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How can we make the applicant tracking system user friendly?

A we-are-hiring sign in a boarded-up window.



Tes is an EdTech company that has supported teachers and teaching for more than 100 years. They mediate Jobs, peer-to-peer teaching resources, education news, and more.


The Tes Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a collection of features built at different times and by different teams. This has made it difficult to use and put pressure on the customer services departments.

Our job is to update it and make it easier to use.

My role

I am the sole designer working with the Product Owner for recruitment.


Discovery phase

We started by carrying out a review of the user journey and pages.

The user journey for the Tes ATS mapped out. Showing a rather convoluted experience that jumps back and forth.
The map of the current ATS user journey. Open image

It was clear that the journeys were quite convoluted. Features could be hard to find if the user was not familiar with them or not had training in how to use the application.

We started with some informal talks with schools to better understand their recruitment process and pain points. It was a mixture of schools, some of which were using our ATS, some using a competitor ATS, and some not using an ATS at all.

We also gathered information from our own account owners and customer service representatives.

We discovered the following pain points:


I created a very basic prototype based on our assumptions. We started collecting feedback from the same and new schools.

We then gradually improve the prototype from the feedback we receive. And then present it back again.

Three different versions of the job card showing the evolution of the prototype. The first is just a box with some guesses about content. The second shows the ideas of actual content in place. And the last one shows a more polished version of the second with actual data in place.
Three different versions of the job card showing the evolution of the prototype Open image

We also present it to the engineering squad on a regular basis. They are excellent at suggesting improvements and catch out technical challenges. And, this way, they are also aware of upcoming work.

Main outcomes

Simplifying the navigation

As the name implies, an Applicant Tracking System is all about the applicants. So, it is important that you can find the relevant applicant(s) quickly.

We simplified the navigation so users find candidates directly or through the job they applied for. We support this with a solid selection of filters that are intuitive to the users.

The new navigation bar with menu items for jobs, applicants, reports, and a button for adding a new job. There is also an omni-search box that will search both for jobs and applicants, showing that a search for AL will result in both candidates named Alice and Ralph, but also a job opening for Vice Principal.
The simplified navigation showing "jobs" and "applicants". And also has an "omni-search", that finds either. Open image
The filters to find jobs. The user can filter by jobs posted by themselves, jobs that are about to expire, the school that posted the job, what subject the job is for, and whether or not it has new applications or no applications.
The filters for jobs (based on how school recruitment admins told us they think of the candidates). Dark buttons have filters applied. Open image

The pipeline

It was important for the recruitment admins to have a quick overview of the jobs and their status. We realised that one of the best ways of doing this was by surfacing the pipeline. The pipeline is the funnel of applicants from application to hire.

It became quite clear that the best representation was numbers. Many admins have a mental map of acceptable candidate numbers for various jobs and subjects. And also triggers for when they need to extend the job adverts.

Showing a job listings card with a prominent pipeline with 12 applications in total. 2 new applications has been highlighted. And there are 3 shortlisted and 7 discarded applications.
The pipeline on a job card. This gives a clear overview of candidate numbers and new applications. Open image
The pipeline at the top of the jobs page. It shows the same division as the image above, but the 2 new applications are less highlighted.
The pipeline on the jobs page. Here it doubles as tabbed navigation that filters the applications below. Open image

Email-like behaviour

We decided to lean on technology that our users were already familiar with to display candidates: email. This also leverages one of my favourite laws of UX: My namesake, Jakob’s Law:

Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

Jakob Nielsen

In testing, it was nice to see that they immediately understood the concept without any hints. Some of them even said during testing: It's just like email.

Even the checkboxes on the side were immediately understood to be for bulk actions even though they hadn't been wired up yet.

Re-using the standard user interface of an email application for the candidates. On the left hand side there is a list of all the candidates with their name and status. When one is selected the full information about the candidate appears in the main column.
The email application paradigm used for applicants. Open image


Comments are critical to deciding whether to advance a candidate or not. Seeing other people's comments and what they comment on is important. Again, teachers are used to editing online documents and often brought this up. We decided to allow users to add comments anywhere and to see those comments in the place they were created.

The user highlights part of the address and, as they let go of the mouse, a pop-over appears for them to write a comment. After they have written the comment the click the Add button and the pop-over disappears. A brief notification advises them that the comment has been added.
Adding a comment in place. Open image
A paragraph of text. A sentence is highlighted with an adjacent comment.
Seeing a comment in place. Open image

Everything at your fingertips

It wasn't only the comments that users would like to have within easy reach. Being able to quickly refer to the job advert is useful. Also, scoring the candidate or progressing them in the pipeline is useful to have close by.

We implemented a slide-in panel, so users could compare without leaving the page.

An animated GIF showing how a right-hand panel slides in with the requested information.
Showing and hiding the content panel for easy side-by-side comparison. Open image

Future considerations


The latest Axure prototype is available online:

Header image by Eric Prouzet