Everything You Need to Know About Applicant Tracking System

If you believe that the first hurdle your resume might hit is the decision by a hiring manager to review or reject it, you absolutely need to read this post.

In this day and age, over 90% of large companies and a great portion of smaller ones are turning to automatic applicant tracking system (ATS) as the first screening point for all incoming job applications.

The ATS algorithms are configured by the HR to screen resumes and filter out those that aren’t identified as a good match for the position. You may be surprised to learn, but up to 70% of resumes fail to pass the ATS screen and therefore get rejected even before a human eye gets to see them.

Knowing this, you can understand why writing an ATS-friendly resume is an important requirement that can make a huge difference in your job search.

applicant tracking system

What is ATS in human resources?

ATS, or an Applicant Tracking System, is an automated software tool that allows hiring teams to quickly screen hundreds or even thousands of job applications and identify the top candidates for a specific position. Although there are different brands and types of ATS tools, their general functionality is similar.

The HR enters the job requirements for each specific opening into the system, and the system checks resumes against those requirements, singling out the best matching applicants and filtering out those who are underqualified.

ATS software may also provide an interface for applicants to fill out job applications. It also sorts the applications based on candidate qualifications and stores them for review by hiring staff.

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Why do hiring managers use ATS?

When a company posts a job ad, especially when it’s a well-known company and the position is an attractive one, hundreds of resumes may start pouring in, which can easily overwhelm the hiring team. Out of those hundreds, many resumes may be sent in by people who are heavily underqualified, but who figured that they’d give it a try anyway. If all of those resumes had to be reviewed by humans, it would take a really long time during which the best candidates would most likely accept alternative offers and would be happily starting new jobs elsewhere. For a company to be able to process incoming applications faster and stay competitive as an employer, using automatic applicant tracking systems is an absolute must.

What ATS software is available?

When it comes to the ATS software options available to hiring teams today, one can easily get lost and confused. Since this post is not intended as a guide for HR professionals, but rather as advice to job seekers, we will just list the names of a few popular ATS software tools here. If an applicant wants to beat the ATS and make sure their resume gets to HR humans, getting familiar with how various ATS tools work is a good strategy. Here are some of the top tools used by HR today:

  • factoHR
  • Jobvite
  • iCIMS
  • Greenhouse
  • Taleo
  • SmartRecruiters
  • Workday
  • JazzHR
  • Lever
  • CATS

How does ATS work?

Whenever you fill out a job application form on an employer’s site or a job search website, you are dealing with an ATS. But that doesn’t mean that sending in a regular resume as a pdf or Word file won’t face screening by an ATS too. Automatic applicant tracking systems collect resumes, sort them based on various criteria, such as on how well they match job requirements, and store applications for review by hiring managers. Sometimes, resumes may get stored even after a position is closed, so that when the company needs to hire for some other role, they can sort through previously submitted applications first.

If an applicant tracking system has algorithms that allow comparing resumes to job descriptions, then your resume will be scanned for specific keywords and key phrases present in the job requirements. Resumes are then ranked based on how well the applicant’s skills and experience match the list of qualifications entered into the system for the job opening. After being created by ATS, resume lists are then reviewed by HR staff and applicants are selected for further consideration.

Although ATS algorithms are quite complex, the essential rule of thumb is that the more keyword matches your resume has, the higher it is ranked by ATS, and the sooner it will be viewed by HR as a result. However, keep in mind that even though overstuffing your resume with keywords may get you ranked high by the ATS, it will be very obvious when an HR manager sees it. As a result, you will achieve the opposite effect and get your application blacklisted.

Are ATS tools fail-proof?

As sophisticated as applicant tracking systems may be, they are not perfect. Here are some of the ways ATS may fail or undermine HR efforts:

  • When a resume is not optimized for screening by automatic tools, ATS may not be able to assess it correctly. You may say it’s the applicant’s problem. But in fact it ends up being just as much of the employer’s problem when the best candidates get filtered out just because the ATS could not identify them as such.
  • If an ATS is set up to parse applicant information and automatically enter the required details into its own form, data may get distorted or important facts from a resume may get missed, which may eventually lead to good candidates being rejected.

 This, once again, stresses the importance of optimizing your resume for automatic screening by ATS.

How to beat applicant tracking system?

Although there is no single recipe for getting past the initial net set up by ATS. You can use our tips to maximize your chances.

  1. Customize your resume to each job you apply for by using the keywords you find in the job description. Although the HR may enter alternative words and phrases into the system that helps them prevent rejecting qualified candidates. You may not be able to guess those words, so it’s best to use those that you clearly see.
  2. When you write your college degree, professional certifications or other things that have an acronym form, use both the acronym and the full form. For instance, use both ‘RN’ and ‘Registered Nurse’. This will improve your chances of making sure the ATS identifies you as a good match.
  3. Use a simple format when writing your resume. Multiple columns, tons of graphics, fancy fonts or other similar things you might use to make your resume look attractive are all no-no’s if you want your resume to successfully pass the applicant tracking system check. Although ATS technologies are getting more advanced and “smart” these days, their capabilities are still limited. Therefore, it’s best to take your creative cap off when you work on your resume. You can show off your creativity elsewhere, such as in your cover letter (but even then, there are some rules to keep in mind).
  4. When listing your work experience and education, use standard section headlines, such as ‘Work experience’ as opposed to unconventional ones, such as ‘Places I’ve worked at’, which ATS tools may not be able to recognize.
  5. For best results, try to use chronological resume format if you can. This format is traditional and therefore is guaranteed to be read by all ATS systems.

Applicant tracking systems range from classic and outdated to modern and highly intelligent. Therefore, to ensure that any ATS will be able to properly read, assess and rank your resume, you need to make it universal.  If you follow the above guidelines, your resume’s chances of passing through the ATS screen and getting on the hiring manager’s desk will be at their best. And if you need help with writing an effective resume, see the tips in this post

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