Applicant Tracking Systems: A Detailed Guide for Job Seekers

The applicant tracking system (ATS) is a human resources software used to process job applications if you apply for jobs online. This guide shows you how to make your resume ATS-friendly and how to make it stand out from other candidates. You will also learn what is the best job search app to help you stand out in your application and get more interview calls.

What Is Applicant Tracking System

In human resources, applicant tracking systems (ATS) are software programs that act as databases to store and track job applicants' data. Companies use ATS to put in place a system that helps their recruitment team find the top talent painlessly. Although different ATS software have slightly different functionalities, but all of them serve a single purpose: Organize recruitment teams, help recruiters find top talent, increase likelihood of a successful hire, and most importantly save them time. This is why almost all the Fortune 500 companies use ATS in their recruitment department.

Recruitment and hiring managers need an ATS to make their lives easier. In most companies, there are many positions available at one time, and hundreds of applicants apply for each post. With so many resumes in their hands, it is not practical for hiring managers or recruiters to carefully review everyone.

This is why companies deploy automated screening software to do the heavy lifting in their recruitment workflow. ATS software automates most of this workflow saving recruiters time and avoiding human errors.

When applying for a job, make sure your resume is tailored to the position. You can do so flawlessly with NextJobPro.

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

There are hundreds of applicants tracking systems, all with unique characteristics. Each of them parses, ranks, and filters your resume differently. No matter how different each ATS is, the basic process is the same.

When an applicant sends resume, ATS receives it and does two things:

  1. Knockout candidates who do not meet a certain criterion
  2. Rank qualified candidates based on how closely their skills in resume match with the skillset requirement for the job

Knockout Stage

If you have filled-in an online job application, you are familiar that you selected several checkboxes and typed answers to few questions there. These are “knockout questions”. Your responses here are evaluated against a certain criterion. This stage narrows the applicant pool by rejecting any applicant that does not meet a certain criterion.

ATS will flag or auto-reject resumes that don't respond satisfactorily to any of the knockout questions. Your resume will go on to the next round if you answer the knockout questions correctly.

Here is the second stage!

Automatic Ranking of Applicants

The applicant tracking system may compare your resume to the job description and rank applicants based on how closely it matches the job description. Instead of reading through every resume, recruiters can focus on top-ranked candidates.

Applicant Tracking System Features

Though there are a wide variety of ATS, they all share many general characteristics. These include:

Resume Parsing in ATS

Right after the applicant sends the application or resume, ATS scans the application and collects useful information in the form of keyword. For example, if applicant’s resume mentions “python”, “SQL”, and “React” in resume; ATS stores three keywords against your resume.

Here is the point:

Even if applicant has quite a number of skills, but if these are not appropriately listed in the resume, in ATS world applicant is not skilled.

And also:

Even if applicant’s resume stated 15 years of experience in web development, ATS thinks you have “web development” skill and not the “python”, “SQL”, and “React”.

The first principle in ATS resume parsing is to scan applicant’s resume, collect the skills, and store in a gigantic database.

Most of the resume which are either not compatible with ATS or if necessary skills are missing, are straight away discarded from the applicant pool or in some case these applications are ranked lower.

The qualified candidates with most skills rank higher. These applications get the eyes of recruiting and hiring managers and often contacted for the interview.

Applicant Tracking System provides tools by which recruiters can even search all the database of applicant for some specific skill. Say, if recruiter want to filter all applications where applicant have “python”, “react”, and “Github” experience; it is just a matter of few clicks and all the candidates are filtered in seconds.

The recruiter or hiring manager can also take notes on each candidate or star them.

Automatic rankings:

All the applications that ATS receives are processed in two stages. First is the knockout stage in which applicant’s responses are evaluated against “yes” or “no”.

The second stage is to rank the qualified candidates based on how closely they match with the skillset requirement for the job. This process is done automatically with the help of AI Powered tools these software employ.

Resume Storage

Once applicants send resume, ATS saves them in database and stay there even after the position has been filled. Due to the fact that ATS store resumes, it is possible for candidates to be contacted for a different job with the same company in the future.

Keyword Search

Recruiters and hiring managers can search by any keyword, often with the Boolean search. Boolean search connects keywords using AND, OR, NOT, and NEAR.

ATS users can search resumes stored in the system by using keywords. The keywords are typically the same words used in a job posting. Based on skills, experience, location, former employers, or work experience, they may determine how to evaluate candidates.


Filters can include the job seeker’s location, the source of your application, how long ago you applied to the company, and whether or not you are a referral.

Automated Email Customization

Companies can customize rejection letters and other emails to ensure that applicants get a response to their application. If you have received an instant rejection response, just know it was most likely from ATS.

Social Media and ATS

Some ATS software can search through social media channels for keywords. And as many companies utilize this feature, you might just get contacted about a great job if your LinkedIn profile includes keywords relevant for the job you want and your work experience.

The Benefits of ATS System for Companies

With the internet making job applications faster and easier than ever, applicant tracking systems help ease the workload of recruiters and hiring managers. A saved resume and one click are the only requirements to apply on job board sites like Indeed and LinkedIn.

With an application process like this, job postings receive far more applications than hiring teams can possibly review. Despite their shortcomings, applicant tracking systems are a good way to drill down on top candidates quickly.

Here are few benefits that organization reap by employing ATS system:

  • Speed up recruitment process
  • Elevate candidate experience
  • Facilitate collaborative hiring
  • Easy interview scheduling
  • Reduce time to fill
  • Improve quality of hire
  • Lower cost per hire
  • Assist in finding candidates
  • One-click job posting to multiple job boards
  • Mitigate bias

How to Check If A Company Is Using ATS System

Companies of all sizes can utilize applicant tracking systems, but they're particularly useful for firms who regularly hire employees for various positions or receive a high number of applications per vacancy.

On a broader term, any organization that processes 1000 resumes or more in a year, would most likely be using ATS.

If an organization has a complicated hiring process or encounters problems in recruiting and administrative processes, such organizations would also be using such ATS software in their hiring workflow.

An applicant tracking system can reduce the time it takes to fill a position significantly. As a result, companies that experience difficulties managing a large pool of applicants will benefit greatly from the streamlined selection process.

If the job advertisement on any job board redirects you to a page to fill in your application, you are most likely encountering an ATS.

Almost all the fortune 500 companies use ATS software. If you happen to apply in these companies, just know your application will be evaluated first by ATS.

How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

As a modern job seeker, you should optimize your resume for ATS. If you fail to pay attention to keywords, formatting, and other ATS-friendly elements, qualified candidates will slip through the cracks.

To beat applicant tracking systems, here are a few tips:

Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description

Modern job searches do not work well with one-size-fits-all resumes. The best way to be identified as a great candidate is to customize your resume for each job. Make your resume headlines relevant to the role and emphasize your most relevant skills and experience.

check this out: How to get your resume noticed by employers

Match resume keywords with job description's skills

Pay attention to the keywords you include on your resume so that you can optimize for ATS search and ranking algorithms. Most of the time, keywords are hard skills listed in the job description. You should include as many of these in your resume as you can. You can automate this process by using NextJobPro ATS Resume feature.

Use Long-Form and Acronym Versions of Keywords

Recruiters and hiring managers can search for candidates by keywords. ATS may only return exact keyword match results, so your profile may not appear in a recruiter's search for the term "SEO" if you included "Search Engine Optimization" without its acronym counterpart.

Use Chronological or Hybrid Resume Format

In applicant tracking systems that analyze resumes based on traditional reverse chronological format, formats that omit work history, such as functional resumes, don't work well. Chronological and hybrid resume formats are also well-known to recruiters. This is why stick to chronological order and use hybrid resume format.

Don’t Use Tables or Columns

The use of tables and columns may improve readability for humans, but can also introduce parsing errors. The data inside the tables could be lost costing you your career. Never use tables in your resume.

Use a Screen-Friendly Font

If you want to make your text easier to read, use a traditional serif or sans-serif font. Applicant tracking systems may change unfamiliar fonts on your resume, affecting the overall appearance. There is also a possibility that keywords will convert to different spellings, resulting in parsing errors.

It is possible for the converted format to affect the overall appearance even if the spelling is correct. As a result, your resume would pass the ATS criteria, but would lose credibility when evaluated by an actual person.

Don’t Use Headers or Footers

Within ATS, any information in headers and footers may cause parsing errors or get lost. Don’t use headers and footer in your ATS resume.

Follow A Standard Format For Resume Headings

Applicant tracking system work well with standard and well-known headings. For example, “Work Experience” parses correctly as compared to “Where I’ve Been”. This is why always use standard and well-known section headings.

Save Your File as a .docx if Possible

Almost all the ATS work well with docx file. Some others parse correctly the PDF format too. But to stay on the safer side and wider acceptability, it is better to stick to docx format.

How To Make Sure Your Resume is ATS Compliant

It is imperative that job seekers become familiar with applicant tracking systems, and that their resumes are tailored to the job posting. Follow the instructions from the above sections to make applicant’s resume ATS friendly.

Popular Applicant Tracking Software

It is estimated there are 350 companies in the applicant tracking system market, though many have no more than a few hundred customers. Organizing employee information has become a necessity for companies large and small since the Internet Applicant Rule was passed. This opens up tremendous growth potential for the market. This list shows the top applicant tracking systems on the market.

  1. Taleo
  2. iCIMS
  3. Workday
  4. Jobvite
  5. Greenhouse
  6. Bullhorn
  7. LinkedIn Recruiter
  8. Lever
  9. Recruiterbox
  10. Breezy HR

Should You Send ATS Compliant Resume To Company That Does Not Use ATS Software?

Yes, you should. Your main objective is to gain an interview spot. To do so, you need to convince the evaluator that you are the right candidate for the job in order to gain an interview spot.

In the first scenario where you made your resume ATS compliant, you are basically telling the ATS that your skills are relevant to the requirement. In this way, if the evaluator is a real person, you are telling him or her you are a suitable match.

You must make sure that your resume demonstrates that you have the required skills in both cases. This can be demonstrated by tailoring every job application to incorporate skills mentioned in the job description.

With these skills on your resume, it does not matter whether an ATS or a person assesses you, you will pass the criteria. Therefore, you should make your resume compliant with ATS, which makes it compliant with manual reviewers by default. Reverse is not true!

Bottom line: Make your resume ATS compliant to pass both the ATS and manual reviewer.

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