The ATS Debate

As a professional in the career field, my LinkedIn is filled with coaches, counselors, educators, and recruiters. My feed has been filled with what I will call the great debate, but in reality, the debate is anything but great.


In this article, I will breakdown both sides of the debate and, in the end, provide you with the truth of what an ATS is, does, and what that means for you, the applicant.



The Debate

The is around Applicant Tracking Systems, and in my opinion, it is tiring. The language used by both sides of the argument is very misleading. Which, in the end, honestly confuses applicants the most.


Let’s break the argument down:


Robot 🤖 = Applicant Tracking System

Human 👤 = any user of the ATS - which varies between hiring manager, HR, recruiter, etc.


Side one: The robot rejects applicants.

Side two: The human rejects applicants.


Both these statements focus on one side and ignore the fact that BOTH the systems and humans are involved in reality. The debate would be far less of a hot topic if we looked at the whole picture.


✅ The recruiter (user) can decide what makes an applicant a best fit, and these criteria are entered into the system (robot/ATS). The system then can parse information from the applications/resumes based on said criteria.


✅ Users can set qualification questions that, in turn, can cause the system to send rejection emails.


So no, robots are not making decisions autonomously. They are systems with settings, inputs, and coding that have the ability to initiate functions (such as sending emails) based on users' discretion. If you get a rejection email from a system, the user has set the functions and made decisions that determined you are not a best fit.


I think this topic is a hot discussion because it creates engagement on posts. People love to argue when, in fact, both are right and wrong. My clients, students, and alums do not believe robots make decisions and think on their own. They understand that computers, automation systems, any system operates based on directions from a user. However, some people may believe a computer is deciding if the resume makes it to the user. In fact, there are countless posts and articles with clickbait titles the tell applicants they have to “beat a robot” or “get the highest score" in an ATS, or your resume will not be seen. These statements are very misleading and simply not factual.


Quick debunking: No ATS hides or deletes resumes. The user has access to ALL the resumes, ALWAYS.

What an Applicant Tracking System Is

The purpose of all Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) is exactly what the name says - the system creates applicant profiles so the company can track you in the recruiting process/pipeline.

What an Applicant Tracking System Does

This brings me to the point that there are many different ATS, each with its own settings or ways of managing the process/pipeline. Here is just a summary of what some applicant tracking systems provide the user with:

  • A match score (many recruiters don't trust the validity of these scores)

  • Buckets based on a percentage match to the criteria

  • List applicants in a table format with columns such as years of experience, education, current job title, expected salary (this information is pulled from your application and/or resume, but most of the time your application).

  • List of applicant profiles (no scores, no buckets, no hidden profiles - just a list)


What this all Means for You the Applicant


The best way to get your resume seen is to be the best fit for the job! It sounds simple enough, but typically, there is one opening and hundreds of applicants. Mathematically, over the course of a job search process, there will be more rejection emails than offers.

The not-so-secrete way to get your resume seen is to be clear in your application/resume how you are a great match for the job.

Do you have questions about ATS or your job search process? Please send us your questions!


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