How Employers Use Applicant Tracking Systems and How to Write a Resume to Beat Them
Hcareers / NOVEMBER 23 2020

Currently, 98% of large organizations use an applicant tracking system (ATS) as part of their recruitment process. They are used by companies to help their hiring team manage and organize their hiring and recruiting process. The information an ATS pulls for an employer is used to screen candidates, test applicants, schedule interviews, check references, and fill in new-hire paperwork. 

How does an ATS work?

When you send your resume through a job posting, it goes directly to the company’s ATS if they are using one. Your contact information, experience, educational background, resume, and cover letter are uploaded into the database and the information can then be moved through the system as candidates move through the hiring process. 

Recruiters or hiring managers can review the applications, send out automated messages, and give online tests. They can then schedule interviews or send out rejection letters, and finally, human resources personnel can use the ATS information to put the new hire into payroll once they are hired. 

Some ATS can automatically compare your resume to the job description and then assign rankings for how well candidates match the job descriptions. The recruiters or hiring manager can then decide to only view resumes with a certain ranking to narrow their search down. 

How ATS use keywords

One of the most common ways recruiters or hiring managers filter resumes through the ATS is by searching for key skills and titles. 

If a recruiter is searching to fill a housekeeping position out of 400 resumes, their first step will be a search for “Housekeeper” or “Housekeeping.” This will draw out the resume of people who have held that specific title. Unfortunately, in this instance, if you don’t have that exact term on your resume, then you will not be picked. 

However, a search can include multiple terms, so do not lose hope! A recruiter may decide to search for a combination of title and skills important for the position, such as “housekeeper” and “leadership” and “customer service” which could still pick your resume out if you match any of those terms. 

If you are able to predict what keywords the recruiter will search for, you will increase your resume being picked in the search. In order to correctly predict the keywords, use the job posting, and include what skills you have that match the ones listed in the posting. 

How to create a resume that gets noticed 

The first step in getting your resume through to the ATS is making sure to follow the directions in the job posting. Include all of the documents that it lists (resume, cover letter, work samples, etc…), and pay attention to the document types they accept (PDF, Word). Approximately 43% of resumes are submitted with an incompatible file type.

Using more traditional formatting will increase your chances of your resume being read and transcribed through the ATS. Some systems have trouble reading overly designed resumes, so it’s best to use simple headings and consistent formatting for your previous job experiences. Stay away from using graphics or tables in your formatting. 

Bullet points are also a great method for highlighting and organizing your accomplishment and qualifications on a resume. Make sure to use the traditional bullet point option. Available instead of a graphic or intricate character to ensure it is compatible with the ATS.

Use keywords that match the job posting. This can be very specific, and it’s best to use the words exactly as they are listed in the posting, such as using Microsoft Word instead of Microsoft Office. A computer is not able to infer that you know all of the programs if it reads Microsoft Office and won’t be used in your favor. 

Buzzwords, such as organized or self-starter are not considered keywords, which are also nice to include but just be sure to include them where it is appropriate and won’t hinder the ATS from reading your real keywords. 

As a bonus, you can run a quick test on your resume to see if it is ATS compliant. You can copy the content from your resume, paste it into a plain-text document and review the results. If the plain-text version is missing details from your original format, looks disorganized, or characters saved incorrectly, then assume it won’t make it through an ATS.