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March 21, 2024

The difference between an ATS and CRM

John Kim
Co-founder @ Paraform

When you're navigating the complex world of recruitment technology, you might come across two pivotal systems: the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and Client Relationship Management (CRM).

Understanding the differences between ATS and CRM can help you make better decisions to manage your talent acquisition effectively.

An ATS simplifies the application and selection phase by handling job postings, applicant data, and communication.

On the flip side, a CRM takes on a more proactive role in building relationships with clients and candidates.

It's where you manage both active and passive candidates, creating a talent pool that you can engage with over time, and building a database of clients who you can prospect after and manage.

Whether you're reaching out to promising candidates or meticulously assessing applications, leveraging the right tools can make your role in recruitment both efficient and personal.

Let's get into the key differences between an ATS and CRM.

The difference between an ATS and CRM

What is an ATS?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is the backbone of the recruiting process, focusing on the logistical aspects of hiring. It's a platform that helps you post job openings, collect applications, and track candidate progress through the hiring pipeline.

It's particularly effective in handling high volumes of applicants and automating tasks such as resume screening and communications with candidates.

What is a CRM?

A CRM system, on the other hand, is tailored toward relationship management.

It's your tool for creating a database of potential clients and both active and passive talent.

A CRM also allows you to manage all of your email, phone, and LinkedIn interactions.

Key functions of an ATS

The key functions of an ATS include:

  • Extracting data from resumes for easy organization and evaluation
  • Scheduling interviews
  • Tracking your job posts
  • Keeping track of the hiring stages of a particular job
  • Publishing job posts
  • Sending automatic emails to candidates, keeping them informed and engaged

Key functions of a CRM

For a CRM system, its key functions encompass:

  • Creating a database of all potential clients
  • Building a long-term database of passive candidates
  • Syncing with your email to automate messaging
  • Collecting reports and analytics

When to use each tool

Here's the key takeaway: ATSs and CRMs aren't rivals; they're a dynamic duo.

The ATS tackles immediate needs, while the CRM builds relationships and fosters a long-term talent pipeline.

Ideally, leverage both to create a comprehensive recruitment strategy that attracts, engages, and retains top talent.

Here is when you should use each tool:


  • You have open roles: When you have a clearly defined job description and need to source qualified applicants quickly, the ATS is your best friend. It allows you to efficiently post jobs, collect resumes, and filter candidates based on pre-defined criteria.
  • High-volume hiring: If you’re recruiting for multiple positions at once, an ATS helps manage the influx of applications, ensuring a consistent hiring process across all of your open roles.


While the ATS focuses on immediate needs, a CRM takes a more long-term approach, helping you nurture connections for future opportunities:

  • Building a database of clients: Compiling a list of prospective companies in your niche that may or may not be hiring.
  • Interactions: The CRM allows you to keep track of all your interactions with clients and candidates alike. The system enables you to segment different projects and view when you last corresponded with clients and candidates
  • Maintaining relationships with past applicants: A CRM stores information of all passive candidates, ensuring you don’t have to search for them again through the likes of LinkedIn.

Combining both tools

Both tools work together to provide:

  • Seamless candidate flow: An integrated ATS-CRM solution allows you to seamlessly move qualified candidates from the application stage in the ATS to nurturing them as potential future hires within the CRM.
  • Holistic talent management: By combining the power of both tools, you gain a complete picture of your talent pool, both active and passive candidates. This empowers you to make well-rounded recruitment decisions based on current needs and future strategic goals.

Choosing the Right Tool:

The best tool for you depends on your specific needs. Consider the size of your recruitment agency, your budget, and your overall recruitment strategy.

Many solutions offer integrated ATS-CRM functionalities, but stand-alone options also exist.

If you have the budget, opt for both options or an enterprise tool like Bullhorn that incorporates both.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I consider when choosing between an ATS and a CRM for my recruitment agency?

Consider the size of your talent pool, the volume of hires you need to manage, and whether your focus is on either the admin efficiency of the hiring process or the importance of candidate engagement and relationship building within your recruitment strategy.

What are the key features to look for in an ATS or CRM?

For an ATS, look for:

  • Robust resume parsing
  • Interview schedule tools
  • Job board integrations
  • LinkedIn extensions

In a CRM, prioritize features like:

  • Candidate nurturing
  • Engagement tracking
  • Client and company management
  • Email campaign generation
  • Analytics
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