in advance to prevent productivity gaps.

Granular, tailored reporting eliminates guesswork and empowers data-driven decisions. Rather than just crunching numbers, it tells a story about what's working, what's not, and why. 

2. AI-driven communication

AI-driven communication makes it possible to include loads of context in every communication with potential candidates. They enable hyper-personalized, relevant outreach at scale. 

For example, the leading recruitment automation platform, Kula, has advanced NLP algorithms that don't just parse candidate profiles and resumes. For example:

  • An engineering applicant may receive a notification of a new technical role opening that perfectly matches their stack and interests. 
  • A creative candidate could get a prompt to update their portfolio before an upcoming interview. 

These contextual nudges feel like individual coaching, not robotic spam.

3. Automated email campaigns

An effective ATS will identify passive talent and contact them with branded emails that nurture them further into the pipeline. 

Kula empowers you to send personalized emails that match your candidate's profile and position in the hiring workflow. You could also use a system like this to identify the best medium of outreach for particular candidates.

Moreover, personalized emails based on candidate data improve engagement over one-size-fits-all blasts.

Kula automates follow-up messages across email and LinkedIn InMails. The tool can automatically send a tailored email reminder for a candidate initially contacted on LinkedIn who has yet to respond. 

4. Recruitment marketing tools

If you’re a start-up, you need an employer brand. Large MNCs can sometimes skimp on branding because of their existing reputation, but start-ups cannot. 

To solve this, Kula empowers creating, publishing, and optimizing job posts, career sites, and ads with simple drag-and-drops.

5. Referral program management

It is important to send employees a personalized congratulatory note when their referral gets hired, along with a gift card or bonus. This meaningful gesture can get lost in the daily hustle, so automate it.

Kula automates referral tracking, and triggers customized rewards or incentives when milestones like interviews or hires are achieved. 

6. Diversity-focused features

ATS should have contemporary features, such as anonymized screening and skills assessments, aim to remove potential hiring bias and promote diversity. This makes it easy to assess a candidate's true potential because you’re evaluating work samples instead of names or backgrounds.

7. Comprehensive applicant tracking

A centralized system to track candidates end-to-end ensures no promising applicants slip through the cracks. Kula simplifies this indispensable job applicant tracking process in one unified platform. 

  • Recruiters can follow each candidate's full journey with activity tracking, workflow boards, and analytics. 
  • Kula's unified candidate profiles consolidate all interactions, feedback, and status changes. 
  • Robust segmentation, tagging, and custom workflows map to an organization's unique hiring processes.

With Kula, recruiters achieve complete visibility into their talent pipeline through tailored applicant tracking. This eliminates blindspots and empowers data-driven recruiting.

8. Streamlined interview coordination

It is exhausting to sit through multiple interviews every day as a recruiter or team leader. The constant back-and-forth scheduling doesn't help. You can’t skip the interview, but you can skip the latter. 

Kula auto-schedules interviews based on candidate and interviewer calendars. Prevent interview delays and frustration with automated timeline optimization.

9. Offer process management

It is necessary to simplify tasks such as offer letter creation, acceptance tracking, and digitizing new hire paperwork for smoother onboarding. Standardize offer processes across business units while allowing customization like salary negotiation tracking.

For example, Kula could allow the creation and distribution of customized offer letters, track their acceptance, and automate the initiation of onboarding processes, such as sending out new hire forms and syncing information with the HRIS system.

10 Real-time analytics dashboards

In a data-driven hiring landscape, having access to dynamic dashboards is a necessity. 

Kula’s interactive visualizations provide actionable insights into recruiting health and performance. Do certain channels produce more tech hires than others? How long does each hiring stage take by role type? Interactive data empowers strategic decisions and process improvements.

11. Advanced candidate management

Intelligent bulk actions eliminate tedious tasks like manual status changes and mass emails. Update 200 applicants to the next stage with one click or notify them of an event. 

Kula automates repetitive tasks in candidate management, such as sorting applications and sending follow-up emails based on rules and statuses.

12. AI for assessments

As a forward-thinking platform geared up for modern hiring trends, Kula extensively leverages AI to evaluate candidates based on resume details, chats, and skills tests. Reducing human bias, algorithms objectively assess capabilities.

Kula's AI also relies on past performance data to predict how well candidates will perform in a new role, aiding recruiters in making faster, data-backed screening decisions.

Best applicant tracking systems

Now that you know the must-have features, narrow down vendors that align with your budget, team size, and hiring needs. Take advantage of free trials to test competing solutions hands-on before deciding.

To help you kickstart the process, here are the top application tracking systems to evaluate:

1. Kula ATS

Kula enables recruiting success through automation, AI, and actionable insights. As an all-in-one platform built for high-growth companies, Kula goes beyond legacy ATS software that simply store and organize applicant information. 

So how does Kula do this? 

With Kula, you gain automation for key recruiting workflows, an out-of-the-box career page builder, AI-powered candidate matching, a candidate portal, automated interview feedback powered by AI, and conversational analytics. This eliminates the need to purchase and integrate multiple point solutions.

You can call them the ultimate talent acquisition software, one that goes far beyond merely screening resumes for keywords. 

For example, Kula’s automated interview feedback system uses AI to analyze recorded interviews or conversations. It then generates time-stamped notes that highlight key talking points. These automated notes save you time by eliminating the need to manually take comprehensive notes during each interview.

Kula also uses conversation analytics so you can analyze recorded interviews and email threads between you and the candidate. Using NLP and other linguistic analysis, it detects signals during these conversations so you don’t miss key insights. It can detect positive/negative sentiment, signs of strong interest and enthusiasm, or topics that engage the candidate.


  • Automates repetitive recruiting tasks like scheduling interviews, sending rejection/update emails, screening candidates
  • Modern, user-friendly tool loved by high-performing recruiting teams
  • Integrated career page builder eliminates expensive and time-consuming website creation while ensuring a fully functional portal
  • AI matching scores candidates, surface top talent, and reduces time to shortlist
  • Candidate portal organizes applications and keeps prospects engaged
  • Automated interview feedback notes powered by AI for faster hiring decisions
  • Analytics and actionable insights for data-driven recruiting optimization


  • Newer entrant compared to legacy options
  • Mostly tailored for mid-market and enterprise company recruiters

2. Greenhouse ATS

Used by high-growth companies like Airbnb and HubSpot, Greenhouse ATS focuses on a good candidate experience and structured hiring analytics. It has less automation for repetitive tasks compared to some competitors.


  • Exceptional user experience for candidates during the hiring process
  • Structured analytics help drive consistent, bias-free hiring
  • Great platform for high-growth tech companies like Airbnb


  • Lacks some advanced automation features for repetitive tasks
  • The integration ecosystem is not as robust as other options
  • Limited ability to customize workflows or branding

3. Workable ATS

Workable ATS enables posting of jobs to multiple boards in one click, conducting structured interviews and offering templates, and creating branded career portals. 

With its sourcing and matching technology, customizable workflows and real-time analytics, Workable gives recruiting teams the ability to reduce time-to-hire, modernize candidate experiences, and make data-driven hiring decisions. 


  • All-in-one talent acquisition platform for sourcing, hiring, and onboarding
  • Intelligent sourcing and matching technology
  • Customizable workflows and pipelines
  • Automates repetitive tasks to reduce administrative work


  • Has a steep learning curve to utilize full functionality
  • May require heavy customization for specific use cases
  • Potentially costly for very small companies with limited hiring needs

4. Lever ATS

Lever ATS powers end-to-end talent acquisition by combining an intuitive applicant tracking system with advanced candidate relationship management capabilities. It enables high-growth companies to eliminate manual tasks, nurture, and convert candidates, and harness data. 

With automation and analytics tools built for modern recruiting teams, Lever accelerates hiring pipelines. 


  • Intuitive, easy-to-use interface
  • Advanced workflow automation
  • Robust candidate nurturing capabilities
  • Powerful analytics and reporting


  • Requires a lot of configuration
  • Design of the standard career page is bland
  • Does not have great integrations with LinkedIn Recruiter 

5. Pinpoint ATS

Pinpoint ATS spans the entire talent lifecycle. You can use it to build career sites, structure interviews and offer management, and onboard new hires. With customizable workflows, candidate management tools, third-party integrations, you can reduce bias, automate tasks and make better, faster hiring decisions. 


  • Blind recruiting anonymises candidate profiles and reduces bias 
  • Real-time dashboards and reporting


  • Limited third-party software integrations
  • Reporting and metrics could be better 

Can applicants manipulate an ATS to get ahead of job-hunting?

Since ATS algorithms scan resumes and job applications first, candidates are motivated to optimize their documents specifically for these systems to get ahead. 

Some common ways applicants try to game ATS include:

  • Keyword stuffing: Some applicants load up resumes with inflated skills sections using keywords copied from the job listing, even if they lack expertise. This may trick resume parsing software.
  • Specialized formatting: Applicants may use tactics like a large white font for hidden keywords to rank higher in searches. Creative formatting can also throw off parsing.
  • Duplicate submissions: Some candidates submit the same resume multiple times to increase their visibility in the ATS database search results.
  • Irrelevant experience: Applicants include loosely related or irrelevant experience just because it contains keywords tied to the role. This falters relevancy ranking.

How do you tackle ATS manipulation?

Here’s how you can counteract these ATS gaming tactics:

  • Adjust parsing algorithms: Set rules to flag skills sections larger than a certain word count to catch keyword stuffing. 
  • Manual reviews: Spot-check shortlisted resumes to catch inappropriate formatting, embellishments, and other red flags before interviews.
  • Assessments: Supplement resume screening with skills tests or assignments to gauge actual abilities beyond just qualifications on paper.
  • Blind screening: Remove names and other personal details before resume review to avoid unconscious bias and focus on capability.

While ATS helps manage application volume to a large extent, the human eye is the best defense against gaming. With vigilance, common sense vetting, and a multifaceted evaluation process, you can leverage ATS to screen applicants without compromising hiring quality.

Future of applicant tracking systems

ATS software is expected to evolve as the world of work evolves, with more tools and data than ever before.

  • Further Incorporation of AI and automation: ATS platforms will integrate more AI for tasks like sentiment analysis of interviews, predictive hiring analytics, automated candidate outreach, and more. This will enable smarter recruiting.
  • Tight HR integrations: Integrations with HRIS, talent management systems, background checks, and other HR tools will allow more seamless end-to-end hiring. This unified experience will reduce manual workflows.
  • Specialized capabilities: ATS solutions will become more tailored to unique hiring needs, like high-volume hourly recruiting, campus recruiting, diversity hiring initiatives, and more. Niche features will expand.
  • Predictive analytics: ATS data modeling will better forecast metrics like hiring volume, budget needs, candidate retention, and future job performance. This enables more strategic workforce planning.


1. What’s the difference between an ATS and a CRM?

While CRMs manage relationships with existing leads or customers, an ATS tracks and manages job applicants through the hiring process specifically. ATS contains more compliance-related features as well like EEOC reporting.

2. How does an ATS help HR managers?

An ATS centralizes the entire hiring workflow in one place, from sourcing to offer. 

Features like process automation, resume parsing, interview scheduling, and analytics help streamline recruiting and provide insights. This saves time, reduces errors, and allows data-driven decisions.

3. Does ATS read PDF resumes?

Yes. Most ATS platforms utilize advanced parsing technology to extract text data and resume information from PDF files. 

4. How many companies use ATS?

In 2023, JobScan detected an ATS for 97.4% of Fortune 500 companies, which amounts to 487 companies out of 500.

Sandra Rachel Oommen

Content Marketer

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