What Job Seekers Should Know About Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant Tracking SystemsJob seekers often lament over the lengthy application processes they must endure to apply for only one job. They go through applications several pages long, cover letter writing, and document formatting to get materials submitted. Why do companies make this process so lengthy and cumbersome?

Three words: applicant tracking systems.

Otherwise known as ATS software, applicant tracking systems are used by companies to manage the large volume of resumes and applicants they receive for each open position. In fact, each open position garners an average of 118 applicants. This is a large number of applications for any one person to sift through, not to mention if there are several positions open at a company. Thus, ATS software has become the norm.

Because this software is meant to pre-screen job applicants, weeding out job seekers who don’t meet the lengthy job requirements, it’s easy for job seekers to fall victim to the ATS. But if you understand how ATS software works, you can use it your advantage.

ATS software thrives on keywords and phrases.

While you should never overload your resume with job-specific keywords, being cognizant of these keywords and phrases can help ATS software flag your resume. The best way to do this is to customize your resume to every job description, making your resume more relevant. Whether you’re a marketing specialist, web developer, or software engineer, there are skills and titles relevant to your industry that will commonly show up in searches. Hone in on these keywords.

Follow all of the directions in the application, large and small.

I know, these applications can get pretty lengthy. But think of this as one of the ways the ATS is trying to weed out job candidates. With that in mind, be sure to fill out everything in the job application, whether it’s “required” or not, so the ATS has more ammo to flag your application as a match. Didn’t attach a cover letter? Well, for all you know, a cover letter was an unofficial job requirement (meaning, they didn’t list it in the description but are using the lack of a cover letter as a way to weed out applicants) and not attaching one automatically puts you in the “no” pile, regardless of how well you fit the position.

Simplify your resume.

Make sure you’re submitting materials in the appropriate, requested format. For example, you may have an awesome PDF version of your resume, but make sure you have a simplified Word version available, too. Many ATS’s allow you to upload your resume and automatically pull information into the appropriate application fields. But if your resume is laced with fancy layouts, images, and fonts, it often botches that upload and makes it difficult for the ATS to read your resume details.

Don’t fall victim to ATS software ignorance. If you’re truly a good fit for a position and you use the ATS intelligently, you can get your resume to the top of the pile. But if you’re worried your resume isn’t getting seen, find the hiring manager’s email or mailing address and send a copy of your resume with note stating it’s your second submission.

Good luck!

Guest Expert:

Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the instructor of Find Me A Job: How To Score A Job Before Your Friends, author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010), and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.

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  1. Scott says:

    With all these ATS supposedly in place, it shouldn’t be a problem for recruiters to have the common decency to acknowledge receipt of each and every resume and to advise all unsuccessful candidates that they have missed out. It staggers me how often recruiters fail these two basic actions. Sadly, many so-called “employer of choice” companies also struggle with this. There are a number of recruiters and companies that I have experienced repeated unsatisfactory dealings with on this front, for whom I will no longer consider applying for their roles. It may be tough finding a job, but if companies can’t handle these initial touch points in a way that suggests they actually care about their employees, then I don’t want to work for them no matter how dire my employment situation is.