< Back to Hiring Blog

ATS vs. HCM: The ultimate recruiting comparison for talent acquisition professionals

June 13, 2023
6 min read

When recruiters have an open role to fill, they can’t sacrifice quality for speed. This conundrum leaves recruiters with a challenge: Find strong candidates, and find them fast.

To meet this goal, recruiters (and sometimes that means store or restaurant managers who also hire) need to source, screen and interview applicants. Then they need to choose the winning candidate, offer the job and onboard the new employee — assuming the candidate takes the gig.

With so much to accomplish, recruiters need tools that help them bring the best talent on board —  and that are mobile and easy to use so hiring managers will be quick to adopt. Today’s tech solutions abound, leaving organizations to sort through the many options to find what suits their needs — and their budget. One of the most common of these solutions is the human capital management system.

What is an HCM? The human capital management system (HCM) is lauded as the tool that does it all: It promises to manage compensation, benefits and case management, as well as recruiting, hiring and retention.

An HCM certainly does a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily do all of it well. An HCM makes payroll and benefits a breeze. But it hamstrings recruiting. Recruiting is too important, complicated and fast-paced to be shoehorned in. Employers who depend on their HCM for recruiting are entrusting a tool that isn’t dedicated to talent acquisition. As a result, they lose candidates. They frustrate recruiters. And they end up buying add-ons that ease —

Visual depiction of a typical talent acquisition tech landscape

Organizations frustrated or alarmed by these issues should consider an applicant tracking system.

What is an ATS? An applicant tracking system, or ATS, is a unified software program dedicated to a company’s recruitment needs. An ATS allows an organization to collect and store candidate and job-related data. It enables recruiters to track and monitor the progress of candidates through all stages of the hiring process.

Applicant tracking systems don’t just replace outdated methods of attracting and managing job applications. When they’re paired with a robust all-in-one hiring platform, they enhance the entire process from end to end: From the candidate applying for the job to the recruiter searching for the future employee.

Employers can depend on an ATS to:

  • Make job postings more visible
  • Automate recruiting tasks like job postings
  • Communicate with candidates at scale
  • Simplify scheduling
  • Leverage hiring data that spans the entire candidate lifecycle


HCM vs. ATS: Why does the difference matter?

It’s vital to give recruiters the tools they need. When TA pros use tools made for recruiting — and recruiting alone — they’re enabled to hire and retain a transformative workforce. What’s more, the tools keep up with industry trends and tech innovations.

As we explore the benefits an ATS provides, keep this in mind: An HCM hurts the candidate experience and frustrates recruiters and managers. In contrast, an ATS enhances the candidate experience and helps recruiters work smarter. These improvements translate to many tangible results, but none so as obvious or impactful as improved talent acquisition.

iCIMS has a strategic partnership with HCM providers


Provide a swift and satisfying candidate experience

The goal of recruiting is to transform the best candidates into employees. Any issues within the recruiting process, then, thwart that goal. These issues may range from small frustrations like endless emailing to major blunders like bad communication.

HCMs lose promising candidates. When employers count on HCMs to carry recruiting, they put candidate relationships at risk with:

  • Confusing candidate interface: Most Organizations must purchase add-ons to make up for the omission. The ones that do offer career sites are late-comers to the technology, rather than the experts or innovators. (And just because an HCM offers a career site, doesn’t mean you have to use it.)
  • Frustrating mobile experience: Because HCMs aren’t specifically crafted for mobile applications, candidates don’t get a swift application experience on their smartphones. Job seekers abandon their applications due to clunky user experience.
  • Misleading job boards: HCMs jeopardize job boards with two common mistakes. Closed posts linger, so promising candidates are lost on dead links. And locations are sometimes misrepresented, so location-bound applicants miss opportunities they may have enjoyed.

Employers may be tempted to adopt an HCM when they hear that it does it all. But HCMs trade breadth for excellence, and the candidate experience suffers as a result.

An ATS prioritizes the candidate experience. The system is built for job seekers, featuring:

  • Career site software: Employers with an ATS as part of a unified talent platform get full control over their job site. In turn, applicants not only get information about the opportunity at hand but also a positive introduction to the employer brand.
  • Smartphone tech: These days, people use their phones to order dinner, find true love, and, yes, apply for their dream job. When companies use an ATS, applying via mobile is as easy as swiping right.
  • Job board integrations: When applicants find opportunities on their career platforms, ATS integrations makes sure they aren’t forgotten. Tools like iCIMS’ integration with Indeed Apply helped PSA airlines more than double the number of flight attendants in hiring classes, which increased from an average of 40 new hires to 100.

The modern job seeker expects companies to offer a swift and satisfying hiring process. Using an ATS, companies ensure every applicant receives a timely response to their application and encounters a seamless experience with their potential employer.


Provide a more efficient recruiter experience

The success of your talent acquisition program depends on your recruiters. With the wrong tools, recruiters are mired in resume-scanning, candidate-screening and scheduling. When recruiters are empowered by good tools, they can get strategic about TA. They can spend their time building talent pipelines, designing recruitment marketing plans and perfecting the company’s approach to onboarding.

HCMs frustrate recruiters. According to Gartner, HCM recruiting modules are the most used — yet also the most disliked — modules by recruiting teams. These platforms offer an all-in-one approach to HR (not talent acquisition). And while the solutions promise simplicity, they leave recruiters without the tools and information they need. Solutions like CRM, career sites, and text recruiting are rarely included by HCMs in their offerings. They may also lack connections between solutions across the platform and innovations to attract and engage talent.

  • Too many add-ons: HCMs offer simplicity. But their paired-down approach requires organizations to purchase add-ons to maintain applicant flow.
  • Distant data: HCMs don’t offer data that’s easy to access. When TA leaders need analytics, they have to go through IT. Some HCMs require an add-on to access a reporting module.
  • Clunky user experience: HCM modules aren’t built with recruiters or hiring managers in mind. This can lead to extra clicks and lower adoption.

Recruiters will miss what HCMs lack. And when they need to find solutions to bridge the gap between what they have and what they need, their organization will have two choices: Devote more spend to add-ons or give up on their recruiting goals.

iCIMS customer, NorthStar Anesthesia, agrees. Here’s what its director of provider integrations said:

iCIMS allows us a lot more flexibility overall and is much more user friendly. Pulling data out of our HCM was so difficult that we just could not get anything we needed in any useful format. None of this was possible with just an HCM.

ATS offers a better option. An ATS that’s part of an all-in-one talent platform is built specifically for recruiting (not HR processes like payroll). It equips talent acquisition specialists with the tools they need to find good candidates fast.

  • Simplified tech stack: With a good ATS, recruiters need only one login for all the tools they need. These platforms also integrate with tools like Microsoft Teams and background check providers to boost adoption, productivity and collaboration.
  • Data on display: Recruiters get access to the data and insights they need — no help from IT required. With a glance, teams can identify hiring delays, pinpoint candidate drop off and and make quick changes to hire the right talent.
  • Designed for TA: Dedicated applicant tracking systems keep recruiters, hiring managers and candidates in mind, keeping hiring moving.


Experience better talent acquisition

When employers choose an applicant tracking system that can scale, they invest in a platform built for candidates and recruiters. Candidates enjoy a simple, fast application process. And recruiters increase their efficiency to fill positions faster.

To learn how to build a business case for an all-in-one hiring platform, sign up for this webinar.

Join our growing community

and receive free tips on how to attract, engage, hire, & advance the best talent.

privacy notice

Explore categories

Explore categories

Back to top

Learn how iCIMS can help you attract, engage, hire, and advance the best talent

Read more about Applicant tracking system

How (and why) to reengage your existing talent database

Read more

The secret to top-tier recruitment marketing? Working smarter with iCIMS CXM

Read more

Boost the bottom line with new recruitment technology

Read more

About the author

Alex Oliver

Alex is well-versed in content and digital marketing. He blends a passion for sharp, persuasive copy with creating intuitive user experiences on the web. A natural storyteller, Alex highlights customer successes and amplifies their best practices.

Alex earned his bachelor’s degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University before pursuing his master’s at Montclair State University. When not at work, Alex enjoys hiking, studying history and homebrewing beer.

Read more from this author >