5 Things You Need To Know About An Applicant Tracking System

Man with applicant tracking system on laptop

In the days of old, job seekers had to worry about impressing recruiters with their resume. After all, failing to make a positive impression in the first few seconds would probably end in your resume being rejected to the bin.


Today, human recruiters looking over your resume is placed in second place, behind you having to gain a pass from an applicant tracking system (ATS). According to Preptel, ATS disqualifies 75% of applicants before their resume is even looked at by a human. Clearly, knowing how to optimise your application goes a long way to actually having your resume seen by a recruiter.

To help you better your chances of landing the job you’re after, we’ve highlighted 5 essential things you need to know about applicant tracking systems. Take a look to see how you can optimise your future applications or read more on our Careers blog page.

Why are businesses using applicant tracking software?

While it may seem like employers use applicant tracking software for cynical reasons, in effect it boils down to simplicity. This kind of software enables employers to filter and search through applications in a wide variety of different ways. Essentially, an applicant tracking system will streamline the entire process and help HR departments stay organised.

In addition to this, an ATS will also make it easier for an employer to get in contact with applicants. This is an invaluable asset if companies are dealing with huge numbers of applicants on a regular basis. However, while applicant tracking software was first used by large companies, SMEs are also now migrating towards using this software.

What is ATS and how does it work?

An ATS is software that’s been designed to help businesses handle their recruitment process. They assist HR departments by sifting through hundreds or thousands of resumes and determine which candidates are the best fit for any given role. While a human recruiter will check your resume for spelling and so on, applicant tracking software scans them for specified job-related keywords.

While it may seem like a good idea to pack your resume with a huge number of keywords, this will be flagged as ‘stuffing’ and probably yield you little success. Instead, when applying for a certain role, you need to identify keywords that are specific and include these in your resume.

How is social media playing a part?

It’s become more and more apparent to job seekers that social media can often be a deciding factor in a successful application. Mostly, you have nothing to fear as long as you aren’t posting offensive material or incriminating photos of yourself. It really pays to keep your personal social media accounts squeaky clean or set your privacy options to strict. Even then, it’s best to make sure you project a professional appearance at all times.

Interestingly, professionalism really matters to applicant tracking systems. Some ATS are optimised to trawl LinkedIn, find applicants and search their profiles for the same keywords as they would for resumes. This means that it’s vital to ensure you have a LinkedIn profile and it’s completely filled out with relevant material.

What’s the best way to optimise your resume for an applicant tracking system?

As touched on before, keywords are the best way to optimise your resume and LinkedIn profile. This is very similar to how search engine optimisation (SEO) works for websites. In this case, companies optimise their websites with specific keywords that are designed to catch the attention of search engines and gain websites a prominent ranking on the results pages.

Each company will have a different set of keywords that they are looking to filter in an applicant tracking system. These might be generated automatically by an ATS or they could have been designated manually by a hiring manager. Ideally, you should use a job posting as a reference guide for adding keywords into your resume and LinkedIn profile. In many cases, this provides you with everything you’ll need to boost your chances of getting past applicant tracking software.

Does applicant tracking software hold job seekers back?

Applicant tracking software isn’t something that should hold job seekers back if they follow the rules that now exist. You have to realise that ATS is limited in what it’s able to understand and how it achieves this. For example, you should never send your resume as a PDF file or include graphics as applicant tracking systems can’t understand either of these things.

Going back to keyword optimisation, you now shouldn’t feel restricted to having a short and snappy resume. Take your time and think about increasing the length of your resume and getting in the right keywords. The 1-page trend doesn’t really apply any more thanks to APS.

Finally, only ever list your job experience with an employer’s name, your job title, and then the dates your worked. This will ensure that any applicant tracking software won’t miss this crucial part of your resume. If you’ve been on work experience, remember to name it as such. Using terms like “professional experience” or “career achievements” may be overlooked and cost you the job.

If you’re a job seeker and want to improve your LinkedIn profile, check out our recent blog, 5 Of The Best LinkedIn Profile Tips. Or, read more career advice by heading to our Careers blog page now.