What No One Tells You About Applicant Tracking Software

I know, it’s another article about ATS.

If you’ve done your due diligence, which I’m sure you have, you’ve found so many resources online talking about ATS that you’re head is swimming.

I want to help you get hired faster, and the simple truth is that ATS determines how quickly you’re going to get hired if you’re only applying for jobs online. One of my favorite statistics to toss at job seekers is that you’ll be hired 8 times faster when you network and use LinkedIn than just applying to jobs online.

And yet, the majority of job seekers stick to job boards and online job applications.

Just make sure you know exactly what ATS is, how it works, and how to beat it before diving headfirst into your next online job application!

What No One Tells You About Applicant Tracking Software | Off The Clock Resumes

What ATS Actually Is

The acronym ATS stands for Applicant Tracking systems, but I prefer to call it Applicant Tracking software since that’s all it is. Software.

This software is usually a part of a much larger cluster of software used by businesses to help run various areas including accounting, compliance, inventory, and so on. More often, though, this software is a part of a general Human Resource Management software that manages benefits, employee records, performance management and so on.

What no one tells you about Applicant Tracking software is how common it is.

This software is used by 98% of midsize to large corporations and by more than half of small businesses. It’s almost a requirement for businesses because the average job attracts 250+ applications from those who are employed but looking for a new and better job, just graduating college, and displaced or unemployed from all over the world.

That’s a lot of resumes to read through, and most HR teams need the help.

How ATS Actually Works

Here’s the quick summary of how most Applicant Tracking software works.

The HR team drafts up a job description for posting online based on the hiring needs they are told about (usually by a team lead or department manager). Before posting the job online, they use the ATS to create a questionnaire (application questions) and tell the software which keywords they want the resume to possess based on the job posting (the Qualifications/Requirements, Skills, and traits that describe an ideal candidate).

When you apply for the job online, your information (either from your application answers, uploaded resume, or LinkedIn profile) is collected and stored in an electronic form within the software. The software then ranks the candidates based on the keywords found in their application

What no one tells you about Applicant Tracking software is how few candidates will actually have their applications and resumes looked at by a human reader.

Maybe the top 10 ranked candidates will have their resumes reviewed. Out of those candidates, maybe only the top six will get a phone screening interview. Out of those candidates, maybe only the top 2-4 will get an in-person interview.

This is why targeting your resume and optimizing it with the keywords found in each job posting is so important.

How Intuitive ATS Actually Is

Applicant Tracking software isn’t all that bad, though. It’s been around since the 90s, and it’s evolved so much since then. It’s evolved the most in the last five years with the growth of technology and artificial intelligence.

Applicant Tracking software has a bad reputation for being archaic and difficult to get through, and it was for a long time. You had to use certain file types. You couldn’t have any design elements like color or font styles. You had to use the exact word tense used in the job posting…

Well, some older ATS will still require you to use the exact word tense used in the job posting.

What no one tells you about Applicant Tracking software is how intuitive it has become.

The newer, more modern ATS being adopted by companies is using artificial intelligence to read key messages as well as keywords. For more insight on how to write your resume for a specific job posting, you can use a resume scanning tool like Jobscan to identify which ATS the company is using and get tips that are specific to that ATS.

What Your Application Answers Tell ATS

I mentioned already that ATS is collecting more information from you outside of your resume or LinkedIn profile. The application questions are linked to the ATS to provide details that wouldn’t necessarily be on your resume.

Employers ask questions on applications because they’re looking to see how well you demonstrate your skills and experience. These can be conversation starters for an interview. You’ll also find eligibility questions and cultural fit questions. These are commonly known as “knock-out” questions.

What no one tells you about Applicant Tracking software is often the software is programmed to eliminate candidates based on their answers to certain questions.

Some of these knock-out questions will relate to employment terms such as, “Are you interested in working full-time, part-time, or either?” and “Are you available/willing to travel X% of the time?” Another common knock-out question will ask your salary requirements.

Make sure that you’re answering these questions as honestly and as advantageously as possible. Leaving blanks can also eliminate you.

What Your Resume Tells ATS

Isn’t it frustrating when upload your resume for an online application, and then you have to fill out your work history AGAIN? There’s a reason why.

When companies started using ATS, they didn’t educate job seekers on how it works and how to write a resume that it will read correctly. So, job seekers kept writing resumes as best as they can. Applicant Tracking software didn’t help companies organize the information from resumes correctly as anticipated, so employers started asking for the information in the application questionnaire as well.

What no one tells you about Applicant Tracking software is how you lay out the information in your resume will determine how correctly your information is read, collected, and stored.

While your resume design doesn’t matter as much to ATS, your resume layout does. Applicant Tracking software will read your resume from left to right, so columns will cause issues. Applicant Tracking software also can’t read text in headers, footers, tables, or text boxes either.

Applicant Tracking software CAN pick up on similarly formatted sections so consistency is key. If you list the company name and location together, the software is more likely to recognize that it’s an employer. If all of your position titles are in bold font beneath the company name and location, they will be recognized and so on. Dates are another important detail to format consistently.

Which Keywords ATS Looks For

I don’t know how to stress the importance of keywords any more than I have. Let’s break this down again. Keywords are words and phrases in the job posting that indicate the qualifications, skills, and traits that an ideal candidate should have. You must have these keywords in your resume to be a top ranked candidate in Applicant Tracking software.

Remember earlier when I said ATS is more intuitive than job seekers realize?

What no one tells you about Applicant Tracking software is it’s looking for the frequency and placement of these keywords, too.

Keywords found on the first page of your resume are weighted heavier because this implies to the software that the experience is recent and the skills are up-to-date; however, ATS can calculate how many years of experience you have in a particular skill and weigh those keywords heavier when placed throughout your work history.

This is why it’s so important to use short paragraph job summaries beneath each job you held in your Experience section!

You also can’t add a paragraph of keywords to the bottom of your resume and make it invisible with white font. Applicant Tracking software will see that. It’s called “keyword stuffing” and will get you eliminated from consideration.

Keep Applicant Tracking software in mind when designing and writing your resume, but remember to write for a human reader as well.