Resources for Individuals
Applicant Tracking Systems: 5 Things You Need to Know
In order to have a human review your resume, you are likely first going to have to make it past an applicant tracking system, or ATS. This is a software application that streamlines the recruitment process for employers by sorting through resumes and determining which candidates are the best potential matches for the role. While hiring managers typically look for reasons to reject candidates, including spelling errors or insufficient experience, applicant tracking systems look for reasons why a candidate could be a match—including the presence of keywords specific to a particular position. Below are answers to five common questions about applicant tracking systems.
1. Why do employers use applicant tracking systems? In a word: simplicity. Applicant tracking systems receive, store, and sort resumes, and offer a number of ways for them to be searched or filtered. In addition, many applicant tracking systems can be used for the entire hiring process, from recruiting to onboarding. Using one tool to manage the whole process—and not having to worry about filing or shredding paper, or losing track of or deleting emails—makes sense for employers. Using an ATS helps a company save time, stay organized, and streamline a cumbersome process with many moving parts. It’s no wonder they’re so widely used.
2. How do applicant tracking systems work? Each ATS on the market works slightly differently, and has different features and functions. In general, though, a resume submitted through an applicant tracking system is “read” by the ATS database. The ATS is programmed to spot certain keywords and traits specified by the employer, such as degrees, skills, or years of experience. Employers can even indicate specific schools their ideal candidate would have attended, or specific companies an ideal candidate would have worked at. If a candidate’s resume has the keywords and qualities an employer wants, the ATS indicates a good potential match. An ATS can also be used to search a company’s database of previously-submitted resumes. So if you applied somewhere for one job, but didn’t get it, your resume could still get searched and pegged as a good match if you have the desired qualifications when a different position opens up.
3. What role does social media play? Most job seekers today know that their social media presence has the power to help—or hurt—their job search. Social media’s power to help your job search is extensive, assuming you abide by some basic rules—such as not posting pictures of yourself drunk on Facebook, and not tweeting racist or misogynist comments. (Yes, some people do still need these reminders.) A professional and polished social media presence can help you network with others in your field, and establish yourself as knowledgeable about your industry. Additionally, some applicant tracking systems are capable of “reading” social media sites in the same way that they “read” resumes of job applicants. Many applicant tracking systems even connect directly to LinkedIn, and can browse individual profiles for the same keywords that they search resumes for. If you are a job seeker who doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile, or if you have one but have barely filled it out, you could be missing out on some great opportunities. Keywords can be added throughout your LinkedIn profile, including your headline and summary. Using them increases your chances of getting noticed.
4. How can you optimize your resume for an applicant tracking system? The process of optimizing your resume is similar to the process people use to optimize their website content—known as search engine optimization, or SEO. Tailored web pages get noticed by search engines, and listed highly in the search results. Similarly, tailored resumes get noticed by applicant tracking systems, and ranked highly in the candidate pool. In both processes, keywords are important. When someone types a search term into a search engine, the results are web pages containing that search term. When a hiring manager searches submitted resumes using an ATS, the results are the resumes containing that search term. Anticipating the search terms—the keywords— that will be used by the hiring manager is the key to getting your resume noticed by an ATS. Use the job listing itself as your source material, and find the keywords you should be using. Then run your optimized resume through a resume analysis tool, such as Jobscan, to get instant feedback on how well your resume is matched to the job.
5. Do applicant tracking systems hurt or help job seekers? Many job seekers complain that applicant tracking systems are nothing more than “resume black holes.” If you are submitting resume after resume and not getting responses, then your resume likely doesn’t contain any, or enough, of the keywords associated with the jobs you’re applying for. If you have one version of your resume, and submit that for every job, applicant tracking systems are more likely to hurt you than help you. The likelihood of getting noticed with a generic resume is just too low. But if you research a company and a specific role before applying, you can target your resume to that job individually. Including the right keywords on your resume dramatically increases your chances of getting noticed—and offered an interview. If you present yourself as a candidate well-matched to a specific job, your resume will get through the ATS and read by the hiring manager on the other end.