Applicant Tracking Systems: A Guide for Job Seekers
Learn everything about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), how they impact your job search, and how you can create an ATS-friendly resume that will land you a job interview.Optimize Your Resume for an ATS
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Ninety-nine percent (99%) of Fortune 500 companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to speed up, streamline, and automate their hiring process. Once you submit your resume, the ATS is the gatekeeper that will either get your application to the hiring manager or eliminate you. And we know how frustrating it is to be rejected. What’s more frustrating is not knowing where you fell short with the ATS.
We’ll uncover all of the ATS secrets in this guide. After reading this guide, you’ll understand what happens to your resume after you submit it and what you can do to ensure your resume makes it past the ATS and into the hands of the recruiter.
What this guide will cover
What is an Applicant Tracking System?
An Applicant Tracking System or ATS is an all-in-one human resource software that automates the hiring process, helps HR teams efficiently manage every part of recruitment (from job posting to onboarding), and solves recruiters’ challenges and pain points.
Specifically, the ATS:
- Stores job candidate information like resumes, cover letters, references, and other recruitment and hiring data that HR teams can easily access and organize.
- Tracks job candidates and their application status throughout the hiring pipeline.
- Weeds out unqualified candidates and recommends the best fit for a position based on the parameters set by HR. Only those on the shortlist are moved to the next stage of the hiring process.
- Automates time-consuming administrative tasks such as manually screening applicants, reading resumes, scheduling interviews, and sending notifications and emails to job candidates and employees.
How do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?
Although applicant tracking systems have different functionality, all of them generally operate on the same basic processes.
Once you submit your resume for an open position, the ATS will parse your information into a centralized database. It scans your data (such as your name, address, work experience, and contact information) and transforms these into structured, easy-to-scan, and searchable content.
To cull the number of resumes recruiters need to read, they set knockout questions and eligibility parameters through the ATS. Those who do not meet the minimum criteria are immediately discarded.
Knockout questions can be in the style of checkboxes or short answer questions.
For instance, a recruiter might ask the following knockout questions:
- Are you willing to relocate?
- Are you willing to work full-time?
- Do you have X certification?
If you answer any of the knockout questions unsatisfactorily, your resume will either be flagged or auto-rejected by the ATS.
Some of the top ATS allow recruiters and hiring managers to establish parameters such as location, years of experience, skill sets, and certifications. If you meet the parameters, your resume will make it through to the next stage.
Automatic Rankings Against Job Descriptions
Some applicant tracking systems will compare your resume to the job description and rank you based on how well your resume matches the job description. With this functionality, recruiters can focus on top-ranked candidates instead of wasting time reading through every resume.
Resume Scoring Through Keyword Searches
Recruiters and hiring managers search resumes in the ATS by using keywords. These resume keywords are terms and phrases found in the job posting. They could be skills, experiences, location, former employers, or work experience.
Pro Tip: Many recruiters will glance at each resume that comes through their applicant tracking system. It will likely be a brief glance, so you should have a killer resume summary to make a strong impression.
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Key ATS Features
Knowing what an ATS does is the first step towards beating it.
There are hundreds of applicant tracking systems, each featuring unique specialties. They don’t all parse, rank, or filter your resume in the same way, but there are some core features that are common to most Applicant Tracking Systems. Here are some features that the top ATS have.
Limitations of ATS
As you might expect with an automated computer system, ATS has drawbacks and limitations. It’s these limitations that make it harder for you to get your resume seen and in front of the right people. However, knowing these limitations means that you can account for them when you write your resume. Here are some.
Qualified candidates might slip through the cracks
Here are various instances when the ATS might reject a highly qualified candidate.
- The resume was created in an unusual format with unusual fonts the ATS isn’t familiar with.
- The resume doesn’t contain the exact keywords recruiters search for.
- The candidate’s previous job titles aren’t an exact match to what the recruiters search in the ATS.
- The application has a deviation from the exact eligibility parameters set by the company.
- The resume is in a file format the ATS cannot read and parse.
Lack of Human Element
Although the ATS automates the hiring process and saves recruiters valuable time, it takes away the human touch, making the process impersonal. Applicant Tracking Systems also can’t read human potential.
Some ATS have character limits in their application fields. This restriction can eliminate an otherwise highly capable candidate.
How Accurate are Applicant Tracking Systems?
Although the ATS can potentially help recruiters save tons of time, money, and effort in the hiring process, it’s not accurate enough to replace the human recruiter.
However, many applicant tracking systems have started using machine learning algorithms to match applicants to a role, so they are expected to become more accurate over time.
Do You Need an ATS-Friendly Resume?
With the limitations and drawbacks of the ATS, there is a risk that you can be filtered out if your resume is not written and formatted with the ATS in mind.
To increase your chances of getting past the ATS and getting your resume read by a real person, you need to optimize your resume and make sure that it is compatible with the ATS.
Here’s how you write an ATS-friendly resume and some resume templates you can use freely.
How to Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems
Optimizing your resume is critical to getting past the ATS. Without the right keywords, formatting, and other ATS-friendly elements, qualified candidates can slip through the cracks.
Here are some quick tips on how to beat applicant tracking systems:
- Tailor your resume to the specific job you are applying for.
A one-size-fits-all resume won’t cut it. Different companies prefer different qualifications and require different skills. Customize your resume to each prospective employer and convince them that you are uniquely qualified for the job.
Read: How To Tailor Your Resume To The Job Description
- Match your resume keywords to skills found in the job description.
Optimize for ATS search and ranking algorithms by paying close attention to the keywords you include on your resume. Keywords are mostly the hard skills requirements listed in the job description. Incorporate as many relevant skills and keywords as possible on your resume.
Read: Top 500 Resume Keywords: Examples for Your Job
- Use long-form and acronym versions of keywords.
Some ATS will only return resumes with the exact keywords the recruiters would search for. For example, if you included “Search Engine Optimization” in your resume but the recruiter searched for “SEO,” your profile may not appear in the results.
Read: Resume Words: Keywords, Adjectives, Skills, and Power Verbs
- Use Chronological or Hybrid resume format.
Formats that deemphasize work history, like the functional resume format, don’t work well for applicant tracking systems. The best format for the ATS is traditional reverse chronological. You can also use chronological and hybrid resume formats as these are familiar to most recruiters.
Read: Don’t Make These ATS Formatting Mistakes
- Don’t use tables, columns, or graphics.
Tables, columns, and graphics cause parsing errors in the ATS. Remember, these ATS bots have no feelings. If they don’t get what they want, they just reject it.
Read: What Happens to Resume Tables and Columns in an ATS? See For Yourself.
- Use a screen-friendly, traditional font.
For readability, use a traditional serif or sans serif font. Some ATS will automatically change unfamiliar fonts which can alter the design of your resume.
Read: The Best Fonts for Your Resume
- Don’t use headers or footers.
The information in headers and footers may get lost or cause parsing errors inside the ATS.
- Use standard resume section headings.
Section headers like “Where I’ve Been” in place of “Work Experience” will confuse applicant tracking systems, causing them to organize information incorrectly.
Read: Resume Sections: What You Need and Where You Need Them
- Save Your File as a .docx if Possible
A docx file is most compatible with ATS.
Quick Tips for Making an ATS-Friendly Resume
You need to learn everything you can about applicant tracking systems and construct your resume based on the job posting for which you are applying.
Tip: Mention top keywords more than once.
Some ATS rank candidates higher if a search keyword is mentioned more than once. For example, a resume that lists “Java” two or three times will rank higher on the list than one who only mentions it once.
Tip: Be careful to avoid keyword stuffing.
An example of keyword stuffing is if you pepper your resume with “accounting accounting accounting accounting accounting accounting” and change the text into white to hide it. The ATS will recognize it as a keyword match for “accounting,” but it will also highlight the keywords in context. The recruiter could see it as cheating or lazy.
Tip: Create a “Skills” section.
A “Skills” section on your resume is a great place to include relevant keywords. These are generally hard skills, job titles, location, and work experience.
When including skills, think hard skills versus soft skills. Hard skills are concrete, such as “Spanish fluency,” “financial analysis,” and “Python.” Soft skills are important to the employer, but they are better proved in person than on your resume. Soft skills include “hard working,” “team player,” and interpersonal skills.
Tip: Look for keywords in the job description.
Read the job posting carefully and notice which keywords are relevant to the position and how often they repeat. These are the keywords that will likely be searched by the recruiter. If you have skills or experience that match those keywords, include them in your resume. Jobscan can help automate this process through our Resume Optimization tool.
Match your resume keywords to skills found in the job description.
Use Chronological or Hybrid resume format.
Use standard resume section headings.
Create a “Skills” section.
Avoid keyword stuffing.
Don’t use tables, columns, or graphics.
Don’t use headers or footers.
Don’t only use acronym versions of keywords.
Popular Applicant Tracking Systems
The applicant tracking system market is growing, especially in this post-Covid world. Furthermore, the market’s potential for growth is exponential since automation in recruitment and hiring is a necessity. Here is a list of the top applicant tracking systems today.
Founded in 2005, Workday is geared toward attracting the customers of top ATS Taleo and SAP. It has a healthy combination of mid-size companies and Fortune 500 businesses.
Top companies that use Workday: Meta Platforms, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and VMware.
Started in 1996, and acquired by Oracle Companies in 2012. One of the leading ATS Softwares with over 20 million users. Taleo focuses on talent acquisition.
Top companies that use Taleo: Starbucks, Nike, Tesla, Boeing, and Visa.
Read: Taleo: 4 Ways the Most Popular ATS Ranks Your Job Application
iCIMS Talent Platform
Founded in 2000 with a focus on creating a cloud-based recruiting software, iCIMS is one of the leaders in ATS and has over 3,000 clients.
Top companies that use iCIMS: Goldman Sachs, Hanes, Intuit, and Samsonite.
Read: An Inside Look at iCIMS ATS Job Applications SAP
Jobvite began in 2006. This software boasts of 1,600 clients and a database of 43 million job seekers all over the world.
Top companies that use Jobvite: Hulu, Logitech, Liquid Robotics, and La-Z-Boy.
Greenhouse was founded in 2012 and has grown very quickly.
Top companies that use Greenhouse: Airbnb, Buzzfeed, Disqus, and DigitalOcean.
Read: Greenhouse ATS: What Job Seekers Need to Know
Founded by Art Papas as a marketplace for business applications. They are located in Boston, Massachusetts and currently have over 10,000 clients and 300,000 users.
Top companies that use Bullhorn: Apex Systems, Deutsche Bank, and Huffmaster.
Born from its namesake cult networking resource, Linkedin Recruiter gives access to its pool of 400 million professionals. Plus, it features 20+ filter options.
Top companies that use LinkedIn Recruiter: Netsuite, Dailymotion, and Red Hat.
Founded in 2012, Lever has an advisory board with some pretty impressive names, including Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! and Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp. Lever has over 700 clients.
Top companies that use Lever: Netflix, Yelp, Lyft and Quora.
More than 1500 small and mid-size companies use Recruiterbox to perform their basic ATS needs. It was founded in 2010.
Top companies that use Recruiterbox: The Arc, CouchSurfing, and Dreamclinic.
Read: Here’s What Job Seekers Should Know About Recruiterbox ATS
Learn which ATS a company is using and how you can beat it with Jobscan’s ATS Tip.
The Future of Applicant Tracking Systems
Due to the massive adoption of government agencies and companies, ATS global market size is expected to reach $3.2 billion by 2026 which means it is here to stay.
As the world of recruitment is changing rapidly, HR professionals are using technological innovations and AI to better improve the ATS. This allows recruiters to do more through the ATS and its deep integrations especially with the rise of remote hiring.
Applicant Tracking System FAQs
Why Are ATS Applicant Tracking Systems Important?
ATS systems help ease the workload of recruiters and hiring managers, especially now that the internet makes it faster and easier than ever for job seekers to apply for jobs. In fact, job board sites like Indeed and LinkedIn allow job seekers to apply using a saved resume and only one click.
While applicant tracking systems are not perfect, they are a good way for recruiters to efficiently home in on top candidates.
What can the ATS do?
ATS systems go beyond simple applicant tracking to offer communication, interview scheduling, and onboarding functionality. ATS also save resumes for later. If an applicant isn’t the right fit, recruiters and hiring managers can search the system later to uncover resumes that match new positions. If you’ve ever been contacted months later by a company you applied to, an ATS was probably behind it.
How do you pass the applicant tracking system?
Here are things you need to do to pass applicant tracking systems:
- Customize your resume to the specific job posting you are applying for.
- List the important keywords and phrases in the job description and incorporate them into your resume.
- Include the long form of keywords with their acronym counterpart.
- Use the right formatting and font style.
- Avoid using tables, charts, images, graphics, headers and footers. They will cause parsing errors in the ATS.
Do all recruiters use ATS systems?
75% of recruiters use recruiting or applicant tracking software. 99% of Fortune 500 companies and around 60% of big companies use it.
What is the difference between a CRM and ATS?
The ATS automates the hiring process and serves as a database for job applicants. On the other hand, the CRM is an ecosystem where HR professionals can nurture both passive and active candidates and those who are already in the system as previous applicants.
Do small companies use ATS?
Around 35% of small organizations use ATS.
What resume format is best for ATS?
The easiest format for an ATS to read is reverse-chronological.
Is the applicant tracking system free?
The ATS costs between $60 to $100 per month per user. However, there are a handful of free ATS systems that offer features suitable for small companies.
The ATS is an essential tool for recruiters as it helps them automate and streamline the hiring process. However, it can be the thing standing between you and your dream job. So it is critical that you learn everything you can about how the ATS works and what you can do to beat it. To write a resume that will beat the bots, you need to:
- Tailor your resume to the job posting.
- Embed relevant keywords in your resume.
- Use simple fonts and formatting styles.
- Avoid using tables, charts, images, or any graphics.
- Avoid using headers and footers.
- Be truthful in your application.
Try Jobscan’s Resume Optimization tool today and rest assured that your resume is optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems!
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