How Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems (With Tips To Pass Through Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Applying for a new job takes careful preparation and planning as you send your resume to potential employers. Before human resource professionals view your application, it often passes through a software tool known as an applicant tracking system (ATS). Understanding how these systems work can help you get your resume through a gateway of computer systems designed to screen candidates and rank them in order of their potential. In this article, we explain tracking systems, give details about how businesses use them and share tips on how you can bypass an ATS to get recruiters to view your resume.

Related: How to Overcome 4 Common Job Search Barriers

What is an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system is a database and software tool used to automate communication, applicant tracking and information storage for job candidates and employers. An ATS also organises information from job seekers by sorting and ranking resumes and storing other communications between the job candidate and the prospective company. Companies of all sizes use tracking systems to recruit new employees. Applicant tracking systems provide human resource professionals with a uniform method for managing the application process and communicating with potential employees.

Why are tracking systems used?

Tracking systems are used to make the recruitment process easier for recruiting managers and human resource professionals. For larger companies, tracking systems have become an essential tool for managing high numbers of applicants. An ATS allows businesses of all sizes to save time by finding the most qualified job candidates for consideration.

ATS systems can be useful tools for recruiters and human resource managers to view all their vital information through one application on a single dashboard. Recruiters use this system to communicate messages to all job candidates. ATS systems schedule interviews, store resumes and send email communications through automated processes.

ATS benefits for employers

Here are more key reasons businesses use an ATS:

  • Simplifying the application process: An ATS collects and organises applications automatically, saving recruiting managers and human resource professionals the time and effort of performing filing and sorting tasks themselves. They can then use the ATS as a database to easily search and access potential candidates.

  • Filtering potential candidates: ATS software can also help recruiters screen their candidates by setting minimum requirements and filtering out those who don't meet their qualifications. These requirements may include years of experience, educational background or particular skills.

  • Sourcing candidates: Because the ATS acts as a candidate database, organisations can identify high-quality candidates who have previously shown interest in the company. When recruiting for other positions, human resource managers can look at existing candidates in their database who demonstrate the right skills and prior experience for the job.

  • Collecting data: Organisations can use ATS software to identify where candidates found their job postings. Hiring managers and recruiters can then use this information to adjust their recruiting activities including expanding their efforts through popular platforms like online job listings.

Related: Tips From a Recruiter: How to Stand Out When Changing Careers

How does an ATS work?

Once job seekers upload their information into an ATS database, the software analyses and stores cover letters, resumes or other communications. Tracking systems act as a gateway between applicants and further stages of the hiring process by scanning for keywords and relevant content in relation to job requirements. ATS computer systems look for candidates with qualifications that closely match what human resource professionals want. Resumes that don't clearly show the required skills and experience aren't sent to the recruiter for viewing.

Tracking systems use programmes to filter resumes for various internal processes like keyword search and job candidate rankings based on specified parameters. Some systems require candidates to answer questions before uploading a resume or cover letter, screening applicants based on their responses. These applicant tracking systems may approve candidates to move further through the recruiting process only if they answer a specific number of questions correctly or in a way that matches what employers specify.

Related: How to Write Work Experience on a CV (With Examples)

Tips to help your resume pass through an ATS

Since an ATS uses filters to screen out resumes, optimising yours may help your resume pass through to recruiting managers or human resource team members. Here are some methods you can use to make your resume more likely to be seen by recruiting professionals:

Use keywords in your resume

Read the job description carefully as you prepare to apply for a position. Find relevant words that match your experience and skills and use them to create your resume. Incorporate keywords into phrases that describe your job history and qualifications. Consider adding keywords to your objective or summary statement. When composing a cover letter, transfer some of these keyword phrases into the body of your letter using similar but slightly altered phrasing.

Adjust your resume for each job

Keep a standard resume as a basis for each application, then modify the existing document to match the keywords and specific directions for a particular job. Include the name of the position and company in your summary or objective. Emphasise the skills and experience that relate directly to the prospective job. Personalise your cover letter, adding the contact name and information specific to the company and the position.

Related: How To Write A CV (With Template and Example)

Keep your resume format simple

Using a concise format can help your resume pass through ATS filters more easily than a heavily stylised or complex layout. Short sections that are clearly organised make your resume readable not only for automated software but also the human viewers in recruiting positions. Add headings and provide brief details in bullet points to explain previous jobs and educational coursework and skills.

Resumes without graphics also help ATS software scan your content clearly. Include your name and contact information in a legible font outside of the header tab in the main document to increase readability for both software scans and human eyes. Using a standard font throughout can also increase readability. Some examples of complex formatting to avoid include:

  • Borders

  • Personal photos

  • Charts

  • Tables

  • Symbols

  • Headers and footers

Upload a compatible file

Some employers provide specific instructions for job candidates. Often, they may ask for particular documents, along with instructions on how to submit those documents. For example, they may ask candidates to send their resumes and cover letters in PDF format. If you submit another file type, the tracking system may have difficulty reading them accurately. When the employer does not provide formatting instructions, consider using the .docx format, which ATS software typically reads.

Apply for relevant jobs

Apply for jobs that closely match your skills and experience. While you can still try to find positions that are not a direct replica of previous roles, emphasise how your main qualifications pair with what employers are looking for in the job posting. Use your summary statement or objective to briefly share your most marketable skills with potential employers so ATS software can still consider you as a possible candidate for the job.

Use a chronological resume format

A chronological resume format emphasises work history by listing your prior experiences in reverse chronological order. Your most recent information appears at the top of the document, typically below your contact information and resume objective or summary sections. When listing job history, focus on the most relevant work experience stated in reverse chronological order.

Although a chronological format is most compatible with an ATS, some job seekers decide to use a combination or functional resume to better display their qualifications. The combination format prioritises your work history while functional resumes focus on your skills. Candidates often use functional resumes when they have little relevant professional experience or employment gaps.

Use acronyms carefully

When reviewing job descriptions, you may identify acronyms that you can incorporate as keywords into your resume. However, the ATS or recruiter may search for these keywords using both long-form phrasing and an acronym. To avoid any confusion, consider using both forms throughout your resume. For example, the job description may seek candidates with SEO experience. Incorporate both the acronym and phrase by writing something like, utilised search engine optimisation techniques (SEO) to improve organic traffic to the company website.

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