[Career Coach 101] ATS: Understanding the Applicant Tracking System!

Are you understanding the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and the role it plays in the new automated recruitment process? Many job candidates don’t! And that can be a major hurdle in conducting an effective job search. Applicant Tracking Systems have become a key tool to support the recruitment process in most organizations. You need to understand the function of this software package and how it can affect your job application  to be effective in your job search.


The Applicant Tracking System is a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment needs. First of all, the ATS automatically filters applications. It uses criteria such as keywords, skills, former employers, years of experience and schools attended. Most organizations use ATS systems due to the large volume of applications. The ATS will manage the large volume of applications by analyzing, categorizing, interpreting, and summarizing the documents you submit with your job application. It creates a profile of each applicant based on the information extracted from each application. Recruiters and hiring managers review applicant profiles and, as a result, select candidates for interviews based on this initial analysis.


Applicant Tracking Systems are designed to look for specific keywords and types of backgrounds for advertised positions. Candidates might slip through the cracks of the system and not get noticed if they are switching careers. There can also be technical issues. Some systems will eliminate candidates if they can’t interpret a scanned resume properly. A resume that seems slightly different than what the system is programmed to understand can be ignored. Similarly, another resume which is more complex than what the ATS can interpret can also be ignored. The result of the initial scan depends on which ATS is scanning your documents. There are many versions of this software. You are shooting at a moving target!

what this means to you

The Recruitment Process is designed to screen job candidates and select the right candidate. The screening is based on relevant skills and experience, among other factors, based on a job description. As a result, you need to modify your resume based on those requirements and skills in the job description. The modification process will provide better alignment. It will give you a higher probability of getting your resume past the ATS to get an interview.

is there a workaround?

In a previous post I highlighted the importance of job search networking. At least 60% of all jobs are found by networking. Job search networking can sound intimidating and sometimes seems a little bit scary. It is, however, one of the most successful ways to find a new job, In summary, you have a much higher probability of getting a new job by networking. However, most job candidates simply focus on the online application and screening by the ATS.

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