ATS vs. CRM: What’s the difference?

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Has your company’s recruitment strategy (or lack of one) left you scratching your head and ruing missed opportunities? 

This article offers a comprehensive insight into applicant tracking systems (ATS) and customer relationship management (CRM), two valuable tools that could save you and your company major recruitment-related pains in the short and long term.

Stick around for a detailed rundown of the two pieces of software, the differences and similarities between them, whether you should integrate the two, and advice on choosing the right option for your company. 

ATS vs. CRM is a decision that could save your company considerable time, effort, and money.

Key Takeaways

  • An ATS is a piece of software designed to automate your recruitment process from the first to the last step.
  • CRM software offers a great way to create valuable relationships with potential employees by establishing talent pipelines and pools.
  • The key difference between the two pieces of software is the level of engagement you get with your employees and potential employees throughout the recruitment process.
  • The integration of the two softwares can be beneficial. However, it is important this is done correctly and isn’t necessarily the best option for your company.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

An ATS, or applicant tracking system, is a piece of software that automates and optimizes each and every step of the recruitment and/or hiring process.

What follows are its key functions:

  • Job posting and distribution – Posting job vacancy advertisements into the appropriate channels, such as social media, professional networking platforms, and job boards/websites.
  • Resume and application organization and management – An ATS organizes all the resumes and applications a business may receive having advertised a job opening.
  • The candidate screening process – This automated process involves matching keywords in resumes and applications to the job requirements – thereby identifying potential good fits.
  • Interview scheduling – While not all ATS systems offer this service, some will send notifications to applicants deemed to be the right fit (and from there schedule interviews).
  • Candidate communication – An extension of the above feature, some ATS systems will send regular updates and statements of acceptance/rejection to candidates during the recruitment process.
  • Collaboration and compliance – Having an automated database full of all the applicant’s information optimizes collaboration between organization members tasked with the hiring process and ensures compliance with hiring regulations.

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Related reading: 10 best applicant tracking systems

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is used by organizations in the process of hiring new employees to establish connections and relationships with potential candidates. 

They work by creating refined talent pools from which recruiters can select potential candidates to reach out to.

CRM software’s key functions include:

  • Compiling candidates’ records – Information such as resumes, contact details, and application history of candidates is compiled.
  • Pipeline stage management – CRM software tracks candidates at all the various stages of the recruitment process, from the first interaction to the job offer.
  • Communication – CRM software facilitates communication with candidates and can send automated updates to them at various stages of their application process.
  • Creating and maintaining talent pools – These consist of candidates who may not be suitable for a specific job but still prove to be promising for potential future roles.
  • Job matching – Related to the above function, suitable candidates can be automatically coupled with suitable jobs based on their stored information.
  • Collaboration and analytics – CRM software enables communication between hiring team members and valuable metrics on the effectiveness of recruitment efforts.
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Key Differences

While both ATSs and CRMs are used for similar purposes in the recruitment process, they each offer slightly different services that optimize different aspects of the process. 

For example, while the key function of an ATS is streamlining each step of the recruitment process, CRMs offer a service that nurtures relationships with candidates going forward and keeps tabs on the talent pool. 

Beyond this, the key differences are as follows:

The stage at which they are used in the recruitment process
  • ATS: Primarily manages candidates after they have applied for a specific role.
  • CRM: Offer engagement with candidates at various stages of the process, including those who may not have formally applied for a specific role yet.
Candidate engagement
  • ATS: Sends automated updates to candidates after they have applied.
  • CRM: Focused on building long-term relationships beyond the job that is immediately available. Personalized engagement is facilitated and encouraged.
Talent pool management
  • ATS: While they organize a basic database of candidate details, these usually aren’t as comprehensive as CRM talent pool management.
  • CRM: Specialized in talent pool creation and management. Candidates who may not fit into the organization immediately are kept in touch with if they have the potential to provide a good fit for a job vacancy further down the line.
  • ATS: Every step of the process is automated.
  • CRM: Automation is available, but the focus lies on nurturing relationships.

Should you integrate your CRM with an ATS?

Integration of these two systems can increase efficiency and outcomes if done correctly.

Benefits include:

  • Improved candidate experience
  • Better communication with candidates
  • Holistic reporting with combined data
  • Workflow efficiency
  • Cost efficiency

However, careful planning needs to be carried out before making this decision; the individual organization’s talent acquisition recruitment needs must be considered.

Additionally, integrating these systems correctly will require selecting compatible systems which will require thorough research.

Choosing What’s Best for You

Now that you know the differences and similarities between ATS and CRM, you may be considering which option is the right one for your company. 

That is a question that nobody can answer other than the person who knows your company the best: you.

Using an ATS can benefit larger companies with a high turnover rate or rapidly increasing recruitment needs. 

CRMs can be beneficial in establishing relationships with specialized talent, which may suit organizations looking to attract a higher level of ability. 

However, both systems can be incredibly valuable to different types of organizations, so ultimately it is down to you to make that call based on the needs and values of your company.

Bottom Line

Congratulations on reaching the end of this article comparing an ATS vs. CRM.

Now that you are equipped with this knowledge, it is my sincerest hope that you will be able to make an informed decision on which best suits your organization’s requirements. 

Keep in mind that while they do offer slightly different services; there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the use of your best judgment is vital. 

With that being said, all the best with your company’s recruitment strategy going forward.


What is the primary function of an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system automates and optimizes the recruitment process, organizing candidate’s details into a database and sending them regular updates on the status of their application.

What is the primary function of customer relationship management software?

Customer relationship management software is used by organizations in the process of hiring new employees to establish connections and relationships with potential candidates.

They work by creating refined talent pools.

Why you might want to use a recruitment CRM?

CRM software establishes and enhances relationships with candidates, enhancing the talent pipeline and reducing recruitment costs.

Donny is the founder of SMB Guide. He is a seasoned small business owner and entrepreneur, with over 17+ years of experience growing and building companies. He is a well traveled and multi-faceted individual with several successful six figure business exits.