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Build vs Buy: The Challenges Recruiting Firms Face When Building a Homegrown Applicant Tracking System

| By Andy Wigderson


The “build vs buy” decision is a hot topic when I speak with recruiting agencies. Pros and cons are weighed, time and costs are measured, and more and more it’s a decision that may determine the future health of your business. And since TargetRecruit is built upon Salesforce, I encounter this topic more than in my past roles because Salesforce encourages developers to build on its platform. In other words, rather than building a homegrown solution from the ground up, you can leverage the billions spent on infrastructure, security, reporting, mobile, workflow automations, and more by building your tool on Salesforce. Multiple top 10 recruiting firms have done this. Others, still, have decided to “buy”, partnering with an existing recruiting technology provider on Salesforce – like TargetRecruit – to save time and money, and lean on the expertise of a dedicated technology provider.

As for the “build” option, the main pro I hear is control over the product roadmap and control over business workflows. They want more control. I also hear things like “there isn’t anything out there that fits my needs,” which I perceive as less of an objection and more of an educational opportunity. Going forward, I will explore some of the cons, or pitfalls, I have encountered working with companies who built their own ATS solutions on Salesforce, or built a homegrown solution hosted in-house.

Build vs Buy Cost: Developers

Big companies with complex requirements might buy a solution like TargetRecruit and then hire Salesforce developers to extend functionality on top of our platform. Because TargetRecruit is the only tool built entirely on Salesforce, with absolutely zero code hosted on external clouds (like AWS), this scenario allows our clients to work in harmony with our roadmap while still making updates without breaking their instance. This sparks innovation and embodies the spirit of Salesforce. I’m asked how is this possible since none of our competitors can achieve this? Well, if you are familiar with the AppExchange model you know that Salesforce has over 4,000 plug and play apps that would break every time Salesforce made an update if this was not the case. If you choose to build your own solution from scratch, however, you plunge quickly into deep, dark waters. In this case, you’ll need an army of developers, as well as product managers, QA specialists, and more. This is not cheap and easy talent to find. You are now building a development team. The clock is ticking. And that is why recruiting is such a valuable skill!

Build vs Buy Cost: Time

A DIY project will not only direct resources and focus away from what you do best – recruiting, but will also put too many cooks in the kitchen. You’ll wake up to find a lot of valuable people trying to influence product instead of driving revenue. Agendas clash. Lines are drawn. Forces align against you because you are not only paying for an entire software team, but also paying your committee and influencers to be pseudo-product managers, rather than recruiters, sales people, support staff, managers, and business leaders. Doing it yourself is a gigantic enterprise, both delicate and risky.

Breadth of Technology Expertise

From message boards to boardrooms, the quest for the perfect system is central to the build vs buy debate. It goes something like this: “I don’t know why ATS systems don’t do (blank). It would be so easy to make an ATS that every recruiting company would love.” Another thing I hear recruiting companies saying is, “We are an ATS made for recruiters, by recruiters.” Every company has different needs. And within a particular company, even different needs, cascading down from leader to manager to doer. It is difficult to see the forest for the trees when a recruiter can’t shake one nagging problem that may add a few minutes to their day. But from a global view that problem appears tiny compared to the bigger and broader needs of the company. Point? The great CTOs and product professionals are also great listeners. There is a certain alchemy to assessment and action, prioritising high and low-value problems such that the greater business benefits. However, when it comes to building a custom solution, the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease and the more powerful or influential get their way. Experienced technologists solve problems; they don’t create them.

Technology Lags

Technological change is relentless and destabilising. Tech moves at a blinding pace, giving you the sense you are always a full step behind. When I see a company “finish” building their custom solution, and then step back to count the capital it took to build, they typically keep one developer on board to update the system. That’s not how it works for us technology companies. We need to continue to grow revenue to hire more developers, to continue to outpace our competition (or at least that’s what you hope your vendor strives for). Building an industry-leading solution never stops, so the project will never stop. If anything, you will need to amp up development over time as your competition continues to invest in their technology stacks. To this day, I have yet to see a homegrown solution stay at the cutting edge long enough to justify the financial costs and resource displacement. With regard to software development, speed and scale and CHANGE is part of our DNA. Is it part of yours?

High Failure Rate

I have seen top 10 companies in the US and UK with deep pockets sink years into a custom build on Salesforce, only to abandon the effort and opt for a pre-built solution. It’s easy to crash and burn. One company that comes to mind launched a two-year, $2M+ project to build a custom system. Didn’t work. They did, however, later in the game, fit neatly into a pre-built solution they could work with on Salesforce. But it gets worse. Imagine refusing to give up on a custom build because you are so heavily invested you won’t call it quits. Here, entrepreneurial pride and job security sabotage the project, leaving you stuck with a troublesome, half-baked solution simply to avoid calling it a failure. It happens all the time. Sad, but true. On the other hand, pre-built Salesforce solutions are optimised to scale, and easy to customise and tune – by design. The heavy lifting has already been done for you. Your probability of success skyrockets.

The Wrap-Up: Build vs Buy

As much as I’d love to leave this as just an informational opinion piece, I have to give our solution some credit here. We are now one of two Salesforce solutions on the market, and we are the only one that has built all of our technology on the Salesforce platform. This means you can build your own special sauce on our platform, not having to pay for hosting somewhere else or having to integrate through an API. To use a metaphor, building a system from scratch is buying a plot of land and building a house. Building from scratch ON Salesforce is like getting a house with a foundation and a frame but you have to build the rest. Buying TargetRecruit and building on our solution is like buying a fully built two-story home that is already furnished and decorated, but it has been built with the idea in mind that additions will come in the future, so why not make it easy for said additions to happen. None of these solutions are right or wrong, but not all solutions are created equally, now are they?

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, or if you’d like to learn more about TargetRecruit, contact us at

Blog by Bobby Bartlett

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