Let’s get into a bit more detail about what a free applicant tracking system can do for your organization compared with paid ATSes, and how to choose the best one for you.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Evaluating free vs. paid applicant tracking software
Luckily, there is applicant tracking software available for any budget or business need. Rather than just choosing one from our list, check out the pros and cons of each to see what is right for your organization. After all, there’s no reason to pay for a level of service you don’t need and won’t use, but free applicant tracking systems do have limits to what they can offer.
Features you can expect on a free ATS plan
So what kind of features come standard with most free ATS plans?
1. Seamless job posting
One of the most useful tools an ATS can offer is the ability to post job listings across many platforms at once. This saves time and effort for your HR department.
2. Resume aggregation and management
When applications start coming in from the many places you posted your job listing, an ATS can help you aggregate and sort the resumes that you receive. Free applicant tracking systems have features built in to allow you to search for candidates in your applicant pool by background, job title, skill set, and other factors. This helps you pull the most qualified candidates for further research and interviews.
3. Communication & automation
Many free applicant tracking systems also come with communication features that streamline the applicant management process. This means that key elements of the communication process with job applicants – such as email communication, interview scheduling, and first-round interviews – can be automated in order to save time and labor costs. Depending on the type of free applicant tracking system you’re using, this can range from simple communication features to full, large-scale process automation.
Features likely to be missing from a free ATS
Free applicant tracking systems may have a lot of time-saving features to offer, but paid applicant tracking systems have some seriously useful features that you just can’t get with a free plan. These may include:
1. Unlimited job postings
Free applicant tracking systems often have limits on the number of job listings you can post at a time. They might also limit the number of websites that they cross-post your job listing on, whereas more robust paid plans offer access to many websites at once and unlimited job listings.
2. Resume storage, CRM-style
This feature stores applications and resumes submitted in a searchable database that your HR team can access at any point in the future, essentially giving you a ready-made talent pool of candidates interested in your organization, even if they were not selected for the role they originally applied for. Free ATS’ usually have limits on how long your resumes can be stored for, if they retain them at all. However, know that the recent growth in data privacy legislation will require more attention on compliance than in the past.
3. Social media functionality
A free applicant tracking system can aggregate and filter applications for your HR department, but it usually can’t pull information from social media as well. A premium ATS finds candidates through their social media profiles as well as through submitted applications. This broader candidate pool is a huge asset!
Another paid feature is data analytics for your talent pool. A paid applicant tracking system can gather and analyze data on your candidates. It can also monitor for compliance and DEI goals when using candidate surveying tools.
5. Mobile compatibility
When you use a free applicant tracking system, you pay with less access to features like mobile compatibility. With so much work activity done on the go these days, it may be worth paying for a system that includes a native app or, at the very least, is mobile compatible.
6. Ad free & secure
One way that companies can afford to release free applicant tracking systems is by running ads on their systems. This not only makes for a distracting and messy user experience, but also poses potential security risks.
Due to their limited features, free applicant tracking systems are not great for businesses that may need to quickly scale up in the future. If your business is growing quickly, it’s a good idea to invest in an ATS that can handle a higher load of applications.
Who are free applicant tracking systems suitable for?
Free applicant tracking systems aren’t the best choice for everyone. There are real limits to the features they offer, and in many cases, paying for an upgraded program is far more cost-effective. Here are some scenarios where a free applicant tracking system may work best for your organization:
1. Your recruitment process is pretty simple
There’s no need to overcomplicate something if it’s already working for your business. If your recruitment pipeline is simple yet effective, a free ATS may be all you need.
2. You only hire a few candidates each year, or have a small recruiting budget
If you only fill a few job openings each year, it may not be worth the cost of a paid ATS to fill those openings. A free ATS can get the job done in this scenario, with limitations.
3. You have an IT team that can alter open-source software for your ATS
There are a few open-source ATS solutions out there. If you have an in-house IT team with the bandwidth to tweak and customize this open-source software for your company, that may be a better solution than paying for a full service ATS. Bear in mind, however, that you’re also limiting yourself to your IT team’s capabilities and while the ATS is “free”, the amount of hours invested in customizing the open-source ATS solution can be seen as an added expense.
Signs a paid ATS may be more beneficial for your business
If you have a feeling that your organization could benefit from a more sophisticated program with better features, here are some signs a paid ATS could be worth it for you:
1. Your hiring process is complex
Larger businesses with complicated talent pipelines can benefit from the features offered by a paid ATS. A paid applicant tracking system can help you standardize your recruitment process. It can also make continuous hiring a breeze, which is great for industries with high turnover.
2. You hire many people per year
The cost of a wrong hire is a price no business can afford to pay. But the larger your organization is, the more likely you are to be hiring for a number of management positions, which can be some of the most costly to hire or replace. A paid applicant tracking system with better features will easily pay for itself in an organization that hires many people each year.
3. You want to free up time for your HR/recruiting staff
With the automations, streamlined communication, and analytics offered with most paid applicant tracking systems, your HR team will save valuable time that can now be spent on resolving internal matters or interviewing high-value candidates. A paid applicant tracking system will also keep your hiring team on the same page throughout the hiring process.
4. You want to keep track of standout applicants
A paid applicant tracking system often includes the ability to store resumes from applicants in an easy-to-use database, allowing hiring managers to search the database for qualified candidates, even after the position they applied for is filled. Again, as above, be mindful of compliance considerations when storing candidate data.
5. You want to find the most qualified candidates
Free applicant tracking systems simply can’t compete with the premium features offered by paid versions. If easily finding the most qualified candidates is your top priority, it’s probably worth investing in a service that will truly get the job done.
6. You want to audit your recruiting process for efficiency
Is there time waste in your HR or recruiting department? Has your organization gone through the frustrating process of multiple bad-fit hires? The automation and other features that a paid ATS offers can help your leadership pinpoint and correct areas of inefficiency and waste.
Top 5 best free applicant tracking systems
But not every organization can afford or needs what a paid applicant tracking system has to offer. If you’re still interested in trying out a free applicant tracking system, here’s a breakdown of the five best free programs out there and what each of them has to offer.
SmartRecruiters offers tons of features for large firms to recruit and hire; their free version is great for smaller companies who are looking to fill fewer positions. Unlike many free applicant tracking systems, their free version offers most of the same features of their paid version, the main difference being limits on the number of active job postings they allow.
Zoho’s free applicant tracking system is tailored for recruiting and staffing firms, so if you’re in another industry, you might want to take a look at the other free ATS’ listed here. That being said, it has many useful integrations like evaluation management, job description templates, and background check software.
BreezyHR is one of the few applicant tracking systems to offer a limited version for free forever, rather than just a short free trial of the full version. Highly rated by software review site Capterra for its robust features, Breezy offers many features other ATS’ don’t, like skill assessment and a native video interview system. The free version only allows for one active position and one active talent pool at a time.
While free only on a trial basis, Recruitee is a highly flexible ATS with all the features you’d expect from a free ATS: resume search, job posting, and interview scheduling automation. It also offers integrations for internal HR processes, like recruitment goal checking, and workflow management. Recruitee does not include onboarding software.
Like Recruitee, Teamtailor offers a free trial as opposed to an outright free option. With branding features, an easy-to-use interface, integrated onboarding, and mobile compatibility, Teamtailor is yet another great option.
Olivia Jones is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. She helps companies create compelling content. Learn more about what she does on her website or connect with her on LinkedIn.