Applicant Tracking Systems And How To Get Past Them

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Shorter Version


Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Applicant Tracking Systems add another layer of complexity to your job hunt. Not only do you need to impress recruiters and hiring managers, but now a computer system is another hurdle to overcome when applying for jobs.

Though this is a harsh reality, it is crucial for you to know that three-quarters of job applications are tossed out before a human ever sees them. According to TopResume, 75% of resumes are not even seen by an actual person.

If you never heard back from a job that you applied for over a month ago or got rejected even though you’re a great fit for the position…

It’s not you, it’s not the hiring manager or Human Resources, it’s the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

Applicant Tracking Systems are programs used by 98% of Fortune 500 companies and other employers to help screen applications. These systems scan resumes for contextual keywords and phrases, and then score them using an algorithm based on relevance to the job from the job description. Next, the system sorts the strong candidates from the weak, organizes them, and sends only the most qualified applications to the hiring department.

How to get past the ATS

The good news is, it is not hard to beat these bots! It just requires some time and effort during the application submission process.

Keep in mind that these systems are not looking for the best person for the job. They are simply trying to eliminate the least qualified candidates. Here are 6 steps to follow to beat the ATS:

  1. Simple formatting – Steer clear of fancy fonts, elaborate bullet points, graphics, logos, or images. Stick to Sans Serif fonts, traditional text, round bullet points, and keep it simple.
  2. Customize your resume – Do not use a generic resume to apply for jobs. Tailor your resume to every single job you apply for.
  3. Use keywords – Incorporate phrases and skills from the job description; add these to your resume.
  4. Upload Word documents if possible – ATS reads plain text Word documents most easily.
  5. Avoid the header and footer areas – Place your name and contact info outside of the header or footer so the system can properly identify you.
  6. Test it out – To determine if your resume is compatible with an ATS, convert your resume to a plain text document and see if it is formatted correctly. If not, make adjustments accordingly.

Skip to Actionable Steps




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Longer Version


Est. Reading Time: 4 Minutes

If you are on the job hunt, take a seat and buckle up because a new player has been added to the game. Not only do you need to impress recruiters and hiring managers, but now a computer system is another hurdle to overcome.

Consider this…

Does the following scenario sound familiar? You find an awesome job to apply to and spend hours researching the company, completing the application, and submitting it. One week passes…no word. Two weeks go by…still nothing. A full month comes and goes…crickets. You have applicable experience, a good resume, and a solid cover letter. So, how can this be?

Though this is a harsh reality, it is crucial for you to know that a whopping three-quarters of job applications are tossed out before a human ever sees them. According to TopResume, 75% of resumes are not even seen by an actual person.

If you never heard back from a job that you applied to over a month ago or got rejected even though you’re a great fit for the position…it’s not you, it’s not the hiring manager or Human Resources, it’s the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Hurdles in the job hunt

Let’s cut right to the chase. Gone are the days of reviewing resumes (with human eyes) right off the bat.

Job applications are almost 100% online these days, making the employment process more convenient for both the employer and applicant. When your application gets dismissed quickly, you can’t help but wonder if your resume was even reviewed at all.

The convenience of applications being 100% online comes at a price for employers. Employers often get hundreds of applicants for one job alone, so it is simply not realistic for each resume to be reviewed individually. In addition, many applications are weak, underprepared, or do not include experiences relevant to the field. Hence, Applicant Tracking Systems came to fruition.

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

98% of Fortune 500 companies, as well as countless other employers, use Applicant Tracking Systems to help screen applications. Essentially, these systems will scan resumes for contextual keywords and phrases, and then score them using an algorithm based on relevance to the job from the job description. Next, the system sorts the strong candidates from the weak, organizes them, and sends the most qualified applications to the hiring department.

By sorting through hundreds of applications to ensure only qualified applicants are continuing to the next phase of the hiring process, these systems undoubtedly save employers time. It also means that, unfortunately, it is possible that your application can get thrown away before a person reviews it (unless it meets the exact criteria of the ATS). 

The good news is, it is not hard to beat these bots! It just requires some and time and effort during the application submission process.

How to beat the system

Keep in mind that these systems are not looking for the best person for the job. They are simply trying to eliminate the least qualified candidates. Here are 6 steps to follow to beat the ATS:

  1. Simple formatting – Steer clear of fancy fonts, elaborate bullet points, graphics, logos, or images. ATS cannot interpret information in a decorative font and will reject your application immediately if the system deems it unreadable. Stick to Sans Serif fonts, traditional text, round bullet points, and keep it simple.
  2. Customize your resume – Do not use a generic resume to apply for jobs. ATS will screen you out if you aren’t intentional with your word choice, so it’s extremely important to tailor your resume to every single job you apply for. How do you do this? See #3 below.
  3. Use keywords – Incorporate phrases and skills from the job description into your resume. You can use free services like Wordle to help you assess which keywords are best to prioritize. *Note: do not go over the top with this to try and outsmart the system so your resume scores higher. This is because the system will be able to pick up on overboard keyword usage. Also, if your application does move forward, the hiring manager will not be impressed that you are simply regurgitating the job description.
  4. Upload Word documents if possible – ATS reads plain text Word documents most easily. Some of the older ATS programs struggle reading PDFs so, unless the application specifies otherwise, play it safe and use Microsoft Word documents.
  5. Avoid the header and footer areas – Some ATS can understand and process information located in the header and footer sections, others cannot. Therefore, place your name and contact info outside of the header or footer so the system can properly identify you.
  6. Test it out – To determine if your resume is compatible with an ATS, convert your resume to a plain text document. Copy and paste the full contents of your resume and review it. Make changes in order for your resume to comply with the ATS.

To sum it all up

The ATS likely weeded you out if you received an automated rejection email within 24 hours of applying for a job or are simply not hearing back at all. It is not hard to beat these bots, so keep your chin up. But, make sure you go the extra mile before submitting your job applications so you can land those interviews!

Actionable Steps


1

Go the extra mile when applying for jobs

Customize each resume to the specific job you are applying for so you are not weeded out by an ATS.

2

Review it

Double check your formatting and keep it simple. Adjust your font and bullet points, remove any images, and don’t put any text in the header and footer.

3

Test and pivot

Test it out and adjust accordingly. If your resume is not compatible with ATS, then make changes before you submit.

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About the Author


Dr. Alyssa Harmon-Salter

Dr. Alyssa Harmon-Salter

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership

Alyssa holds an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. For the last 7 years, she has coached hundreds of college students on how to be successful academically and in prepping for a job.
Full Bio | LinkedIn


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