Yet despite how common they are, most people outside the hiring world don’t really understand what an ATS is or does. More importantly, they don’t know how to “beat” the system - get their resume where it needs to be.
This post will explain how ATS software is used and what you can do to take advantage of it.
What is an ATS?
An ATS is exactly what it says in the name. It is a system used for tracking applicants. This means it’s basically a series of folders and categories used by hiring managers and recruiters to sort through applications and move them along the process.
This means that the interview scheduling, the recommendations, the job offer - they all happen in the ATS. It’s important to realize that an ATS is not a robot making decisions on its own, it’s more of a tool used by human managers to make their job more efficient.
So if a recruiter tells you to fill out a job application online, that’s not a brush-off. It may actually be the first step to getting you in the system and getting the process rolling.
There are hundreds of different kinds of ATS that have unique systems and specialties. While they all share similar basic features, they don’t all have the same method for scanning, ranking, or filtering your resume.
What about Keywords?
Most ATS systems use resume parsers/keyword scanners, but not all of them are set up to make a “pass-or-fail” judgment. Instead, some of them will scan the keywords into a database, which recruiters and managers can then search through and select candidates.
For example, a job opening for an Android Developer might receive 500 applications in one day. A recruiter can pick terms they care about such as “testing”, “UI”, or even just “Android”, and search the applications for those terms, selecting the ones with the best match to move on.
Other ATS may use a “ranking” system for applications. This means they will generate a numbered list of applications whose content best matches the keywords that the employer needs.
Lotte van Rijswijk
Remember, getting through the keyword scanners does not guarantee you the interview. Otherwise your resume would just be a list of terms. Just using keywords isn’t enough, you have to also use them in context - using the sentences and bullet points to prove you know what you’re talking about.
How do I get through the ATS?
The best way to get through the keyword scanners and software is to bypass them altogether - by using targeted networking to identify contacts that can assist you in getting your resume in front of the right people.
Barring that, here are some tips to help your application travel through the process and get you to the interview and offer phase faster.
Tailor Your Application: Your basic resume should contain most of the skills and keywords required for a position already, but it’s important to closely analyze each position you apply to and see what you’re missing. Use a scanner like our PerfectMatch system to compare your resume to the description.
Keep It Simple: Tables, images, and columns can all make your resume difficult for the software to parse. Keep your resume simple, using a chronological or hybrid format, and using traditional fonts. Use common headings like “Work Experience.” Save your file as a .docx format whenever possible.
Write for Humans, not Robots: Even at major companies, eventually your resume will be seen by human eyes. Make sure your resume tells your work story and presents you the way you want. Go beyond the keyword list and prove you’re good at your role.
Finally, keep in mind that ATS programs are completely out of your control. You have no way of using what ATS system a company uses, how they use it, or even if they do.
A more effective (and healthy) approach is to spend less time worrying about the system and more time focusing on what you can actually control. You can control the information you put into a resume, you can control your relationships with recruiters and contacts, and you can control how much you know about positions or companies.
ATS programs are a huge part of the hiring process, but in the end, they’re basically just automated filing cabinets. Understanding their usage is important, but you don’t have to fear some merciless rogue robot making decisions without human input. Tell your branded story and use keywords in their proper context, and you’ll move through those files quicker than you ever imagined.