Applicant Tracking Systems: What job hunters need to know

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 17/09/2018
Job searching on laptop

You may have imagined that a human resources manager has been assigned the task of carefully reading your resume during the first step of a job application process. In fact, it’s much more likely that an applicant tracking system (ATS) is sifting through the hundreds of resumes being received. And unless you know a bit about how they work, your resume could quickly end up in the digital bin.

Here’s an overview of applicant tracking systems, and what you need to do to give your resume the best chance of making it through the robot to a pair of human eyes!

How does an ATS work?

When they were introduced in the 1990s, applicant tracking systems were primarily the province of large organisations. Now, smaller businesses use them too, across most industries.

The software works by scanning resumes for keywords related to the job, employers, universities, qualifications, skills and experience, and ranks resumes in order of relevance to recruiters.

So what can you do to ensure your resume passes through the ATS sifting process with ease?

Keywords are the first step

In the same way as search engines look for web content with specific words, so too does an ATS.

Include keywords from the job ad, and do some research on the organisation’s communications to see what terminology and language they use.

Try to find company employees on social media with skills and qualifications that are similar to your own. Check whether your keywords and theirs match, particularly if your industry uses buzzwords.

Clear, simple writing

In a competitive job market, it is tempting to want to emphasise your suitability for the role, and this can sometimes lead to people going a bit overboard in their resume writing.

There is no need. Instead, keep your resume straightforward. For example, if you are applying for the role of a lawyer, be sure to use the words “solicitor” or “lawyer” rather than “legal eagle”.

Check for errors, avoid shortcuts

Don’t lessen your chances by making typos or spelling mistakes, and don’t use acronyms when listing your qualifications. If you have a Bachelor of Arts degree for example, don’t write BA when outlining your educational background, as the ATS won’t get what that means. For all it knows, it could mean baggage attendant.

This could result in your resume never seeing the light of day with your prospective employer.

Text is king

While you might want to “pretty up” your resume with images, graphics and photographs, resist that urge.

An ATS is only looking for text, and your resume will likely end up in a cyber black hole if you include anything fancy.

Some systems may also have difficulty reading certain fonts – who knew? Times new roman, arial and courier are generally considered to be fairly safe choices. It’s also important to avoid using symbols which could possibly confuse the ATS.

Beating the ATS at its own game

The ATS is here to stay, so it’s important to learn to work with them (or outsmart them!) The good news is that ATS software is improving all the time, which means your job application may one day be less of a duel “against the machine”.



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