An applicant tracking system (ATS) is software used by companies to assist with human resources, recruitment, and hiring needs. While each system offers a different package of features, applicant tracking systems are primarily used to help hiring companies organize and navigate large numbers of applicants.

After submitting countless job applications without hearing anything back, online job seekers are searching for answers. What they’re discovering is that the software hiring companies use to collect applications is standing between them, a corporate recruiter, and a job interview. These applicant tracking systems make it harder for job seekers to get their resume in front of a decision maker.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

Applicant tracking systems are used by corporations to assist with recruitment and hiring processes. Each system offers a different combination and scope of features, but ATS are primarily used to help hiring companies collect, organize, and filter applicants.

Job seekers who submit their resume and job application through an online form are interacting with an ATS.

Why Do Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems?

The relative ease of submitting an online job application has created a challenge for hiring companies. Online job postings can elicit hundreds of applications, many of which are from unqualified job seekers who figured “it was worth a try.” Instead of sorting through a stack of paper resumes or crowded email inbox, recruiters and hiring managers use ATS to keep themselves organized and efficient. This solution is especially critical for larger companies that are hiring for multiple positions and departments simultaneously.

Among other features, ATS offer CRM-style tools to help streamline hiring pipelines, communication with applicants, distribution of job postings, and proof of government compliance for things like the EEOC.

Why Are Applicant Tracking Systems a Problem for Job Seekers?

Corporate recruiters can have their ATS automatically extract information from an applicant’s resume to build a digital applicant profile that can be searched, filtered, and/or ranked. The goal is to quickly cull out anyone who is under-qualified, make the applicant pool smaller, and quickly identify the top candidates.

Unfortunately for job seekers, most ATS lack sophistication and are not able to search and filter candidates reliably. Some highly qualified candidates fall through the cracks and are wrongfully eliminated from the applicant pool because their resume has formatting issues or lacks the correct search keywords.

This is a necessary tradeoff for many hiring professionals with limited time and resources. In order to get noticed, job seekers must optimize their resume for ATS.

Top Applicant Tracking Systems

There are dozens of ATS used by companies big and small. A few of the more popular ATS include:

  • Taleo (Starbucks, Boeing, Nintendo)
  • iCIMS (Southwest Airlines, Uber, Amazon)
  • Greenhouse (AirBnb, Pinterest, WeWork)
  • Jobvite (Zillow, Spotify, Logitech)
  • Brassring (Disney, GE, Lockheed Martin)
  • Lever (Indiegogo, Lyft, Shopify)

Some large companies develop their own proprietary applicant tracking systems, such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook.

Learn more about applicant tracking systems


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