HR Software

Finding software can be overwhelming. We help HR departments choose the right web-based HR software so they can manage personnel needs and support strategic initiatives.

What Is HR Management Software?


Human resources (HR) continues to play a critical role in the success of businesses of all sizes. As the responsibilities of of HR departments grow, so should the capabilities of the software solutions they employ. The best HR software can help navigate the intricacies of hiring, firing, benefits administration, and performance management. We look at the best solutions and how they can make managing payroll, in-house certifications, incentives, and other personnel-focused tasks much easier.

HR systems also cover a series of disciplines for which software makers have built individual or vertical solutions. That’s why in the features table above you can see several Editors’ Choice award winners. Be aware that, for this category of general-purpose HR software, the sole Editors’ Choice winner is BambooHR. Our other Editors’ Choice winners won their awards in other roundups of HR software that specialize in the various subcategories described in the article below.

These tools let you manage employee records from within a desktop application, a web browser, or even a smartphone app. Some offer you the ability to tie into applicant tracking (AT), benefits administration, and performance management tools so that you can follow your employee’s success from recruitment to retirement.

Advanced HR management capabilities are in easy reach for companies of all sizes using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. Not only are these offerings cheaper than older on-premises solutions, they’re also usually intuitive, brightly designed software platforms that are not only easy to use but also integrate easily with other back-office SaaS tools, such as accounting, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps.

When selecting HR management software (HRMS), you’ll want to consider several key elements: Does its user interface (UI) offer an intuitive experience that doesn’t necessitate a heavy training burden? Does the tool tie into your legacy software packages, especially when it comes to data feeds? Can it scale as your company grows? Does the vendor offer the kind of service you’ll need should the software fail at any point? Once you’ve determined your requirements and preferences, you’ll be able to approach any of these vendors with a wish list. Test the solutions that meet your needs and choose the one that fits your ideal combination of price and utility.

Key Features of HR Software

How your company manages HR can be highly individual, but there are certain key capabilities and features you should look for in any solution to make sure your pick can grow and change along with your organization’s needs. We’ve described key capabilities below:

  • Applicant Tracking (AT). Includes the ability to manage job postings, apps, and even onboarding of new employees.
  • Benefits Administration. Is critical for most HR operations and what HRMS software makers offer here can vary from simply managing employee enrollment all the way to offering specific benefit plans to customers.
  • Scheduling and Shift Planning. Is often dedicated tools though the capability can show up as part of larger HRMS platforms or those that focus on businesses where this capability is important.
  • Performance Management. Might be the ability to simply keep a record of employee goals or it can track goals down to the task level and tie success directly and automatically to compensation and payroll.
  • Online Learning. Can be another offshoot of performance management, letting managers provide the training employees need to achieve their goals and also keep the company in compliance if certifications are required for certain jobs.
  • eLearning Authoring. Can let your company build its own training materials to be offered internally or on a publicly accessible learning hub.

Regardless of its target audience, here are some other key features to look for in any HRMS system:

  • Integration. Most of these players (though not all of them) offer either canned integrations or open APIs. For example, Zenefits offers integration with platforms that include Expensify, Google’s G-Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce, and Slack. Canned integrations are simply a list of partner apps with which the HRMS vendor has built direct integration capability that you can opt in to by either paying extra or downloading a connector. Open APIs allow you to build your own integrations between whichever systems you like as long as they both support the API and you’ve got some programming talent in-house.
  • Mobility. This still isn’t a must-have feature for a successful HRMS implementation, but it’s getting there. HR data tends to be data that employees need to access on the fly, especially things such as benefits information and time-off requests. Providing the ability to do that easily and securely on mobile devices means making sure the solution offers client software for both Android and iOS devices at a minimum.
  • Security. Be sure to investigate how the solution protects customer data. Most of these systems are cloud-based, which means your employee data—including personal information and financial data—will wind up stored online somewhere. So, ensuring that the solution’s adequately protected with role-based access controls and at least the option to encrypt data is critical.

Applicant Tracking

This category is about making sure you don’t let your best candidates slip through your fingers because of mismanaged onboarding. The best applicant tracking (AT) tools let you follow your candidates from the first interaction until the day they leave your company. Before you choose a system, it’s important to consider your team’s specific needs. Do you want AT as part of a larger software ecosystem? Do you want something that can handle an unlimited number of users and job openings? How important is it to you that your system integrates well with your corporate website and email client?

Most of the AT systems we reviewed automatically post newly created jobs to free job websites and premium job websites for which you have paid a small fee. If you regularly hire people, then you’ll want to purchase a tool that ties back to your corporate careers page. This enables your system to automatically feed candidate data from the app page directly into the AT software. The best tools available, including Editors’ Choice winner Bullhorn Staffing and Recruiting, offer social buttons that let you share postings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Even the most barebones AT software comes with a robust reporting platform. Typical reports include hiring velocity, candidate sourcing, and pipeline reports. These reports are more valuable for staffing firms than for in-house recruiters, but it doesn’t hurt to find a system that provides ultra-detailed reporting on attractive dashboards.

Benefits Administration

Benefits administration is a core element in any good HR organization. Some businesses may be satisfied with the features provided by some of the all-up HR management systems reviewed in this HRMS roundup, but others have more complex BA requirements and need software that specializes in BA. This is why we opted to devote a whole roundup to the category. Flush benefits packages are a major selling point in attracting top talent to your startup, small to midsize business (SMB), or enterprise. But the ease and efficiency through which your business administers its various benefits packages is how you keep those employees happy and show them they’re valued.

BA software should do two things: It should make it easy for HR administrators to choose and customize plans, and it should make it even simpler for employees to register for those benefits via an automated enrollment process as well as easily access their benefits and insurance information. The stand-alone BA capabilities you choose within your HR suite should be able to handle basic medical, dental, vision, life insurance, and disability, with customizable plans.

On top of that, leading all-in-one BA and HR platforms such as Zenefits, the Editors’ Choice winner in this category, also add the ability to manage payroll and retirement benefits such as a 401(k), plus additional perks for startups such as a stock option module. BA software should make people’s lives easier when enrolling in the plans that best suit their needs. It should also add enough special features via an intuitive interface to keep employees confident that their employer is taking good care of them.

Performance Management

Businesses tend to look at a solution’s performance management features when deciding which HR management platform to adopt. This is because there are various popular methodologies for measuring employee performance. Software makers have continued to create a range of packages to suit business needs. Evaluating employees for bonuses and compensation as well as crediting them for certifications, as well as skill advancement are all key features to look for.

Our Editors’ Choice winner in this category is SAP SuccessFactors, which did a great job of providing effective mechanisms for assigning and tracking goals, feedback, and coaching, and then examining those criteria during the performance review process. While it doesn’t have its own payroll module, it can effectively communicate employee performance results to your existing payroll system. Data integration should be a key feature no matter what system you wind up choosing, as is the ability to define your own custom workflow for the performance review process. This means the system can use email, document routing, and internal workflow routing to let you design an initial performance review, followed by the right number of subsequent approvals and evaluations necessary in your organization.