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The vendors that provide applicant tracking systems routinely suggest that their systems are “OFCCP compliant.” Yet, federal contractors and subcontractors are frequently cited for record-keeping issues associated with applicant data. How can companies ensure that their applicant tracking systems will help them successfully navigate through an OFCCP review?

As a starting point, it is important to note that no applicant tracking system (ATS) can by itself be “OFCCP compliant.” Only federal contractors and subcontractors can be OFCCP compliant. The best ATS can be completely useless during an OFCCP compliance review if it is not used properly, and the worst ATS can be a godsend if a company has meticulously used it to record and retain the type of data that OFCCP expects.

With that basic point in mind, there are some functionalities that are important if an ATS is going to be useful during OFCCP reviews. These functionalities include the following:

    • The ATS should be able to electronically accept information from candidates. While this seems obvious, companies should not be required to rely on the idea that recruiters or other HR staff members will take some or all of a candidate’s information and enter it into the ATS. This is a time-consuming waste of resources. The ATS should be able to electronically accept resumes, cover letters, and any other information that candidates can or should provide.


    • The ATS should be able to store and retrieve any information provided by candidates. Again, this seems obvious, but there are ATSs that have problems providing an exact copy of materials submitted by candidates. An ATS should not change information provided by candidates. The system should have a way to retain an exact copy of whatever information is provided by candidates for whatever length of time the federal contractor deems appropriate.


    • The ATS should have a mechanism to provide all data entered into the system at any time to a client company, including at the end of the contract with the ATS vendor. Most ATS providers claim to have excellent “up” time and suggest that any data entered into the system is readily accessible. However, we have seen situations where the ATS vendor has purged certain information after a defined period, as well as situations where the ATS vendor has taken many days to provide basic reports and other information from the data found in the system. These problems are often magnified at the end of a contract period, when ATS vendors are sometimes reluctant to provide data to a client that is leaving or that has left.


    • The ATS should allow users to develop customizable disposition reasons. Effective disposition reasons are key to providing the right applicant data to OFCCP during an affirmative action compliance review. An ATS should allow users to develop a set of unique, customizable disposition reasons that are relevant to each specific client. A good ATS will have a pre-established list of effective disposition reasons that can be easily customized by a federal contractor.


    • The ATS should allow users to track the stage that each candidate reaches. OFCCP frequently asks questions about the stage at which certain types of job seekers are no longer considered applicants. An ATS should provide a simple mechanism to track each stage that a candidate goes through and should provide a way to report on the final stage that each candidate reaches. For example, an ATS should be able to provide a report on an open requisition that shows which candidates have gone through an initial screening, which candidates have had a phone interview, which candidates have had an in-person interview, and so on. An ATS should also be able to provide a report on closed requisitions that shows the final stage that each candidate reached.


    • The ATS should provide job seekers with an appropriate demographic survey. Federal contractors and subcontractors are required to collect race/ethnicity and gender from those candidates who qualify as “Internet applicants.” An effective ATS will allow users to collect this information in a simple, automated way. This demographic data should NOT be accessible to hiring managers and other decision-makers, but should be accessible to HR staff members for reporting purposes. The demographic survey should be customizable so that the federal contractor can control the contents of the survey. Currently, the demographic survey should include the proper questions about race/ethnicity and gender, and should strictly AVOID surveying applicants about any type of disability status. The ATS should also allow federal contractors to modify the demographic survey if new regulations are adopted by OFCCP.


    • The ATS should track information on the referral source that brought each job seeker into the system. OFCCP has recently shown great interest in the referral sources used to find candidates for open positions. An effective ATS should allow candidates to indicate the referral source that brought them to the company. The referral source field, like the disposition field, should be customizable by a federal contractor so that candidates have a choice of referral sources that reflect the referral sources that the company actually uses. Some ATSs go one step further and automatically record the name of referral sources that send candidates to the system. For example, some ATSs will show that a candidate applied from the state employment service when the state employment service sends a candidate’s information to the company. This is helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of any particular referral source.


    • The ATS should NOT modify a candidate’s data in one requisition based on events that occur during the consideration of the candidate for another requisition. It is not unusual for an individual to apply for more than one job at a company. Some ATSs will update the candidate in every requisition so that, for example, an individual who is hired into one requisition is shown as “hired” in every requisition in which the individual expressed interest. This is a significant problem since OFCCP expects that applicants are properly tracked for every position in which they express interest. Each applicant record should be treated as a discrete record and not as an extension of what has subsequently happened to the candidate in another requisition. The ATS should also capture information on candidates in the way they stood on the date when they were considered. This is occasionally a problem for systems that allow a candidate to build a profile and then use that profile to express interest in positions. Here is an example of how this might be a problem: on June 1, a candidate without a bachelor’s degree applies for a position that requires a bachelor’s degree. The candidate is coded as not meeting minimum qualifications. On December 15, this same candidate graduates from college and receives a bachelor’s degree. If the candidate’s profile is updated in all requisitions, the candidate will now appear to have met the minimum requirement for the requisition the candidate expressed interest in on June 1, even though at that time the candidate did not have the requisite bachelor’s degree.


  • The ATS should be able to download key data elements to a format of the federal contractor’s choosing. In a perfect world, an ATS would be able to provide reports that include exactly what OFCCP requests during an affirmative action compliance review. However, many systems do not have the type of report that provides the kind of statistical data on applicants that OFCCP seeks at the start of a compliance review. The typical ATS tends to provide summary reports on all hires or all applicants that do not include demographic data. If the ATS cannot provide statistical summary reports of the kind that OFCCP requires, there must be a way to export data from the ATS into some format where the data can undergo further manipulation.

There are some important questions federal contractors can ask ATS vendors to determine whether their systems have some of the functionalities noted above. Among these questions are the following:

  • How does your system store information provided by candidates? What kind of information is stored by your system?
  • Does your system automatically purge information provided by candidates? Can we control when and how data is purged?
  • What happens to applicant data in your system at the end of our contract with your company? How do we ensure that we can get a copy of all of the applicant information your system is holding on behalf of our company at the end of the contract?
  • Does your system provide a standard set of disposition reasons? Can we customize these disposition reasons?
  • Does your system provide a standard demographic survey that applicants receive after expressing interest in a position? What questions are asked on this survey? Can we customize this survey?
  • Does your system provide a mechanism for tracking the referral source used to bring a candidate to our company? Who enters this information? Is this information populated by the candidate, or is it populated automatically in some manner? Is the list of referral sources in your system customizable?
  • Under what circumstances is a candidate’s data updated on any particular requisition? If a candidate is updated in one requisition, will this affect other requisitions? If a candidate updates his or her profile, will this affect any old requisitions where the candidate has already been considered?
  • Does your system produce any type of statistical reports on candidates? If so, what types of reports? Does your system provide any demographic reports by requisition or by job title? If so, what information is included on those demographic reports?
  • What information on all candidates can your system download into Excel or another easily-read format? How difficult is it to create a query that would allow for this type of download? How often can this query be run? What kind of time frame can be associated with this query?

It is important to close this article with the point that an ATS is only as effective as the persons who use the system. Federal contractors and subcontractors should ensure that persons who are using their ATSs understand the importance of the data that is kept in the ATS and are properly trained on the use of the ATS and the kind of questions that OFCCP may ask about applicant data.

For more information on what to submit (and what not to submit) at the start of an OFCCP compliance review, contact Bill Osterndorf at [email protected].

Please note: Nothing in this article is intended as legal advice or as a substitute for any professional advice about your organization’s particular circumstances. All original materials copyright © HR Analytical Services Inc. 2013



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