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Applicant Tracking Systems

What you need to know about applicant tracking systems and how to optimize your resume for them

Applicant Tracking Systems

What job seekers need to know about applicant tracking systems (ATS) and how to beat them

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are human resources software that act as a database for job applicants. ATS are used by companies of all sizes to organize, search, and communicate with large groups of applicants. 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS as part of their recruiting strategy.

The main goal of ATS are to make life easier for recruiters or hiring managers. Companies are often hiring for multiple positions at once and receive hundreds if not thousands of applicants for each job opening. When a recruiter or hiring manager receives that many resumes, it’s not feasible for them to carefully read each one. With an ATS, they can sort through applicants based on search keywords (e.g. hard skills or job titles), filters (e.g. location and education level), or how well the resume matches the job description (i.e. match rate algorithms).

ATS makes searching easier or even automated, saving time while avoiding human error.

Read More: What is an Applicant Tracking System?

As an applicant, you should be optimizing and tailoring your resume specifically to the job for which you’re applying. To learn more about resume optimization check out Jobscan’s homepage and resume optimization tool.


Why are Applicant Tracking Systems Important?

Applicant tracking 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.

Glassdoor reported that a corporate job posting receives an average of 250 applications. Of those 250 applicants, only four to six (about two percent) will be contacted for an interview. The hiring team cannot possibly make the time to read each resume and ATS are the solution to their problem. While applicant tracking systems are not perfect, they are a good way for recruiters to efficiently home in on top candidates.

Many ATS 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, ATS is probably behind it.

Screenshot of the internal dashboard of iCIMS Applicant Tracking System

Applicant tracking systems are critical for compliance and the law. The Internet Applicant Recordkeeping Rule was put in place to ensure better record keeping of employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires all companies with 100 or more employees to submit an EEO-1 report each September. The EEO-1 tracks employee race and gender information. ATS make the process of tracking information much easier.

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

Each of the hundreds of applicant tracking systems is different and features unique specialities such as keyword searching, automatic rankings, resume parsing, or candidate experience.

Regardless of each ATS’s strengths and weaknesses, they all follow the same basic process. If you’re looking for specific tips on a particular job posting, you can now add the url in your Jobscan match report and we’ll return specific tips based on the company’s applicant tracking system.


When you apply through an ATS, you will most likely be asked to answer what are called “knockout questions”. Knockout questions can be in the style of check boxes or as short answer questions, and their purpose is to narrow the pool of applicants. If any of the knockout questions are answered unsatisfactorily, the resume will be flagged and rejected by the ATS. If you answer the knockout questions correctly, your resume will make it through to the next stage.

Recruiters and hiring managers can then search the resumes stored in the ATS by using keywords. These resume keywords are typically the exact same keywords used in the job posting. They could be based on skills, experiences, location, former employers, or work experience. The image below shows a candidate search window from the perspective of the hiring manager/recruiter.

Screenshot of Bullhorn ATS keyword search

Recruiters and hiring managers can also make notes or star-rate each candidate. As mentioned above, ATS store resumes, so it’s possible that a candidate will be contacted for another position with the same company later on. If the candidate has no negative feedback on their profile, they might be contacted later on.

Social Media and ATS

Believe it or not, your social media profile can actually help your job search, since some ATS use social media to search for potential employees. How does it work? Certain ATS software has the ability to search through social channels for keywords. So, update your profiles with common keywords for the job industry you are interested in, as well as your work experience, and you might just be contacted about a great job.

How to Beat an Application Tracking System

You can’t expect any basic and generic resume to make it past an ATS. From knockout questions to keyword searches, there are plenty of opportunities for your resume to be rejected or lost in the shuffle. The fact is, you will not get an interview if your resume is not optimized against ATS.

Here are some quick tips on how to beat applicant tracking systems:

  • Tailor your resume to the job description every time you apply.
  • Optimize for ATS search and ranking algorithms by matching your resume keywords with the job description
  • Use both the long-form and acronym version of keywords (e.g. “Master of Business Administration (MBA)” or “Search Engine Optimization (SEO)”) for better searchability
  • Use a chronological or hybrid resume format (avoid the functional resume format)
  • Don’t use tables or columns as they often cause parsing errors
  • Use a traditional resume font like Helvetica, Garamond, or Georgia
  • Don’t use headers or footers because the information might get lost or cause a parsing error
  • Use standard resume section headings like “Work Experience” rather than trying to stand out with something unconventional (“Where I’ve Been”)
  • Save your file as a .docx if possible

How to Test Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

Job seekers should learn everything they can about applicant tracking systems and construct their resumes based on the job posting for which they are applying.

Applicant Tracking System Keywords

Keywords are easily the most important factor in getting through ATS. Many ATS use a Boolean search capability which allows the searcher to combine search terms using AND, NOT, and OR. For example, if a recruiter or hiring manager types “Java AND New York City” into the ATS keyword search bar, candidates whose resumes mention “Java” as a skill and New York City as their location will jump to the top of the candidate list.

Screenshot of LinkedIn Recruiter’s boolean search capability

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 throughout will rank higher on the list than one that only mentions it once. It can benefit you to list top keywords more than once for this reason, but you should be careful not to take part in resume keyword stuffing.

An example of keyword stuffing is if you were to add in your resume “accounting accounting accounting accounting accounting accounting” and change the text to white to hide it. Sure, the ATS will recognize it as a keyword match for “accounting,” but it will also highlight the keywords in context and the recruiter will see it as cheating or lazy.

Creating a “Skills” section on your resume is a great way to include relevant keywords in a natural way. Keywords that hiring managers and recruiters will search for 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 too, but they are better proved in person than on your resume. Soft skills include “hard working,” “team player,” and interpersonal skills.

Read the job posting carefully and notice which keywords are relevant to the position and how often they repeat, since 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.

Applicant Tracking System List

There are hundreds of applicant tracking systems available, but a handful of them are used most often by companies.

Applicant Tracking System Features

Each ATS is different, but most of the top ATS have the same general features. These features include:

  • Resume Parsing: Extract and organize the parts of each resume into structured information.
  • Resume Storage: Once entered into the ATS, resumes remain in the system as possible candidates for future positions.
  • Keyword Search: Recruiters and hiring managers can search by any keyword, often with the Boolean search. Boolean search connects keywords using AND, OR, NOT, and NEAR.
  • Filters: Filters can include the job seeker’s location, the source of your application, how long ago you applied to the company, and whether or not you are a referral.
  • Automated Email Customization: Companies can customize rejection and other emails to ensure that applicants get a response to their application.

Top Applicant Tracking Systems

The market size of applicant tracking system companies is reportedly in the 350 range, though many of them have only a few hundred clients. The potential for market growth is huge since the need for organization of employee information is becoming a necessity for companies big and small since the Internet Applicant Rule was set in place. This is a list of the top applicant tracking systems.


Founded in 2005 and 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.

Taleo Recruiting

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.

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.

Kenexa Brassring

Owned by IBM since 2012, Kenexa planted its roots back in the late 80s. It has been focused on recruitment since 2005.

SAP SuccessFactors

Founded in 2001, but now has over 6,000 customers and over 32 million users from 60 different job industries. It is available in 32 different languages.


Jobvite began in 2006, so it is fairly new for having so much success. This software boasts 1,600 clients and a database of 43 million job seekers all over the world.


Greenhouse was founded in 2012 and has grown very quickly. A few of its major clients include Airbnb, Buzzfeed, Disqus and DigitalOcean.


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.

LinkedIn Recruiter

Born from its namesake cult networking resource, Linkedin Recruiter gives access to its pool of 400 million professionals. Plus, it features 20+ filter options.


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 including Netflix, Yelp, Lyft and Quora.


ApplicantStack comes highly recommended by customers; even more so than the bigger name guys. It puts a major focus on resume parsing and optimizing the online job postings process.


BrightMove is designed by staffing experts, and is determined to keep its ATS up to date with the changing workforce. Maintenance and updates are its main goal.

Crelate Talent

Founded in 2012, Crelate Talent hopes to bring a personal level to applicant tracking. The focus is to maintain a software that mimics the traditional process of sorting resumes as done by a recruiter/hiring manager.


Softgarden, based in Germany, uses an SaaS platform to bring together 10 years of HR experience and research into its ATS.

  • Well-rounded software with a free trial (no credit card needed)
  • Not mobile-friendly


JobScore hopes to simplify the networked recruiting process for the next generation of recruiters and hiring managers. It was founded in 2004 in California.

  • Good system considering it is free
  • Only posts to 25 job boards


More than 1500 small and mid-size companies use Recruiterbox to perform their basic ATS needs. It was founded in 2010.

  • All around great reviews
  • Basic issues, but they are quickly being resolved


BambooHR is great for medium and small businesses because it is easy to use and affordable. Plus, you can get a free 7-Day Trial.

  • Manages new applicants as well as current employees in a company directory
  • ATS needs some work as far as customization

Zoho Recruit

Offering a free trial period, Zoho Recruit helps hiring managers and recruiters utilize job boards and social media to find the best candidates for job openings.

  • Great customization options
  • Poor customer service


Founded in 2010, SmartRecruiters hopes to provide a well-built, affordable ATS option to small and mid-sized companies.

  • Simple and great for social media recruiting
  • Managing external recruiters is challenging, but good for internal management.

Jobscan Learning Center The Jobscan Job Search Learning Series

Part 1: Applicant Tracking Systems
What you need to know about applicant tracking systems and how to optimize your resume for them
Part 2: How to Find a Job
A step-by-step guide to starting and ultimately ending your job search
Part 3: How to Prepare for a Job Interview
A comprehensive guide to nailing the job interview after your optimized resume got you through the door

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