I’ve been working with Applicant Tracking Systems for about 15 years now, and have probably demoed, implemented or directly used close to 30 of them. Most are very similar, but every once in a while a new one comes along and disrupts the marketplace.
This time it’s Google – an unlikely entrant into an already-crowded ATS market.
After a big announcement last month that they were going to revolutionize the job search process with Google Jobs they’ve now launched “Google Hire,” a new recruiting system that promises to make hiring easier. And while every ATS has claimed a similar value proposition, there’s something unique about Google Hire that gives it an advantage over any ATS that has come before.
I’m going to lay out three reasons why I think Google Hire represents a dramatic shift in ATS innovation, even though it has a long road ahead.
The Last Major Disrupter
In the last several years, ATS innovation has come in the form of a beautiful interface. Platforms such as Lever, Greenhouse and SmartRecruiters have applied consumer-grade app design principles to an HR technology environment that, for 20 years, has been dominated by a clunky interface. The key to keeping these interfaces beautiful, however, has been to focus on startup, small business and mid-market clients. Their talent acquisition functions are smaller and less complex, meaning you don’t need as many buttons, screens, workflows and integrations to manage the recruiting process.
The problem, as these companies have found, is that it’s not easy to acquire or keep small business customers. There are millions of them, all with small budgets, and most of them aren’t technologically sophisticated enough, or properly resourced, to manage an ATS. And with the added pressure to drive growth from the venture capitalists who funded these companies, we’ve begun to see a revised go-to-market strategy that involves going upmarket to sell into the enterprise space.
While that might seem like a logical progression, in software, going upmarket means your whole company has to change. You need to hire more big-hitter VPs who have enterprise experience, you also need client success teams, integration specialists and a host of other expensive infrastructure that helps you support larger customers with more complex needs.
The end result of this migration is that interfaces are now better, but they’re starting to get cluttered again – especially for the small and mid-sized companies that need simple recruitment solutions.
So while a beautiful interface was once a disrupter to the ATS market, today it’s table stakes. New platforms need to solve new problems, particularly for small and mid-sized companies. That’s where Google Hire comes in, delivering a product with great potential because of three things: relevance, deep integration and eventual artificial intelligence capabilities.
Google is uniquely positioned to dominate the small and mid-sized market with an ATS solution because it already has 3 million customers using its GSuite product every day. GSuite consists of fully integrated components such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Hangouts and more.
So while modern ATS companies are chasing the market to find customers, Google has been slowly cornering this market and building trust with free and low-cost tools for years. This is a great example of business model innovation that creates an unfair advantage over the other mid-market ATS vendors.
The other unique advantage here is that Google understands this customer extremely well, which has allowed them to build a product extremely relevant to their needs. Contrast this with the current solutions on the market who have to build ATS solutions that appeal to customers of all types to drive growth.
If Google can stay focused and extract value from its existing client base, it could onboard thousands of customers in a relatively short amount of time. And based on their three-part criteria for allowing someone onto a Google Hire demo, it appears as if they’re well aware of the opportunity.
While the relevance of developing a product for its existing 3 million customers is probably enough to succeed, the real magic for Google Hire is in the area of deep integration. The concept of deep integration is often used by companies to describe just about anything, so I’ll expand a bit here on why this is a unique advantage.
Most ATS platforms have come a long way with their integration capabilities. With better APIs and a new trend of pre-approved partner ecosystems, recruiting teams can easily plug into background check vendors, assessment providers, sourcing platforms and more. While this is a huge improvement, it is really just a logical integration layer of related HR products.
What Google Hire brings is the native integration of the ATS into core business software applications that a company uses every day to communicate, create documents, run reports, etc.
In the enterprise space, it would be analogous to Microsoft building an ATS called “Microsoft Recruit” on the same platform as MS Outlook, Word, Excel and Skype. Wait … why haven’t they done that yet??? My guess is that it’s coming, and will probably be some advanced form of LinkedIn that would support this trend of business model and deep integration innovation that Google Hire is pioneering.
I think it’s important to note that this deep integration is also happening via acquisitions. Oracle buying Taleo and SAP buying SuccessFactors was actually the beginning of this line of thinking. Those acquisitions were more of a “big data” play, where I see Google Hire being more of a “business process” enhancement.
Google’s plans to leverage AI, machine learning and voice-activated automation, holds an incredible amount of promise for Google Jobs. Likewise, although they didn’t mention it in their demo, I see Google Hire benefiting from the same AI and ML infrastructure that could drive the first real and useful ATS automation anyone has ever seen.
Imagine the ability to provide more accurate job recommendations, automate interview scheduling and proactively communicate with candidates in a more intelligent way. Someday soon you might even be able to instruct Google Hire to send an offer letter using a voice command.
These types of automation represent what I foresee as the next wave of disruptive ATS innovation, and I anticipate Google leading the way.
The Long Road Ahead
With all the positive signs that Google Hire will be a smashing success, there are still many unanswered questions.
Since this is a new product, I have only seen a one-hour demo of the solution at this point. I have not used it, nor do I know anyone who has. But given my experience, I’m able to size them up pretty quickly, and this demo left me with more questions than answers.
It was unclear to me how big or knowledgeable their delivery team is within the ATS space. I wasn’t able to ask how robust their HR integration ecosystem is. I couldn’t see the Admin panel to see how configurable the workflows might be.
What I could see, however, is that the interface was very Google-y, almost like if Gmail and Google Docs had a baby. This was deliberate, I’m sure, but it seemed very click-heavy and much more enterprise-like than I had imagined.
Like most of Google’s initial product launches, I left appreciating the potential of the product, but believing that there are better options that exist in the marketplace today. That said, the relevance and deep integration may be well worth the investment for their target market. If I were an ATS CEO who sells to companies who use GSuite, have fewer than 1,000 employees and operate in the US, I’d be extremely nervous.
I think this target market will keep Google Hire busy for quite some time, but they still have a long road ahead. As they learned with their social network Google Plus, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. And in the ATS space, success is earned, not given.