7 Things You Must Know About Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Applicant Tracking SystemsHere at Jobscan, we published an article about how to make the best possible impression in the ten seconds it takes recruiters to decide whether your resume is destined for the dustbin.

But that advice only applies to those job applicants fortunate enough to have their resumes looked at by actual human beings – a rare occurrence, indeed. Why? Because your resume must first survive the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before a live person even begins to look at what might make you worth interviewing.

To get your resume past the ATS, and into the hands of the humans who will call you for an interview, here are 7 things you must know about Applicant Tracking Systems:

1. What Is an Applicant Tracking System?

An Applicant Tracking System is a type of software that accepts large volumes of resumes sent to an employer, then determines which applicants are the best fit for the positions for which they were submitted.

Whereas human recruiters often look for reasons to reject a candidate, such as spelling errors or lack of relevant skills, ATSs operate by matching keywords in the resume to the keywords they are programmed to accept for the particular position. When a resume hits the minimum number of keywords, that resume is then sent to a recruiter for consideration.

2. Why Do Employers Use Applicant Tracking Systems?

Applicant Tracking Systems save employers significant time while helping them stay organized and, some believe, remain objective. They were first used by large corporations that receive thousands of applications; in recent years, however, smaller businesses have also started using ATS.

Just as employers use software applications to keep track of relevant information on their customers, using software to organize information on prospective employees also makes sense. Here is how a typical ATS dashboard looks:


Catsone ATS Jobscan


3. What About Social Media?

With professional networking once again becoming a major factor in the job seeking process, social media now plays an increasingly important role with ATS. The prevailing sentiment is that having a social media presence helps more than it hurts, assuming a job seeker understands the importance of presenting a professional image online. That means  including basic details about their education, work experience, and the skills (shown as keywords) mastered.

Of course, getting past the ATS requires more than just a matter of not posting pictures of your drunken exploits on Facebook. Some Applicant Tracking Systems can be programmed to “read” social media sites such as LinkedIn in the same manner they “read” databases of prospective employees. In other words, they look for the same keywords on the social media site that they would look for in the database.

4. Is Customization THAT Important?

Yes! You’ve been told that you must tailor your resume specifically for each job application you submit. Now you know why! Every employer is looking for certain qualifications – and you must find out as much as possible about the organization to which you are applying.

Also important: You must understand the key terms and phrases used by your chosen industry, the common software tools used, the education required and much more. The job description is a great start, but don’t stop there; also look at the social media profiles of the company and key employees; check out reviews of the company and products on sites like Glassdoor; and read the annual reports of the company and their competitors.

5. How is ATS Like Search Engine Optimization?

Search engine optimization is the process by which creators of web content tailor their web pages to make search engines notice them first – and therefore to make them appear higher on the list of search results. As already discussed, matching keywords is an important part of how search engine optimization, and an ATS, works. If your website, LinkedIn profile and/or online portfolio contain the keywords the recruiter asked the ATS base their search upon, then you will appear in the search results.

This is where our company, Jobscan, comes in; we help analyze the words in the job description against those used in your resume. Our goal: greatly increase your chances of securing an interview.


resume keyword optimization


6. You Must Avoid the Fluff

When Applicant Tracking Systems look for keywords, they are usually looking for certain concrete details in your resume. If you are applying for a job as the manager of a hotel restaurant, for example, the Applicant Tracking System may look for phrases such as “restaurant manager” and “hotel restaurant” or for the word “hospitality” in the education section of your resume.

The Applicant Tracking System will probably not look for words and phrases like “outgoing” and “team player”. Same goes for words like “innovative” and cliches like “detail oriented.” In other words, the ATS is only looking for relevant facts — and fluff words only serve to reduce your chances of success.

7. Are Applicant Tracking Systems Friend or Foe?

On one hand, Applicant Tracking Systems make the recruitment process much more streamlined for recruiters. On the other hand, ATS has been blamed for creating what many call “The Resume Black Hole.” So, to answer the “Friend or Foe?” question, we typically only have to look at which side of the interview table you sit. Recruiters can’t live without ATS. Candidates feel it greatly slows down, and dehumanizes, the job search.

But here’s the deal: ATS is here to stay. And you must know how to work with the system, rather than fighting it. And, whenever possible, you MUST do everything you can to work around the ATS; for instance:

  • Networking directly with the recruiter or hiring manager
  • Schedule an informational interview with someone who works at the company already
  • Become an enthusiastic employee referral; who do you know at the company now? Who will recommend you when a job comes open?

With all of this knowledge about how Applicant Tracking Systems work, you can now approach your job search with a much stronger focus on research, industry knowledge and – of course – keywords.

Good luck with writing the newest version of your resume. Here’s hoping your next application gets you past the ATS, and into the hands of a hiring decision-maker!


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at JobScan!



???????????????????????????????About the Author: James Hu earned his bachelor’s of Information Systems and Finance from University of Washington. Before becoming the Founder and CEO of Jobscan, James enjoyed work experiences at Boeing, Microsoft, Groupon, Kabam Games, and a start-up of his own. Having already worked in the United States, China, and Spain/Gibraltar, James truly integrates a global mindset into his career. In his free time, he enjoys water sports and backpacking. Follow James on Twitter.

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