ATS vs CRM: What’s the Difference and Which One Do You Need?

Caucasion man in a brown shirt looking at computer monitors comparing ATS vs CRM software

Choosing the right tools for your recruitment process can significantly impact your hiring efficiency and candidate engagement. Key differences between Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Talent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can have a major impact on the effectiveness of your hiring tech stack if not implemented correctly. 

Understanding the distinct roles between ATS vs CRM and how they can complement each other is essential for building a robust talent acquisition strategy. Whether you’re starting with an ATS to streamline current hiring processes or adding a CRM to nurture long-term candidate relationships, this guide will help you make informed decisions to optimize your recruitment

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Key Takeaways

  • ATS and CRM can complement each other in a recruitment strategy. While ATS streamlines immediate hiring needs, CRM builds and maintains a pipeline of potential candidates for future openings.
  • Implementing an ATS can significantly enhance recruitment efficiency by automating job postings, resume screening, and interview scheduling tasks.
  • A Talent CRM enhances recruitment efforts by maintaining consistent communication with potential candidates, ensuring they remain engaged despite no immediate job openings.
  • Starting with an ATS and gradually incorporating a CRM as the talent acquisition team matures can create a robust recruitment process, balancing immediate hiring needs with long-term talent nurturing.

What is an ATS?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software employers use to manage and streamline recruitment. It helps sort, filter, and organize job applications automatically, allowing recruiters to track candidates throughout the hiring process efficiently.

ATS systems can also screen resumes based on specific criteria set by the employer, making the initial selection process more manageable and time-effective. Overall, an ATS enhances the efficiency of recruitment workflows and aids in finding the best-fit candidates for job openings.

What is a CRM?

A Talent CRM for hiring works in parallel with your Applicant Tracking System (ATS), leveraging the data within your ATS to foster long-lasting relationships with candidates through nurture engagement. Its primary function in the talent acquisition process is to help with sourcing when you don’t have enough applicants for in-demand roles.

Additionally, with the CRM, you can develop talent pools of “leads” that can be converted into candidates when they express interest in a role you’re hiring for. This tool enhances recruitment efficiency by maintaining consistent communication with potential candidates and building a robust pipeline for future hiring needs.

Streamline your hiring process with ATS tools like candidate & resume management, interview scheduler, hiring team workflows and more

What is the difference between CRM and ATS?

Understanding the difference between ATS vs CRM is crucial for optimizing your recruitment strategy. The distinction between an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and a Talent CRM is how they engage candidates.

An ATS manages active hiring processes and applicants for current job openings. It simplifies tasks like job posting, application review, interview scheduling, and tracking candidate progress in the hiring pipeline.

A Talent CRM focuses on sourcing leads for roles and nurturing relationships with previous candidates for future hires. While its initial benefit is helping acquire talent for immediate hiring needs when there’s a shortage of applicants, it’s crafted to establish and maintain long-term connections with potential candidates. This ensures engagement and interest even without immediate job openings.

While an ATS handles active recruitment logistics, a Talent CRM is crucial for proactive recruitment, guaranteeing a steady stream of qualified candidates for hard-to-fill positions. When comparing recruiting CRM vs ATS, it’s essential to recognize how each system caters to different stages of the talent acquisition process.

Comparison Chart – Recruiting CRM vs ATS 

As look at the differences between ATS and CRM software, we’ll focus on how they impact different aspects of candidate interactions. While an ATS optimizes hiring efficiency, a CRM enhances candidate interaction — some of the features offered by each software may overlap, but the functionality is limited by the design of its intended purpose.

Primary FunctionManages active hiring processes, including job postings, application reviews, and interview scheduling.Sourcing automation to build a pool of talent for hard-to-fill roles proactively. Nurtures long-term relationships with potential candidates.
Candidate ManagementFocuses on current applicants for active job openings, tracking their progress through the hiring pipeline.Sources leads for hard-to-fill roles and engages with passive candidates to keep them interested in the company.
EfficiencyStreamlines the recruitment workflow, automating tasks like resume screening and interview coordination.Enhances recruitment efficiency by maintaining consistent communication and engagement with a pool of potential candidates.
EngagementPrimarily interacts with candidates who have applied for a specific position.Builds and nurtures relationships with potential candidates, even if there are no current job openings.
TimeframeBoth short-term focus on filling immediate job vacancies and long-term pipeline-building for future hiring needs.Long-term focus on building a pipeline of qualified candidates for future needs.
IntegrationOften integrates with job boards and social media platforms to source candidates and post job openings.Works alongside ATS to leverage data for nurturing candidates and maintaining a robust talent pool.
CommunicationFacilitates communication with active candidates through automated email responses and interview scheduling.Provides personalized communication to passive candidates, keeping them engaged through regular updates and nurturing campaigns.
Data ManagementStores and organizes applications, resumes, and candidate interactions related to specific job openings.Develops detailed profiles of potential candidates, including their skills, interests, and past interactions with the company.
ComplianceEnsures adherence to legal and organizational requirements during the hiring process.Focuses on building compliant and ethical candidate relationships over the long term.
Usage StageEssential for initial recruitment processes in organizations of any size.Typically adopted by more mature talent acquisition teams with established ATS processes.

ATS vs CRM Features Comparison

These features outline the core functionalities that ATS and CRM systems offer to streamline recruitment processes and enhance candidate engagement. Comparing ATS vs CRM features can help you see how these tools stack up.

Applicant Tracking System Features
ATS Product Features
Job Posting Management   
– Automated job posting to multiple job boards and social media platforms   
– Customizable job templates
Resume Parsing   
– Automated extraction of candidate information from resumes   
– Keyword and skill matching
Candidate Screening   
– Automated screening based on pre-defined criteria   
– Customizable screening questions and assessments
Interview Scheduling   
– Integrated calendar for scheduling interviews   
– Automated reminders and notifications
Application Tracking   
– Real-time tracking of candidate applications   
– Status updates for each stage of the hiring process
Reporting and Analytics   
– Detailed reports on hiring metrics and performance   
– Customizable dashboards for visualizing data
Collaboration Tools   
– Shared candidate notes and feedback   
– Interview scorecards and evaluations
Compliance Management   
– EEO and OFCCP compliance tracking   
– Document storage and management
Candidate Communication   
– Automated email templates and notifications   
– Integrated messaging for candidate interactions
Mobile Accessibility    
– Mobile app for on-the-go recruitment management    
– Mobile-optimized candidate portal
Talent CRM Features
CRM Product Features
Talent Pool Management
– Centralized database for storing candidate profiles   
– Segmentation of candidates based on skills, interests, and engagement level
Candidate Engagement
– Automated email campaigns and drip marketing   
– Personalized communication templates
Lead Nurturing
– Tools for nurturing passive candidates   
– Regular updates and engagement activities
Pipeline Management
– Visualization of candidate pipeline stages   
– Tracking of candidate progress and engagement levels
Event Management
– Tools for organizing and managing recruitment events   
– Invitations and follow-up communication
Integration with ATS
– Seamless data sharing between CRM and ATS   
– Leveraging ATS data for targeted engagement
Social Media Integration
– Tools for sourcing candidates from social media platforms   
– Social listening and engagement features
Analytics and Reporting
– Insights on engagement metrics and campaign performance   
– Customizable reports and dashboards
Collaboration Tools
– Shared notes and candidate profiles   
– Team collaboration on engagement strategies
Mobile Accessibility
– Mobile access for managing candidate relationships.    
– Mobile-optimized candidate portal.

Choosing between ATS and CRM: How to decide which one you need

When deciding on ATS vs CRM, your talent acquisition team should prioritize their current resources and needs. It’s very rare for an organization to have a talent CRM without first having an ATS. 

The role of an ATS in recruitment

The ATS is the foundation for managing active hiring processes, streamlining workflows, posting jobs, reviewing applications, and scheduling interviews. If your organization is considering investing in an Applicant Tracking System, starting with the best ATS is recommended. Your ATS lays the groundwork for effectively managing current recruitment activities.

When to consider adding a talent CRM

On the other hand, a Talent CRM is typically used by talent acquisition that frequently face a shortage of candidates in hard-to-fill positions. These programs are designed to use sourcing automation tools to foster long-term relationships with passive candidates, keeping them engaged and interested in the organization even when there are no immediate job openings. This keeps your talent pool full of ready-to-source candidates when you need them.

Building a strong candidate pipeline with a Talent CRM

A Talent CRM is a valuable addition for talent acquisition teams seeking a strong candidate pipeline, especially for high-demand roles. It empowers teams to proactively discover and nurture talent until they can match them with a role, ensuring a consistent flow of qualified candidates ready for future opportunities.

Strategic approach: ATS first, CRM later

If your organization is at the stage where you need to choose between an ATS and a Talent CRM, start with the ATS to establish a solid recruitment process. Once your ATS is in place and your talent acquisition team has matured, consider adding a Talent CRM to enhance your ability to source and nurture candidates over the long term. This strategic approach ensures you are well-equipped to handle immediate hiring needs and future talent acquisition challenges.

Can you integrate CRM with ATS Software?

Integration between a Talent CRM and an ATS is critical for effective recruitment. Standalone Talent CRMs can integrate with Applicant Tracking System providers, offering flexibility in managing recruitment processes.

Even better, Applicant Tracking Systems often include a Talent CRM, offering a convenient all-in-one solution. Combining a Talent CRM with an ATS is crucial to enhance candidate engagement and streamline hiring.


Is there an overlap between ATS and CRM functionalities?

Both Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Talent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems have some functional overlap. They are vital tools in talent acquisition and management, streamlining recruitment, tracking candidates, and nurturing relationships. 

How does having both an ATS and CRM benefit a company?

The ATS streamlines the hiring process and manages candidate data, while Talent CRMs focus on building lasting relationships with potential candidates and enhancing talent engagement strategies. ATS data typically seamlessly integrates into the CRM. However, two-way sync is important to ensure up-to-date candidate profiles. 

Integrating these systems can create a comprehensive talent management ecosystem for organizations seeking to optimize recruitment efforts and nurture talent pipelines proactively and effectively.

Is there software that is both ATS and CRM in one?

Yes, some Applicant Tracking Systems have built Talent CRMs into their offering. Examples of these companies include:

  • Lever
  • Loxo
  • Ashby
  • Spark Hire (coming soon!)

Similarly, there are Talent CRMs that have added on an ATS. Examples of these companies include:

  • Gem
  • Phenom
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