Smart hiring: 6 Lessons Learned During an ATS Implementation (Part 2)

Infographics with ATS Implementation strategy
There are many projects we work on every day at Y Soft. Our blog doesn’t have enough space to accommodate all the exciting stories. But we try to present at least some of them to give you an idea of what life is like in our various departments. This one is brought to you by our beloved recruiters. 

Hi HR people, we’re back with our applicant tracking system series (ATS). In the last article, we described our way to choosing our new ATS and now it's time to take you through the dreaded  implementation. Don't worry, we've been there, and we're here to tell you: if we can do it, you can do it! We will walk you through our own ATS implementation experience, sharing what we learned and how it can help make your ATS adoption process faster and smoother. 

If you're still searching for the best ATS solution, there's a prequel describing how we picked an ATS software provider. Spoiler alert: the prequel comes with two templates that can help you with the tough decision-making process. 

Ready? Either read on or skip ahead to the section you're grappling with right now: 

  1. Putting together an implementation team
  2. Choosing the right implementation strategy
  3. Working on your own documentation (is super-duper important)
  4. Fixing operational hiring challenges as you go
  5. Integrating ATS into your career site (it is not always fun)
  6. Trusting your implementation team (but checking on them constantly)
In every interesting story there should be an unanticipated turn of events. In our case, it was the quarantine that started in March. The last thing we did offline was celebrate the ATS order form raise...and then COVID-19 came. Just like that, our operations moved online. Had we known that the entire implementation would take place online, we might have tried to postpone it. Luckily, there was no space for second thoughts. And now we can safely say that while remote ATS implementation is a challenge, it's possible. Without further ado, let's dive into our lessons learned!


The Implementation Squad We Put Together 

Our recruitment team of 4 became the core team overseeing the entire implementation process. If you think that's simply not enough people, you're right. We relied a lot on our extended implementation team (see below); mainly our IT team, who were responsible for setting up the SSO (single sign on), connecting the system to Microsoft Office 365, and managing employee accesses. As we already mentioned in the prequel, having good relationships with other teams (IT, Legal, Marketing) and their understanding of what you're trying to achieve is vital since you need to come together as a team and support each other. 


Our Implementation Strategy: Start Small, Think Big 

There are two ways you can go about the implementation process: start small or start big. Starting big means putting everything else aside and working on the implementation 24/7 for a few days. Starting small means incorporating implementation tasks into your daily activity spread out over a couple of weeks. 

As you probably already guessed, we decided to start small. Starting small turned out to be beneficial in two ways. First, we were able to take time away from the ATS system, coming back with fresh ideas and fresh minds. Second, starting small gave us enough time to make sure that everyone on the implementation team was on the same page and getting familiar with Greenhouse to a sufficient level.

After about 8 weeks, we felt confident enough to go live with Greenhouse and start processing candidates using the system. Before launching Greenhouse, we made sure that we had all the basics covered, namely that:
  • we had well-defined requisition/opening structures that properly track all the information we need for reporting
  • our internal career site and referral interfaces were set up
  • training for recruiters, HR business partners (HRBPs), and hiring managers were prepared
  • our company-wide launch communication was ready to go

On the other hand, there were quite a few things we decided to work on only after we went live, including:
  • a full integration of Greenhouse with our career site
  • putting together templates 
  • learning about the customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities of Greenhouse
  • figuring out how to track marketing campaigns 
  • and a few other hidden gems (read: features)

Starting small and using an iterative process proved to be a good choice. We had built a minimum viable product, we launched it, observed it, and adjusted it again and again until we got to the point where we could say: this is it, our fully operational, dream ATS. 


The Best Advice We Can Give You: Start Working on Your Documentation Right Now

Here's one thing we learned early on: Successful implementation never happens without detailed documentation. At the very beginning of our ATS story, Greenhouse assigned to us an implementation specialist (hi, Sebastian!) to guide us through the adoption process. We also received a foolproof spreadsheet consisting of several chapters. Each chapter contained a detailed description of nearly 80 tasks we needed to do before Greenhouse would be up and running. All tasks were linked to a Greenhouse support website containing further reading, tips, technical descriptions, and useful templates. We greatly appreciated that the ATS implementation guide didn't focus only on the technical stuff but also shared a lot of how-to guides for staff training, internal communication strategies, and strategies on how to launch the ATS software inside the company. Amazing, we thought; there’s not much we need to do since the documentation was handed to us on a silver platter. Well… 

As it turns out, you should never, ever rely solely on the documentation written by your ATS provider. You need to roll up your sleeves and start working on your own documentation as well, writing down all the company-related settings and other specifics. You might think that it's not important. That you'll remember those "few" customizations because they are so obvious and so, so simple, and—besides—there are more important things to focus on right now. But the truth is, there are so many custom options and company-related setups that you can easily forget what you did a mere 2 days ago. How do we know this? We've been there, my friend. 

We would ask each other questions like "Do you remember the pattern we set up for the job IDs?" or "Can you remind me how we set up the permission levels, and why do we even use them"? Soon it was painfully obvious that we shouldn't have kept the documentation as a low priority on our list. Well, live and learn. We're telling you now, so you don't make the same mistake. Start working on that documentation ASAP. And your training materials.

Fixing Operational Hiring Challenges (aka Your Processes May Not Be Perfect)

Implementing a new ATS will bring up the most obvious (you kind of suspect they’re there, but let it slide) and the most obscure (you had no idea they exist) operational issues. This may be in your hiring, budgeting, or reporting processes. The processes you had set up years ago will be mercilessly challenged by the sudden need to put everything into a working structure. Sometimes you'll have to face an ugly truth: Your processes are imperfect or, worse, they're non-existent. Don't give up. Prepare a to-do list, writing down each process that needs to undergo some change, or be set up from scratch. Then prioritize and fix these things as soon as you can. Here's a brief list of the challenges we put on our to-do list: 
  • Our job approval and offer approval processes could be more consistent 
  • We had to reach out to all our stakeholders to collect their requirements for payroll budget reporting 
  • Better requirements in our internal job descriptions would make creating interview scorecards less challenging
  • Our hiring processes need to be consistent 
  • Candidate communication should be consistent visually and verbally so we’re able to fully utilize the potential of shared visual templates 
  • Our candidate talent pool is unstructured making sorting a difficult process
  • Our hiring decisions should be based more on data and verified skills or experience and less on gut feelings 


Integrating ATS Into Your Career Site (Is Not Always Fun)

Automatically pushing job ads from the ATS to your career site and bringing candidates back to your ATS is a dream come true. Just a heads up: it can get tricky as it involves having your web development team work with the ATS’s API (code that can be used to integrate your website with the ATS.). Therefore, working with your web development team to ensure they understand all your business needs means you can have your integration ready in a matter of days. If not, it might take weeks and cost you fortune to get it up and running, and you might still end up with only a semi-functional solution. 

And how do you find the right development team? You don’t need a developer with supernatural tech knowledge, although it's definitely a plus if they have it. Look for someone who will ask you a million questions about how you used the editing and approval workflows on your career page before, how you plan to use it from now on, and what are the new system constraints. Ideally, they will go into the ATS with you, observing how you publish jobs and process candidates. And if they’re not bombarding you with questions? Go find somebody else.

Trusting Your Implementation Team (But Checking on Them Continuously)

Even though you built the ATS solution together with your team and wrapped your processes around it, you should monitor everything and everyone as you go. Are the job positions logged in properly? Does the reporting look consistent? Are you using all features of the system? Does everybody understand what the consequences of not logging the data properly in are, i.e., biased reports, misinformed stakeholders, etc.? 

There's an awful lot of things everyone on your team needs to learn during those first months. And let's face it: people may forget some steps. Plus, they have other tasks to do besides getting used to the new ATS. So, it's up to you—the team lead—to make sure everyone's on the same page. There are two things you can do: review the outputs of your teammates or, occasionally, sit down with your teammates when they're using the ATS to see how they're doing

You should also check the system regularly for any workarounds your team might have used in a desperate effort to make the ATS work. If you find a workaround, go ahead and ask your team why it is in place—most likely, something was not working right, and your team needed a shortcut. Go ahead and adjust the settings to replace the temporary solution with a permanent one. Present the new setting to your team. Hear their sighs of relief. 

All in all: The key to success is having a very good level of trust in your team. We all make mistakes, but none of us like to admit it. Make it loud and clear that mistakes help you learn and shouldn’t be swept under the rug. If your teammates know you’re there to help them—not to punish or judge—mistakes won’t hinder your progress.


What's Left to Say?

We could go on and on about the different challenges we faced and our infinite to-do list (that we're still working on, to be honest) but our intention was to write an article, not a book. Implementing an ATS was a valuable experience, and we're thankful to our amazing implementation team and everyone who helped us get to this point. 
If you find yourself struggling with an ATS implementation or have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us on LinkedIn (Lucie Chladová, Tereza Sloupenská). You never know, we just might be able to help. Happy to share and good luck with your own ATS journey!