Magazine article HRMagazine

The Ins and Outs of Applicant Tracking

Magazine article HRMagazine

The Ins and Outs of Applicant Tracking

Article excerpt

A newly hired HR professional makes a brand-new system operational.

How does an organization founded in the 19th century implement a 21st century talent acquisition system in a timely and cost-effective manner? What has to happen to quickly move from having no formal applicant tracking software to a Web-based, process- driven solution?

These questions demanded immediate attention when I became the first national director of talent acquisition and development at the Sierra Club, a 120-year-old organization dedicated to a simple mission: "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet."

The Sierra Club has a grand tradition of conservation and, under Executive Director Michael Brune, a strong vision for transformation and innovation. These days, that vision includes modernizing many HR systems, including applicant tracking.

In mid-2011, I joined the staffafter being a Sierra Club member for several years. I previously served nonprofit and for-profit organizations in HR functions as diverse as staffing agency management and volunteer recruiting.

I had been told about the plan to start using an applicant tracking system during my interviews and had planned on becoming a subject-matter expert in how the system worked so I would be an immediate resource to the seven-person HR team. The day I started, I was introduced to Dave Simon, head of information technology. He told me that the Sierra Club had just signed a contract to implement Oracle Taleo Business Edition, a software-as-a-service product.

Later, I learned that my role in implementation would be much bigger than I had expected: Instead of simply learning a system and working out best practices, I realized during our first meeting with Sara Bragg, Taleo's implementation consultant, that much of the work to map our existing processes had not been done and that the team was looking to me to assume nearly full ownership for implementation.

I learned there would be no test system allowing a small pool of jobs to go through the process to identify kinks. On go-live day-only about 10 weeks away-the processes had to be perfect.

The primary team consisted of me; Director of Employee Relations Paul Luhmann, SPHR; Simon; and Programmer Supervisor Susan Golden. We knew the group would have to work fast, work smart and work together to get the project done.

During the transition, our team learned several lessons that are useful to any HR professional involved in software implementation, especially those in medium-sized organizations with informal project management. We used simple tools, focused on finding solutions rather than fighting turf battles, and made sure to identify and make improvements along the way.

Process Mapping

Until the day I started my job, all resumes for all vacancies were sent to a "careers@" e-mail account with the position name in the subject line. The e-mails were then manually forwarded to the appropriate hiring managers. The routing rules were complex, requiring significant review of each application by a short-staffed HR team, and the potential for error was high. These steps needed to be untangled and clarified to be encoded in an applicant tracking system.

We needed a solid understanding of:

* What processes to keep.

* What processes had evolved as workarounds that should be untangled.

* What processes could be massaged to meet policy and contractual guidelines.

I spent nearly a week interviewing my HR peers about the workflow talk talking with hiring managers about how hiring had been going from their end and identifying differences in opinion. I put together a process map of the workflow as it was, then added what we wanted the system to do in the future, such as sending candidates automatic e-mail notifications when their applications were received or a position was filled.

Using a simple whiteboard plus pencil and paper worked great for mapping and allowed for erasing and reconfiguring. …

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