For HR professionals, the way you engage with candidates should rank alongside the way your marketing colleagues communicate with customers, or the way your sales team talks to their clients. There’s no reason for a class-divide between b2c communications and business-to-candidate communications. But, usually, the difference is palpable.

An Applicant Tracking System may be a tool built with recruiters and HR teams in mind, but it plays a big part in the way employers engage with candidates. When the quality of that interaction is poor, fingers point at the ATS. It’s the thing standing in the way of a strong brand and the best candidates. Well, perhaps not – because they are rarely as limited as some might think. And the truth is, harnessed properly, your ATS could be key to improving the candidate experience.

Learning lessons from e-commerce and digital government

For recruitment communications, b2c is the better-looking older brother, with the enviable budgets, brands and audience. For HR technology, it’s e-commerce we look up to. While candidates struggle through application forms, customers can order and pay for just about anything with a couple of clicks and very little fuss.

For the likes of Amazon, it’s in their interest to make both the buying decision and the buying process as simple as possible. So they hone their design constantly to be more intuitive, with a clear, iterative progression from browsing through to payment.

It might surprise some to hear it, but the government also offers an example for us to follow. The Government Digital Service has created a clear user-focused direction for digital transformation. So, while some might not have caught up yet, the public sector now boasts some of the most ‘customer’ friendly sites around (for instance, check out the DVLA).

An ATS doesn’t keep you from following these examples. Clarity of purpose, iterative processes and intuitive design can all fit, with a system that’s well-designed and seamlessly integrated into your careers site.

Creating a system for today’s candidates

A surprising number of careers sites don’t really work on mobile devices (and I include the sort with mobile design that’s a page deep, reverting to ugly or ill-fitting designs after a couple of clicks). That’s beyond foolish.

No matter how many of us spend our working lives staring at computers, we all have a phone in our pocket (not to mention the tablet on our coffee tables) – and the trend is only heading one way.

“Google has prioritised mobile versions of sites and mobile-friendly content for more than a year, because that’s where the searchers are looking. And that includes candidates – lots of candidates.”

Consider all those moments that people might now look for a new job. It might be at their desk, but it’s more likely on the bus, on their lunchbreak, or on the sofa while the soaps play out. Engaging with the widest audience means making a careers site that works across all devices.

Again, some would blame the ATS for failures. But we know that it can be done, offering a candidate-friendly site that can handle the whole application process on the move.

For candidates, what counts is convenience. Is it easy to understand and follow? Is it simple to use, wherever I use it? Answer those questions, and the impact goes beyond the logistics of processing applications. As a vital touchpoint in employer branding, a great (or terrible) candidate experience will have much wider ramifications.

John Campbell is the MD of Spider online, a digital agency that specialises in developing and integrating technology for the HR sector. If you have questions about improving your candidate experience – or any other aspect of your ATS – please get in touch.