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ATS and HRIS Systems: Which is Best for Your Business?

Find out what ATS and HRIS systems are and which one suits your business needs.

Athar Ali Khan
Business management, recruitment, and HR journalist
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Applicant tracking systems (ATS) and HRIS systems both automate and streamline core HR tasks. ATS software helps recruiters and HR departments track applicants through different stages of the hiring process, whereas the main purpose of HRIS systems is to store and manage employee information.

ATS and HRIS Systems can provide an excellent ROI for businesses at various stages in the employee lifecycle. We have spent hundreds of hours testing and benchmarking HR software and understand the importance of building the right tech stack: Read on below to find out which software type is best for your business.

In This Article

ATS Software Overview & Use Cases

ATS software organizes candidate data and automates various stages of the recruitment process to help businesses acquire the best talent. Modern ATS systems are often packed with additional features and the best platforms integrate seamlessly with the rest of your HR tech stack.

Automating repetitive and time-consuming work that requires little strategic decision-making frees up hours and mental load in your HR team so that they can focus on activities that add greater value to the organization.

Common uses cases for ATS software include:

  • Broadcasting job openings
  • Interview scheduling
  • Employee onboarding
  • Hiring process collaboration
  • Candidate profile evaluation
  • Employer branding
  • Workflow management
  • Candidate nurturing
  • Insight from HR metrics
  • Centralized profile management

Broadcasting Job Openings

An ATS can post jobs to your career site, LinkedIn, and other job boards from a single dashboard. It can also monitor the performance of each job posting and measure the effectiveness of every platform you post to.

Interview Scheduling

If you don’t have proprietary interview scheduling software, you can schedule interviews directly from most ATS systems and automatically block the relevant time slots on your calendar. You and the candidate will receive reminder notifications for the interviews, and be able to reschedule automatically. This feature negates a lot of back-and-forth communication about meeting times that adds no value to your hiring process.

Employee Onboarding

Make a solid first impression on your new hires with onboarding automation via your ATS. You can track the progress of employee onboarding tasks such as equipment provisioning and orientation sessions.

Via an ATS workflow, you can provide and collect essential onboarding documentation such as contracts, non-disclosure agreements, HR policies, and tax forms. Some of the best ATS software saves time and effort by collecting employee data and making it available to other relevant HR functions via software integrations. For example, via your ATS, you can capture a new hire’s payment details directly to your payroll administrator.

Hiring Process Collaboration

An ATS can collect feedback and share notes with multiple hiring managers and interviewers about candidates to make your hiring process more collaborative. Many best-in-class ATS (including some free ATS solutions) also allow you to create workflows to establish a chain of approvals as candidates move through the various stages of the hiring process.

Candidate Profile Evaluation

An ATS allows you to automatically compare candidate resumes with job descriptions to find the most qualified candidates. The system does this by screening candidate resumes for keywords (such as skills, certifications, and work experience) that you want to target. This allows you to filter out candidates who don’t meet your requirements.

This process used to be fairly easy for candidates to manipulate, but writing an ATS-friendly resume takes a little more skill and effort with modern ATS systems.

In addition, you can also set automated questionnaires that will send a candidate to your reject pile before you’ve spent any time reviewing their application. For example, the ATS can ask whether a candidate is based in your target area or prepared to relocate. Based on the candidate’s response, the ATS will take them out of the running and continue with its screening process.

An infographic showing how ATS software matches jobs with resumes using keyword recognition.

Employer Branding

Attracting the best talent requires a well-established employer brand. An ATS can help you maintain a top-notch and seamless candidate experience throughout the recruitment process. With automated workflows and professional templates, your hiring process (from the perspective of the candidate) looks consistent, professional, and clean with timely responses and regular updates.

You can also create and manage your careers site, boost your content strategy with social media integration, send out branded emails, and more, all from the same platform.

Workflow Management

Most modern ATS software offers some degree of flexibility and customizability to accommodate the unique needs of your business. Prepare customized workflows for various roles and automate mundane tasks such as application screening and feedback collection.

Candidate Nurturing

Applicant Tracking Systems can help you nurture relationships with high-value candidates who aren’t yet willing to join your company or aren’t a good fit for current openings.

For example, sharing valuable content and monitoring how these candidates engage with it can offer important behavioral insights in addition to keeping your employer brand top of mind. A decent ATS would likely be able to manage these operations on its own or via third-party integrations.

Insights from HR Metrics

In addition to helping you pinpoint your best-performing recruitment channels (source of hire), ATS software can generate insights on vital HR metrics such as time-to-hire, cost-per-hire, offer acceptance rate, and applicant drop-off rate.

Centralized Profile Management

ATSs can store all incoming applications and resumes in a central location, usually cloud-based. The software can extract the information you need from the CVs and organize it in a database for efficient data processing.

As part of its functionality, an ATS has access control and data security. This means any private information regarding candidates, background checks, and offers is stored in a compliant and safe manner.

A happy employee using a self-service portal via their employer’s HRIS software.

HRIS Software Overview & Use Cases

HRIS software platforms act as a single source of truth and information hub regarding employees. They capture data from HR functions that affect existing employees such as benefits, payroll, internal mobility, training, etc., and feed this information into the employee’s profile.

Common use cases for HRIS software include:

  • Recruitment and onboarding
  • Employee database management
  • Attendance tracking
  • Compensation management
  • Benefits administration
  • Employee self-service portals

Recruitment and Onboarding

Modern HRIS solutions often have talent acquisition and onboarding capabilities, much like an ATS. They can manage job postings, maintain an applicant database, extract resume information, communicate with candidates, and more. In cases where an HRIS lacks ATS features, it likely integrates with one seamlessly to offer the same level of functionality.

Employee Database Management

HRIS software serves as the central repository for employee information. This comprehensive database includes every employee’s personal details, employment records, work history, benefits, performance appraisal data, pieces of training completed, and more.

The database is accessible to HR professionals who can search, edit, and add to the records. Modules throughout the HRIS integrate with this database to enable a personalized employee experience and insightful reporting to aid strategic decision-making. For example, an HRIS can be an invaluable source of historical data to inform seasonal workforce planning or spot trends in employee turnover.

Attendance Tracking

You can track absences, overtime, and overall employee working hours with your HRIS. The software can also help you manage paid time off requests and sick days. Typically, attendance tracking integrates with payroll to adjust compensation accordingly.

Compensation Management

The compensation management module in HRIS software can help you value your employees fairly and equitably.

Set the pay ranges for various job grades in line with predefined benchmarks and track employee growth. You can also generate insights from employee behavioral and performance data to help you make decisions about promotions.

Benefits Administration

Manage employee benefits seamlessly with the help of a multitude of benefits administration features. These include eligibility tracking and enrollment, an employee self-service portal for benefits management, and insightful reports that help optimize benefits.

Employee Self-Service Portal

An HRIS empowers employees by giving them a transparent view of their compensation, performance reviews, growth trajectory, and goals for the next review period. Employees can also use the self-service portal to manage their benefits, such as health insurance, provident fund, company car, and more.

A hiring manager reviews a colorful bar chart depicting candidate data gathered by an ATS.

Key Differences Between ATS and HRIS Software

ATS and HRIS solutions are both essential systems that serve different primary functions. The main difference between ATS and HRIS systems is the point at which they’re used in the employee lifecycle.

A closer look reveals further points of distinction between the two HR systems:

Core Function
An ATS is a recruitment and talent acquisition tool. It is designed to move candidates through the various stages of the recruitment process. It also maintains a candidate database, which it can use to nurture candidate relationships and attract talent in the future.
An HRIS is a broader HR system that primarily deals with post-hiring processes. In other words, an HRIS may possess ATS functionality but goes beyond that to manage employee compensation, benefits, attendance, and more. 
Being a recruitment tool, ATS software specializes in a narrow range of objectives that involve sourcing, recruiting, and onboarding candidates. The role of a typical ATS ends once a candidate is hired and their information is passed on to an HRIS (possibly via an integration).
The role of HRIS software begins once a candidate becomes an employee. The tool handles all employee data, compensation, benefits, and other HR functions throughout the candidate’s lifecycle in the organization.
Integration Options
Luckily, ATS software often integrates with an HRIS. This means all the candidate information collected during the recruitment phase is seamlessly passed on to the HRIS for further processing. Note that additional integrations may be expensive on some ATS pricing models.
HRIS software usually offers integrations with dedicated ATS software to ensure a smooth onboarding process for new employees. An HRIS would typically also offer integration capabilities with other organizational solutions, such as employee engagement software or a recognition platform.
Primary Users
The primary user base for ATS software is recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers. Candidates also interact with ATS software when they sign up for and use the career site.
The main users of HRIS software are HR professionals who manage various HR functions at their organizations. Employees also interact with HRIS regularly when they use self-service portals to manage their employee profiles.
Data Management Cycle
Since, from an employee’s perspective, the role of ATS ends once they get hired or drop out of the recruitment process, the data management cycle is shorter in this case. Local and international data protection laws may also dictate how long an inactive candidate’s data stays on the ATS.
HRIS software retains employee data long-term in compliance with data retention regulations.

Where do ATS and HRIS Solutions Overlap (Do You Need Both)?

Applicant Tracking Systems and Human Resource Information System software serve different purposes, but overlap in areas like recruitment, database management, and employee self-service.

Recruitment Capabilities

While ATS software is purpose-built to help large and small businesses meet their recruitment goals, many modern HRIS software does the same job. It is quite common for an HRIS to come with its own set of recruitment software features, including customizable workflows, messaging, and career site creation.

Database Management

Both kinds of software are capable of managing databases. ATS software mainly maintains a database of current and past candidates while HRIS manages a database of current and past employees. However, when the two are integrated, successful candidate profile data flows seamlessly into the HRIS.

Self-Service Portals

Both ATS and HRIS systems offer self-service portals to their users. Candidates using an ATS self-service portal can check their application status, while HRIS users can review their employee profile, compensation structure, benefits, and more.

Do You Need Both?

While ATS and HRIS systems have very distinct roles in the employee lifecycle, you don’t need a dedicated vendor solution for both if:

You don't handle recruitment - If your organization has outsourced the recruitment function, your hiring needs may be handled well without an ATS.

Your HRIS solution offers applicant tracking - You can forgo a dedicated ATS in favor of an HRIS tool that has recruitment capabilities. However, if recruitment is your top priority, a specialized ATS tool with refined recruitment functions would serve you well.

The expense isn’t justified - Subscribing to an HRIS software is a sizable investment with (to be fair) significant ROI. The right HRIS tool can save you thousands of dollars and countless hours every year. However, if your business is too small or temporary in nature to fully benefit from this, the ROI might not be significant enough to justify your outlay. The same logic applies to a dedicated ATS if you only hire one or two employees over a year.

Ultimately, your software needs would depend on your specific circumstances and your business needs. It is worth noting that some vendors offer free ATS subscriptions and some HR software pricing solutions cater for entry-level budgets. These might be completely sufficient for a small business.

ATS and HRIS Systems: Final Thoughts

ATS and HRIS systems are powerful tools that can take your business to the next level. ATS software increases efficiency through the recruitment process; HRIS systems help HR teams manage a range of critical employee data.

Both of these software types minimize human error, automate mundane tasks, save effort, and free up time for your team to think about your business strategically. Therefore, it’s important to understand each tool's specific role in your business. Only then will you be able to leverage the strengths each of them offer.

Athar Ali Khan
Business management, recruitment, and HR journalist
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Athar is a digital and content marketer with over a decade of experience working with large to medium-sized organizations in South Asia and the Middle East. He holds an MBA from the Institute of Business Management, specializing in marketing, advertising, and consumer behavior. In addition, he holds digital marketing certifications from Northwestern University, Google, and Hubspot.

While he has a rich background in marketing, Athar’s expertise isn't limited to this realm. For over two years, he has consistently produced long-form content for B2B SaaS organizations, particularly in the areas of HR, software, and blockchain.

Athar's hands-on HR experience, albeit non-traditional, is particularly noteworthy. For over six years, he took on significant leadership roles at Rotaract Clubs in Karachi and Dubai. Here, he designed and executed recruitment strategies, giving him a profound understanding of the challenges and intricacies of HR in the non-profit sector. His projects ranged from employer branding, setting up online recruitment portals, interviewing candidates, and member onboarding.

On a personal note, Athar currently resides in Montreal. When he isn't dissecting the latest trends in HR or creating compelling digital marketing campaigns, he’s working towards raising awareness around animal rights issues.

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