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  • Writer's pictureSarah Seavey

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) What You Need to Know

Technology and the internet have made applying for jobs quicker and easier than in the days of mailing resumes. Glassdoor reports that, on average, a corporate job posting attracts 250 resumes, of which only four to six are contacted for an interview.

So how do hiring managers find the best fit for their positions? Companies of all sizes and across industries use a software called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to sift through and organize large job applicants.

An ATS is not only a filtering system but a holistic Human Resource database. Jobscan notes that even if an application isn’t the right fit for a certain position, it remains in the system. Hiring managers and recruiters can then go back into the database and pull up the application for a different position.

What does this mean for you, the applicant?

Like a search engine, a recruiter can search using Applicant Tracking Systems. These systems rank and filter applications by keywords (such as skills, job positions, industry terminology) or qualifications (such as location, education, and years of experience). As an applicant, you should optimize and tailor your resume to fit the job you are applying for. This means first creating an industry resume and then tailoring it to showcase how you best fit that specific employer’s role.

Debunking the myths: Applicant Tracking Systems are rejecting applicants.

ATS is not a machine that blindly chooses or rejects candidates. ATS screen applicants can increase the likeliness of ranking an applicant as a match for a particular job. ATS uses keywords and phrases to contextualize and highlight applications based on criteria provided by the employer. At every stage, the employer has full control:

- The employer chooses the requirements, keywords, and phrases

- The employer can see all resumes submitted

How can I optimize my resume?

The greatest indicators of best fit are the experiences, skills, and responsibilities identified in the job description. We recommend reading through the job description and highlighting key terms, skills, requirements, and skillsets. Then, compare the highlighted areas to your resume. What are you missing? Are the highlighted terms clearly represented to the reader?

If the job description is brief, researching the employer’s website, including the career page, about us and their mission, vision, and objective, is a valuable way to understand the skills and traits that make an applicant the best fit.

To help optimize your resume and ensure it is ATS-friendly, you can use a free website platform called Jobscan. Sites like allow you to compare your resume to a job description and provide a score based on various ATS platforms' aggregate algorithmic data. By doing so, you can see the missing keywords and revise your resume to better match the ATS screening. Jobscan recommends an 80% match, but since job descriptions vary in length and detail, we suggest striving for a minimum score of 36% and an ideal score of 50% or higher.

Is the process completely automated?

Although an Applicant Tracking System has many benefits, it is imperfect and does not completely automate the review process. It is simply software used to ease the hiring manager's job by narrowing the pool of applicants. Hiring managers will review selected resumes and the ATS information before selecting applicants for interviews. Again, the better able you are to tailor your resume and other application materials, the more likely you will score highly and be identified as an ideal candidate.

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