How to Make Applicant Tracking Systems Work for You

The days when hiring managers and recruiters culled hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes by hand to uncover the best job candidates are long gone. Today, the task is computerized; an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is now frequently used to narrow down the candidate pool to those candidates who meet the requirements of the prospective employer. When you submit a resume electronically today, it goes directly into the employer’s ATS. To ensure that qualified applicants are not filtered out, there are a few things that the savvy job seeker should know:


What You Need to Know About Applicant Tracking System


  1. An applicant tracking system is a software program that stores and organizes resumes, allowing recruiters to screen, sort, track, and rank all the resumes they receive. The system contains database fields for the applicant’s name, contact information, work experience, job titles, education, employer names, and periods of employment. The system then tries to assign the desired data on the resume with the fields in the software.
  2. For each job opening, the employer searches these data fields for the key words/phrases associated with the position by entering specific keywords into the ATS. If your resume doesn’t contain these specific keywords, it will likely be filtered out and placed in the “rejection pile”, which will in turn generate an automated generic rejection email to the applicant.
  3. ATS uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, which simply means that your resume is scanned into the software so that it becomes searchable. During the conversion process, words and letters are sometimes left blank if the program has problems matching the expected information with the fields in which that specific data is stored. ATS has problems, for example, with extracting data from text boxes and tables.
  4. ATS is designed to rank resumes in a variety of ways. Sometimes, for example, high rankings will be based  on the frequency that the keywords and phrases programmed for the job opening  appear, as this is perceived as an indication of how well matched the resume is to the job requirements.
  5. Hiring managers and recruiters rarely see the actual resume until you are invited in for an actual interview. Instead, they typically see a screen view of the information in the database that the ATS has pulled from the resume.


Tips on How to Optimize Your Resume for an Applicant Tracking System


  1. Copy and paste the job ad into or to generate a tag cloud of the ad to identify the core keywords. Make sure that those keywords are on your resume.
  2. Unless specified, do not send your resume as a PDF file, and do not include textboxes, tables or graphics.
  3. Refrain from being creative or clever. Title the section that contains your work experience, “Work Experience”, for example, as that’s what the ATS is programmed to recognize.
  4. Applicant tracking systems are programmed to read company name first, so have your job tenure after the company name and position held.


By understanding how applicant tracking systems work, and adjusting your resume accordingly, job seekers can increase their chances that the resume will not be filtered out for all the wrong reasons.


Rate this article
5 4 3 2 1