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Best HR Software: 16 Experts Reveal What You Can't Live Without

by Sean Falconer | Last Updated September 21, 2016

Best HR Software

Deciding on the best HR software for a new HR department is a tricky problem.

Where do you start?

There's so many tools, strategies and resources out there, it's hard to know what approach, software and strategy is best.

To solve this problem, we contacted human resource and recruiting experts to ask them one question:

If you could only recommend three tools for a new HR department, what three would you choose?

All in all, 16 experts participated and you will find all their answers below.

Responses primarily fell into two camps: specific HR software tools and general strategy about what's most important in a new HR department.

We purposefully left the question open to interpretation.

Some experts focused on strategy and the high-level tools a company would need to consider while others named their favorite HR software tools that they would recommend to a company.

Here are a few of the take-aways:

  1. ATS (Applicant Tracking System) came up in about half the responses, with Greenhouse, Lever and Workable all receiving the same amount of mentions.
  2. Communication / collaboration, both during hiring and with existing employees, is extremely important. 
  3. You need to focus on people. I particularly enjoyed Guy Ellis's response detailing the tools that HR leadership requires.

Read on to discover each expert's response. You can skip ahead to your favorite expert with the links below or by all means, get comfortable and read through all the great responses.

Bonus: Download the free PDF and Data Spreadsheet of the best HR blogs on the web!

16 experts share their thoughts on the best HR software they would recommend to a new HR department

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Responses are in the order they were received.


An interesting question and tougher than it looks on the surface!

“If you could only recommend 3 tools for a new HR department, what 3 would you choose?”

This is a tough one as HR departments are formed for a range of reasons. If I were limited to just 3 things an HR function could do, then in the early days for me it would be:

  1. Get the right people – have a person specification and set of hire / no-hire criteria. Link to the core values of the founder
  2. Get them working effectively – have an induction checklist to ensure new starters have the right information and understand “how things are done around here”
  3. A contingency pack – who knows what, who could cover. How to contact who, what 3rd parties could cover in the event of a problem, What and how are things done on a day to day basis

Hi - since the way the question is written this sounds like a small but growing type of company that is just forming its first dedicated HR function? If so, then I think the first three kinds of HR technology that they need are pretty simple, (assuming they already have some kind of third-party payroll processor since they are paying people before they actually form an HR department),

  1. An HRIS to house the employee records, demographic data, job roles, positions, salary, benefits information, and maybe depending on the completeness of the solution information on training, goals, and performance management. Basically the digital version of the old paper 'employee file.'
  2. Some kind of Applicant Tracking solution to post open jobs to the company website, external job sites, and social platforms, accept incoming applications, provide some capacity to review, rank, and rate applications, and finally to generate offers to successful candidates. Ideally this ATS would integrate with the HRIS to automatically populate the employee record with information about the candidate/new hire.
  3. Depending how quickly the organization is growing, I might choose an Onboarding tool as well. Something that can facilitate the collection and completion of needed legal, tax, as well as internal information needed from new hires. It would track everything that needs to be completed, and send reminders as needed to the new hire, the manager, and HR. This tool should also be able to provide the new hire resources and training information about the company, their new role, their colleagues, etc.

Here are my three tools I absolutely need if I was starting up a new HR Dept:

  1. HR Management System. If I was at a SMB org I would probably choose BambooHR or HRCloud. If I'm at large company - I'm going to look at the big players in that space: SAP, Oracle, Workday, etc.
  2. ATS. I currently like Greenhouse and Lever, but there are literally hundreds to choose from at all price points. I'm shocked at how the price has gone down in this space, but the tech keeps getting better!
  3. The third one is hard because it's dependent on where my organization is in its lifecycle. Do I need a performance management system like Halogen? Do I need recruitment marketing and automation like Smashfly? Do I need a learning management system like SuccessFactors or Silkroad? This third piece would go towards what my organization needed specifically at that time.

Hope this helps!

I originally wrote the 3 pieces of HR Tech I could not live without which is easier: 1. Phone, 2. Email, 3. Spreadsheets! ;) 


This is a great question... if I only had three and I was a practicing HR leader... I'd need a great tool to provide me analytics / insight, I'd also need a tool that fosters collaboration / learning, and lastly but just as important I'd want a tool that enables communication / feedback. So, for the record, I'd go with...

  1. Tool for analytics / insight
  2. Tool for collaboration / learning
  3. Tool for communication / feedback

Tool 1 - Have new applicants complete a personality or compatibility test of some kind BEFORE hiring to determine match-ability.

Tool 2 - Develop, implement, and maintain a frequent self appraisal and evaluation system to hold all parties accountable for deliverables.

Tool 3 - Develop formats for self improvement of team members. Offer ancillary financial, health, and community services information to team members.

  1. Ability to listen and relate to the client / business
  2. Willingness to adapt but foresight and skills to know when to say ‘no, but have you considered…’
  3. Humility to know when to seek further advice or knowledge from others
  4. And if I had a fourth: Desire to ‘act and test’ rather than ‘talk and perfect’

Sorry but there is not an IT system amongst them (but implicit in everything).


Tough Q! I'd choose @15Five, @NamelyHR & @lever or @Workable (depending on biz) + my new product that launches soon. #notthree


Thanks for contacting me!

  1. Slack - or something similar - for internal communications.
  2. An ATS. Doesn't have to be super-fancy. There is a wide range on the market, but basically, every HR/Recruiting department needs to be able to track interest in their opportunities and how those candidates are dispositioned (hired, interviewed, possibility for other roles, etc.)
  3. Google Docs or something similar to store documents that need to be available and editable by the team, that can also be easily shared. Might be a location on the corporate server, but the more accessible and easier to use, the better.

I hope that helps!


I would refuse to answer such a question. It would be Management 2.0.


As to the three tools I think a new HR department could use:

  1. A good organizational tool for capturing ideas, notes, content... I use Evernote.
  2. A good HRIS that is mobile enabled and small company focused.
  3. A good mobile collaboration tool.

With the way the world of work is changing I think mobile, collaboration and content will be important.


Hmm. I guess I would answer:

  1. a good recruiting platform like Entelo or SmartRecruiters
  2. a good niche job board like CollegeRecruiter or BrokerHunter
  3. a good assessment tool like ClearFit

HRIS? Recruiting? Which tools and company size?

Regardless, my startup #HRtech reccos: 1. @CultureAmp 2. @Zenefits (can't beat free, great software) 3. @Greenhouse

Laura Van Winkle

Laura Van Winkle


A robust HRIS system that encompasses applicant tracking, absence management, payroll, report writing, performance management and an electronic employment record. If you can't get one system to be all of those things, then find systems that talk to each other. I have worked for far too many companies that have a system for each function and none of the systems talk to each other. Very frustrating from a user and end-user perspective.

I know you asked for three, but if you have the above that is really all you need to function.

Kelly Garner

Kelly Garner


It depends on the size of the company, but I will assume this will start out as a small one, a hundred or less.

  1. Find an off-the-shelf payroll program that will factor in all applicable state & local taxes (plus any stat holidays). This should also be able to hold extra information such as secondary contacts, but if not a spreadsheet will do.
  2. Outsource the benefits such as dental and health insurance.
  3. Assign on retainer a lawyer to deal with liabilities regarding terminations and probation legalities. You obviously do not want to find out the hard way regarding wrongful dismissal or sexual harassment litigation. Due diligence often needs to be proven to avoid fines.

It is highly critical that a good database be created that forms an information web of all related data and that can be retrieved/searched efficiently.

Fiona Montgomery

Fiona Montgomery


I did exactly this for the Company I work for - set up the HR dept from scratch.

  1. Some kind of employment law / HR advice service
  2. A recruitment resource suitable to the industry (e.g. LinkedIn, Monster Jobs etc) if recruitment falls to HR in that company
  3. A decent filing system (be it spreadsheets, databases, etc).

Lot's of others have stated that software is a must, but we don't have any specific HR software because of the cost. If you are organised, you can survive perfectly well with spreadsheets, databases and One Note. Although I should add that we do have payroll software as part of a finance package.

HUGE thanks to everyone that contributed to this post.

Here's a quick summary of some of the takeaways from the expert contributions:

  1. Some type of  ATS was recommended by the majority of people, with Greenhouse, Lever and Workable being the most commonly mentioned ones.
  2. Communication / collaboration both during hiring and with existing employees is extremely important. 
  3. Bottom line, you need to focus on the people

Have your own take on this topic?

How would you answer the question if you could only recommend three HR software or tools for a new HR department, what three would you choose?

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Topics: human resources, recruiting, hr tools, new hr department, expert roundup, hr software

Sean Falconer

Written by Sean Falconer

Sean Falconer is Founder and CTO of Proven. He is a proud Canadian and reformed academic. He is passionate about making hiring for small businesses simple, streamlined and frictionless.


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