/Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Explained

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Explained

When applying for a job in today’s job market you should really try to go the extra mile to make yourself stand out above the other applicants. You will most likely be competing against hundreds of other job seekers for the same position, and due to the sheer number of applications, hiring managers typically are only able to review a small portion of the resumes submitted. In order to reduce the number of potential resumes, almost all HR departments utilize ATS screening. If you don’t get past ATS your resume will be automatically discarded, and will never be seen by an actual person. So in order to succeed in today’s job market you need to customize your resume, so it is not discarded before someone even looks at it.

The ATS, or Applicant Tracking System, is a software application that scans through the job description and extracts key terms the employer is looking for. These could be skills needed to do the job, education and background required, or any licenses or certificates the employer desires that applicants have. The software will then go through the job description and compile a list of key terms, and rate them on importance by how many times they might be used. This ranked list of key terms will then be matched against a prospective applicant’s resume, and the resume will be scored, based on how many of the terms found in the job description are also on the resume. Based on how well the key words in your resume match the key words in the job description, your resume will be given a specific ranking. To be given further consideration you will most likely need to rank as the best 15 to 25 percent among the other applicants.

This process presumably saves the hiring manager from having to go through the tedious task of having to carefully check each resume to make certain the job seeker matches the experience, background and education requirements for the role they are seeking to fill. The downside is many people will fall through the cracks if their resumes don’t have the specific skills listed, exactly as they appear on the job description.

As an example, let’s say a position seeks someone knowledgeable in Word, Excel, Outlook and TCP/IP, among other requirements. The ATS will scan for these terms in the resume, and increase the score of the resume if these exact terms are found. If the terms don’t match exactly, your resume’s score may get dinged, even though you do have the skill listed. If for example you were to put TCP-IP, instead of TCP/IP, it might not be recognized. In other words, the wording in your resume needs to be an exact match to the job descriptions.

Although this may prove time-consuming, the best way to get your resume to be among the top 15 percent, is to essentially take the job description, and re-write your resume to match it. Of course you should make sure to only put down the terms that are relevant to your background and experience. As an example, if one of the things they are asking for is that you have extensive background in ‘PHP Web Development’ and you have absolutely no idea what that is, you certainly should not list the term. If, for the most part, you do meet the background requirements for the job, but perhaps lack one or two of the terms listed in their requirements, you might still be able to pass the ATS Screening, but if you have a whole lot of these, you might be better off moving on to another job listing.

Your resume should also be formatted simply. It is usually best to submit it in Word format, and have a straight forward layout with no fancy graphics, tables or pictures. Although at one time it was considered trendy to put a self-portrait in your resume, I would advise against it, not only because it might confuse the ATS system, but also many employers now require pictures be stripped from resumes so hiring managers cannot be accused of discarding resumes based on the person’s appearance (age, race, etc). If after uploading your resume to a job site, everything is auto-filled properly, your resume is most likely in the correct format for ATS. If in doubt about how to format your resume, I would recommend filling out your background info on LinkedIn, and exporting your resume from them. It will not look fancy, but it will be readable to ATS. Although there was a time when a fancy eye-catching resume was a winner, it can be a complete failure if ATS doesn’t scan it.


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