What You Need to Know About Applicant Tracking Systems

If you’ve applied for a job online in the past decade, you’ve probably used an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Most employers – and up to 90% of large organizations – now use this technology to automate parts of their hiring process. And there’s plenty of mixed sentiment about whether automation helps or hurts in hiring. Plenty of professionals get frustrated by the lack of human interaction in the traditional job search these days! But the fact is, Applicant Tracking Systems aren’t going away. Why not do everything you can to get your application through that ATS?

When you’re applying for jobs online it’s important to know what ATS software does and why employers use it. That way you can make sure your application stands out in a good way.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

So, what does ATS software actually do? In a nutshell, it acts as a gatekeeper, helping employers conduct an initial screening of resumes. It’s meant to screen out folks who don’t have the requirements necessary to do the job, bringing the best candidates to the top. The software does this by tracking certain words in each application, checking that applicants follow instructions, and more. Note: ATS software is usually highly customizable, so different employers use it differently! At their best, Applicant Tracking Systems accurately remove unqualified candidates and help hiring managers find the best people for the job in less time. handle the recruitment process. Some studies estimate that as many as 70% of employers use an ATS!

Let’s examine all the tasks that most ATSs can perform:

  • It can check to see if you’ve followed instructions in an online application.
  • It screens for keywords that relate to the job in your application documents.
  • It assesses whether you meet minimum qualifications for the job.
  • It filters top candidates for the human hiring manager to review.
  • It tracks applicants through the hiring process.
  • It keeps track of candidates in a database to match with future positions.  
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Why do so many employers use an ATS?

As you can see from the list above, an ATS can be a powerful time saver for hiring managers! These systems also help employers stay organized throughout the hiring process, keeping track of numerous applicants. It can also help identify candidates who are more likely to be a good fit for the organization. However, an ATS can also screen out candidates that might be a fit if the resume doesn’t work well with the system’s particular requirements.

There are dozens of different ATS systems on the market, but they are all based on algorithms that identify candidates who are theoretically the best fit for the job. Keywords are central in determining which resumes are identified for further consideration, a phone screen, and then ultimately an interview. The higher the ATS scores your resume, the more likely your application will end up being reviewed by a human reader. Simply put, if your resume doesn’t contain a number of these job-specific keywords, your resume won’t be found, and a live person won’t ever read it. It doesn’t matter how qualified you know you are. You have to tell that story strategically in your resume for the ATS to know it, too.

How to build an ATS-friendly job application

Before you panic, know that there are ways to work with an ATS when you’re applying for a job. ATS software is now a given in the hiring world, and it’s not going anywhere. It’s never too late to learn how to improve your applications to maximize your chances in an automated hiring process. Here are some tips:

  1. Use the critical keywords from the job description. Essentially, it’s all about keyword searches that closely match the qualifications outlined in the job description.  Be sure to tailor your resume to each job that you are targeting. Don’t get cute and try to use synonyms—only the exact words will be a match in the ATS. Use the keywords in a few different ways, but don’t go overboard, and make sure your usage sounds natural and reads well.
  2. Incorporate a skills section or summary of qualifications to list keywords that might not fully show up in the positions you have held. You can include a list that highlights the skills and experience the employer is seeking and is filled with ATS-friendly keywords.
  3. Use social media. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is listed on your resume. If current employees of the company have social media profiles on LinkedIn, see how they describe their role and use that language in your application.
  4. Keep the format simple and avoid fancy graphics. This is not the place to showcase your creativity. Avoid non-standard fonts and colors other than black text on white background. Plain text Word documents are usually the most easily digested by ATS systems. PDF documents can sometimes get held up.
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In sum, we don’t want to keep harping on keywords, but it really pays to identify the crucial ones and use them throughout your resume. Also, keep formatting simple, and you’ll be on your way to landing in front of an actual person who has the power to grant you an interview based on your qualifications and fit for the job.