What Are Applicant Tracking Systems? (Including Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 17 November 2022

Published 27 July 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.

After posting an open position, a recruiter or hiring manager may gather the resumes they receive and review them to determine which candidates they want to contact for an interview. It's common for companies and recruiting firms to use applicant tracking systems to streamline and automate this part of the hiring process, so they can onboard a new employee quicker. Understanding these systems can help you submit application materials that meet employers' standards and needs. In this article, we explain what are applicant tracking systems and provide tips you can use to pass them.

Related: Tips on How To Find a Job

What are applicant tracking systems?

To understand what are applicant tracking systems, ATS is a human resources software that employers often use during the recruitment and hiring process. This software collects, sorts and ranks the resumes they receive. When applying for jobs, your resume may not go directly to the hiring manager. Instead, it may first pass through an ATS. This software helps companies streamline their resume review process by collecting information about each candidate based on their resume, then organising applications based on the candidate's experience and skills. This step enables recruiters and hiring managers to filter for the most qualified candidates.

With an ATS, managers and recruiters can rank candidates and compare them to each other. They can then focus on the candidates who rank the highest and match well with the job description and required or preferred qualifications for the role. Employers can also use certain keywords to search through the applications that the ATS software stored. They often use keywords from the job description, especially particular skills, job titles and responsibilities.

Related: Why Creating Multiple Versions of Your Resume Works

Why do you need an applicant tracking system?

While candidates usually don't use an applicant tracking system when applying for a position, knowing how they work can be beneficial. With this knowledge, you can write a resume that passes the ATS scan, so a hiring manager can review your application and determine if you're a top candidate they want to contact for an interview. Because ATS software helps decrease the amount of time hiring managers and recruiters spend reviewing resumes, you may also receive the benefit of a quicker hiring process.

Why is an ATS used in recruitment?

Employers use applicant tracking systems during recruitment, so they can collect essential information about candidates and organise everything in one place, rather than individually review every resume that each candidate submits. Companies may use this information to manage other hiring process activities, such as scheduling interviews and performing reference checks. Here are some reasons companies often use these systems during recruitment:

  • Filter potential candidates: ATS software allows hiring managers to input the minimum qualifications they want from candidates and the ATS can filter out those candidates who don't meet them. They can set requirements for education, years of experience, specific skills or licences and certifications.

  • Source candidates: more than being a filtering software, ATS programs also act as a candidate database, helping hiring managers review candidates who have submitted their resume for other positions. They may find previous applications that match the skills and experience for the job.

  • Gather job posting data: organisations can also use ATS software to identify where candidates found their job postings, and recruiters can use this information to adjust their recruiting activities. If a particular job board is popular, hiring managers may focus their recruiting efforts there, or they may develop ways to get more applications through less popular websites.

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

What are the top applicant tracking systems?

There are many applicant tracking systems, each of which has certain features and benefits for a recruiting team. At larger organisations that receive hundreds of applications for a position, it's likely that your resume may go through an ATS before a hiring manager reviews it. Here are some of the top applicant tracking systems employers use:

  • PeopleStrong

  • SmartRecruiters

  • Nala Employment

  • Workday

  • Taleo

  • Cornerstone OnDemand

  • ServiceDott

  • Enable Business

Tips for getting your resume through an ATS

When applying for a job, your application may pass through an ATS before the hiring manager or recruiter sees it. Building an ATS-friendly resume can help you move to the interview stage of the hiring process. Explore these tips to write a resume that helps an ATS read and organise your information correctly:

Related: How to Write an ATS Resume (With Template and Example)

Include exact keywords from the job description

One of the most effective ways to pass an ATS is to use the same keywords from the job description in your resume. It's likely that the recruiter has set the minimum requirements using these same keywords, and if they appear in your resume, you may have a greater likelihood of getting through to the next round. Ensure that the keywords you use actually apply to your professional experiences, so you're accurately representing yourself, as hiring managers may ask you about your qualifications during the interview.

You can also use as many keywords as applicable to your work history and skills. Because you can't be sure of which keywords the hiring manager or recruiter may focus on when they're building the requirements in the ATS, more keywords in your resume can help you pass.

Related: What Are Resume Keywords? (Definition and How to Use Them)

Follow directions

There's usually a reason employers have certain instructions for applications. This could be so that they have an easier time opening your resume with their word processing software, but it could also be because they have parameters set in an applicant tracking system. You may find that employers ask for specific application documents in a particular file format, such as a .docx or PDF. Using another type of file can make it hard for the ATS to read what you have in your resume, and it may not understand that you have the qualifications the employer is looking for.

Following directions can not only ensure that an ATS accurately reads your application documents and ranks you accordingly, but it shows the hiring manager that you pay attention to important details.

Write simple resume headers

Even though more original resume headers for your work experience, resume summary, skills, education and certifications may show your creativity, use the standard heading labels for each section of your resume. This makes it easier for an ATS to read and interpret your resume content. Using creative headers may confuse the software, and it may have a more difficult time attributing the skills and professional experience you have to the role.

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a Resume

Submit a new resume for each position

While you may apply for the same type of role at multiple companies throughout your job search, it's important to adapt your resume for each position. Even though the basic qualifications may be similar, it's likely that each employer has included certain keywords and specific responsibilities that the others didn't. You can vary the language in each copy of your resume, so you're including details in your application that the employer has in the job posting.

Explain acronyms

Hiring managers probably understand the acronyms that are popular in your industry, but in order for applicant tracking systems to identify them, a company representative usually has to include the acronym in the keywords. Because hiring managers and recruiters may use the acronym or the long-form phrasing of the term, consider including both in your resume, so an ATS can notice it, despite what an employer may submit. For example, if you have experience with SEO, you may include "Search engine optimisation (SEO)" in your skills section.

Incorporate simple formatting techniques

You may want to include tables, charts, headers and footers and borders on your resume, but doing so can make it more difficult for the software to read and organise your information. This can adversely affect your resume's performance during this part of the hiring process. Instead, use bold formatting, bullet points and larger fonts for headers, so your resume remains easy to read for both ATS software and hiring managers.

Use standard fonts

If you're able to enhance your resume's readability, you have a higher chance of the ATS passing your application to the hiring manager or recruiter. Part of a resume's readability is in the fonts you choose to use. Most applicant tracking systems read sans-serif fonts better than serif ones, so consider using fonts like Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma and Verdana.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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