Airtable-Powered Applicant Tracking System (ATS) For Lean, Small, or Startup Recruitment Agencies

A short guide on how to use Airtable as an ATS

Airtable-Powered Applicant Tracking System (ATS) For Lean, Small, or Startup Recruitment Agencies

Reading time: 9 mins

Two years ago, I ditched off-the-shelf recruitment CRM/ATS software and decided to create my own on Airtable.

Airtable loved the story so much that they featured our project in their blog.

I think Airtable is an ideal solution as an operating system for a lean recruitment business. However, It wouldn’t scale up for a team of 100s of consultants.

For brevity, I’m going to refer to CRM/ATS built for recruitment agencies as R/ATS for the remainder of the article. This article focuses on the ATS elements only, I’ll write another about its use as a CRM for sales soon.

What is Airtable?

I often describe Airtable as an online spreadsheet on steroids. They self describe as a cloud-based platform for creating and sharing relational databases. Basically, you can build business apps for whatever you need.

At their core, R/ATS are simply databases, with custom overlays and functionality bespoke to recruitment. Airtable allows you to build your own R/ATS.

Why change?

After trying four different R/ATS over 5 years, I was frustrated at a few things:

-         Cost: an average of £75-100 per head for a basic account, often with a 24 month contract length

-         Additional costs: set up costs and costs to export your own data

-          Speed: servers are frequently located in different parts of the world, so you get a perceptible lag on a cloud-based system. On my last R/ATS, it could take 20-30seconds to switch screens at times of peak demand!

-         Flexibility: as a small business, you get what you’re given. They’ll tell you that you can change some things, but it’s always less than you think. They’re trying to build a product to satisfy 1,000s of customers, all with different needs, so it will be a cookie cutter and never bespoke to what you need.

-         Lack of capability: the R/ATS I used didn’t allow you to mail shot with any depth or auto-follow up. This is fundamental to some processes. I was importing/exporting data, and copy pasting to fit around this lack of functionality. It highlights a wider point, though -you need to build what works for your business and processes.

-         Customer service: as a small business, you’re at the back of the line when it comes to service SLAs. You typically just get shunted to the knowledge base and left to fend for yourself.

-         Product bloat: the final straw for me was the development of an R/ATS app for the Apple Watch. Who in their right mind wants to access their R/ATS like this? No one. I wanted them to invest in more impactful areas, like improving email reply rates, not pointless widgets.

-         Lack of integrations: when I did want to add on functionality, I couldn’t as they didn’t have an open API. Even if they did, I’d need to hire developers to build something, another expense, rather than implementing myself.


With Airtable, you build what you need.

You set the full structure of your database and tables. They can be completely customised to your market and processes.

You set out your tables to house your data. In an ATS, we have a candidate table, a job table and a pipeline. You can also have reference tables for all of your tagging, dependent on the size of the tag list.

You can use Airtable within the core tables, or you can build custom interfaces to interact with the data. Likewise, you can extend this concept to create custom interfaces for clients in minutes, using filtered views.

All of this data can be used in integrations with other software. It can published elsewhere if you desire.

You don’t have to fit in with the prescribed hierarchy or tagging within a R/ATS, you create your own. This does require some thought and planning at the beginning, however the speed at which you can iterate and change is phenomenal. This is because you have control.


I think there was a period of time when most recruitment businesses considered their database as a prime asset. They’d cite their database size as an achievement.

I believe this has waned over time, with audience and attention becoming more important with the growth of social media, particularlyLinkedIn.

Despite this being the case, your database is still a key asset in a recruitment business.

What I felt and found with R/ATS is that my business data wasn’t my own.

Initially, you start losing control of it when you start shoehorning your datasets into their tagging structure. Then, when you’re locked in, you have to pay to access your own data.

This is crazy.

With Airtable, you can import or export your data, at will, with zero cost. You have fundamental control over fields and relationships between them so by migrating to Airtable you end up with a foundation to improve the value of your data.


Airtable pricing is $24/month on a month to month basis. It’s$20 annually.

This gives you 50,000 records per base and 25,000 automation runs, which should be plenty.

Over a 24 month contract, you’re saving around 75% per user or$1500 total, which is not to be sniffed at!

Additionally, there is no cost to import or export.

There are zero set up costs if you do it yourself. You can shortcut this by using a template or one of many Airtable experts.

One to consider is that if you do integrate with other tools, the cost of your tech stack will increase. Currently I only integrate with Woodpecker, which starts at $29/month. In the past, I’ve used Parseur for auto-parsing data into the database at scale- I used this for one month at $99/month. You can turn most tools on and off on a needs basis.


I mentioned that I had suffered with lag in navigating between screens on cloud-based R/ATS. This would often be worse based on the time of day.

I’ve never had any lag with Airtable so far. Maybe when I’m making 1,000s of edits at a time, but that’s a rare occasion.

It’s easy to underestimate how much of a productivity drain this is. Imagine how much screen switching a consultant does in a day, navigating between client and candidate records. Those 10-20 second delays add up and kill flow.


Migrating to Airtable was just the beginning. I now use it across a considerable array of projects.

The record limits on the Team plan are sufficient for a lean recruitment business (50,000 records, 25,000 automations). Even if you start tohit them, it forces you to tidy your data, which you should be doing anyway!

The superpowers I associate with Airtable emerge when we start to look at integrations.


Airtable plugs into any tool going as it has an open API.

Not only that, but you can connect it yourself using visual building methods because tools like Make or Zapier integrate seamlessly with Airtable. People refer to tools like this as nocode.

Some R/ATSs do integrate with Zapier or Make, but get under the hood (like I have) and it’s very limited in functionality. You should check the triggers and actions rather than take the integration claim at face value.

This means that you’re not wedded to most of the tools that the recruitment industry uses. You don’t have to use the prescribed tools in your R/ATS ecosystem, and you’re not stuck with their functionality or their pricing. They’re often not the best in class for the job at hand. Some are even inspired by better tools you can now access on the open market.

Let’s look at an example is email marketing.

My R/ATS had a 100 email cap to candidates and didn’t allow any auto-follow up. You also had to use your core domain. We had the option to send a contact only to Mailchimp using Zapier.

This functionality just doesn’t cut it for what a modern and lean recruitment business needs. Deliverability, open and reply rates to email are fundamental to your success.

You can email directly from Airtable, but it’s best to integrate with a tool that specialises in driving email response. I’ve set up an integration that syncs with Woodpecker. Woodpecker specialises in cold email. We can use multiple domains to protect our sender reputation, our emails get delivered, there are no caps to sending and we can send follow-ups.

These are our typical email open and response rates:

This wouldn’t be possible on a standard R/ATS.

I’m sure there are other R/ATS on the market that do now offer email follow up functionality and have no send limits, but my point is morethat you have the ability and control to integrate with whatever tool your require. Moreover, none of the R/ATS will deliver functionality as good as atool dedicated to the job.

The possibilities are endless when your core data lives in Airtable.


Airtable has a native automation builder.

You can use this to move records and automate data entry. You can trigger emails based on pipeline movements. Basically, any systematic process can be automated.

Interestingly, you can also build bespoke automations for clients. So, you could trigger notifications based on pipeline movements - auto send profiles, interview arrangements and offers.

This can is bespoke, and you turn things on and off when you need them.

When you consider how you can string together automations within Airtable to tools outside of Airtable, then you start to realise how much of a recruitment business you can automate.

Client Management

I’ve explored this to some depth, but I know there is furtherI can go.

Airtable can be used to create custom interfaces. I’ve used these when I’ve hired VAs for data research to tidy up datasets. In addition,I’ve also used them to create interfaces for clients.

This works particularly well with RPO clients. You bring a custom software build with you, at no cost to them and completely bespoke tothem.

Now, Airtable doesn’t look the prettiest, but it is functional.

Taking this a step further, you can build custom apps with third-party tools like Softr or Glide. Airtable syncs great with these tools.

I’ve built out a full app on Softr for an RPO solution, and it looks great:

Furthermore, we use Glide for our candidate and client apps for

Both of these are powered by Airtable.


I’ve talked plenty about using Airtable in a lean recruitment business. However, with Airtable you can build custom interfaces for consultants and get very granular on permissions.

As an Admin, you can control access by inviting users at varying permission levels: Owner, Creator, Editor, Commenter, Read-only.

The Owner level is reserved for admin, Creator allows creation but not deletion, Editors can create and edit, Commenters can only comment, andRead-only is strictly for viewing.

Read-only and Commenter is great for client apps. Creator is excellent for those sourcing and doing data entry. Consultants are typicallyEditor level.

You can manage security by frequently auditing permissions, ensuring only necessary access is granted. You can enforce record-level permissions for detailed control. Not only that, but you can also prevent data theft by limiting export, print, and copy functionalities in shared view links.


Using Airtable as an ATS is ideal for lean, small or startup recruitment agencies. It’s also ace for talent acquisition teams.

I think you would run into limitations with numerous consultants operating on a 360 basis. However, if you build a task based recruitment agency, I think Airtable is ideally suited.

Record limits may come into play should your total base exceed 50,000 records. In an ATS this would be cumulative across candidates, jobs and applications. Moving to an enterprise plan beyond this is pricier.

Finally, you must also keep an eye on creeping costs if you are to integrate with plenty of other tools. I’ve been known to buy tools and then not use them, so you must be ruthless!

Using Airtable day to day

Airtable augments my whole business. I have been able to buildit into exactly what I need to enable maximum productivity.

The beauty is, that it’s constantly evolving, and I’ve developed the skills to change it myself. I could leave it running forever inits current form, but I enjoy iterating.


Firstly, I created a website CMS and then replaced our CRM elements. This largely powered our marketing and sales activity.

It was more daunting to shift all of our candidate data and processes there, particularly when I couldn’t find any templates out there.What did exist catered for talent acquisition, not recruitment agencies.

Spoiler alert: I’ve built a template for you with a complete guide on how you can implement. Check it out here.

It’s so easy to import your data and organise it on Airtable. It was more of a struggle, and a cost, to get my data out of Vincere. Did I mention they charged me for an export of my data? Lol.

What next?

I love sharing best practise, so if you’re a recruitment business operating on Airtable, reach out!

If you’re thinking of migrating, have a look at my template and video course. Questions? Connect or email me.

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