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Buying an ATS from a startup

BY -

Phil Strazzulla

December 2, 2020

If buying an applicant tracking system is already hard, imagine buying an applicant tracking from a startup. Then imagine doing it as an HR department of one. 

People expert Nicole Roberts has experienced this and many other unique challenges across her 15+ year career in HR. We recently connected with Nicole, who is the current VP of People & Culture at MVAH Partners, to learn about her non-traditional path to success and how it shaped the decisions she makes every day. 

Check out the full interview here and a writeup below.

Should you buy an applicant tracking system from a startup?

In February 2013, Nicole began working for veterinary emergency practice CARE Center. As an HR department of one, she had to utilize their current systems to the fullest to be successful. 

At the time, CARE Center’s recruiting efforts included manually posting to job boards, receiving applications via email and relying on “the almighty spreadsheet” to track candidates. Nicole quickly recognized the need for an applicant tracking system to streamline their recruitment process.

CARE was already using Paycor as their payroll and benefits software. When the software company realized it needed to expand its offering to include an applicant tracking system, they partnered with startup Newton Software. As a result, CARE became an early adopter of Newton to take advantage of the seamless integration of their payroll and benefits data. 

Nicole found much more to like about Newton than just the seamless integration. The founders themselves were recruiting professionals, and as such created the software with recruiter usage specifically in mind. Newton also updated quickly, every quarter rather than semi-annually or annually. In Nicole’s eyes, those factors were more than compelling enough to justify buying from a startup.

Benefits of working with an ATS startup

Nicole reaped the usual benefits of using an ATS. But because she was an early adopter of Newton Software’s ATS, Nicole caught one of the biggest upsides of working with a startup. 

Newton offered her the opportunity to beta test new features before mainstream rollout.

For example, she was involved with testing Newton’s interview scorecard functionality. The scorecard was designed to provide objective feedback post-interview. Hiring managers could then see how well a candidate fit into an open role through customizable categories such as education, work experience, communication skills, attitude and culture fit. 

Nicole’s feedback helped shape a module that she felt made the process better for hiring managers. She understood that not all hiring managers are recruiting and HR experts, so by shaping the system to make post-interview feedback easy and effective, her company saw faster and better hiring decisions. 

Downsides of Working with a Startup

It’s great to be excited about new and flashy tech. But Nicole warns that just because something is cutting edge and cool doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your organization. 

She urges buyers to ask peers for feedback and take advantage of free trials before making any hasty decisions. When a software solution is especially brand new, she makes sure to question what incentive she has for choosing that system over more established names. Monitoring risk-reward is key there. 

Before anything else, her first question to new vendors that reach out is: “Can you integrate with my current systems?” If they can’t, they’re not worth the risk.

Changing solutions when situations change

In 2015, CARE Center merged with several other specialty veterinary practices and was then purchased by private equity backed Compassion First Pet Hospitals. Each of the individual hospitals purchased by Compassion First had built a reputation under their own brands and therefore didn’t want to lose name recognition.

Nicole worked closely with the Compassion First executive team to assess HR tech vendors that allowed each hospital under the Compassion First umbrella to recruit using their own individual name and brand. After deciding on iCIMS, Nicole was asked to be part of the implementation team. 

Right before going live, they decided it wasn’t going to meet their needs. iCIMS’s resume parsing functionality at the time couldn’t pick up on post-nominal letters and credentials, which were essential for hiring veterinarians. Reviewing resumes that iCIMS didn’t screen properly wasn’t worth the bandwidth, so they stuck with Newton. 

Final Thoughts

We hope that Nicole’s advice from the interview gives you a new perspective on buying software from a startup. While sometimes it can be a big leap of faith, it can also pay off with measurable results. Like with any software purchase, you have to ask questions, run a cost-benefits analysis, and hone in on risk-reward. 

About Nicole Roberts

It goes to show that a good HR practitioner knows how to roll with the punches. Nicole Roberts has done so from the beginning from her career. After realizing she didn’t want to major in finance and accounting, she took a temp job as an HR assistant that grew into a full-time benefits administrator role. Instead of finishing her degree, she took that job and ran with it. 

15 years later, Nicole earned her Bachelor’s degree and is currently finishing graduate studies as a fully fledged People leader. At MVAH Partners, she’s leading the charge of transforming HR from documentation and administrative processes to culture building and people operations. It even shows in the title she chose for herself, Vice President of People & Culture.

Her biggest takeaway from the journey? “[I wanted] to show my kids that it’s not when you accomplish something, but it’s the fact that you do it, and you overcome all odds to do it.”

This is a part of a new series on Select Software where we interview the best and brightest People people who support our mission to make buying HR tech easier. 

Are you or is someone you know interested in our Expert Council? Contact us!

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