Applicant Tracking Systems: What Every Job Seeker Needs to Know

Technology is changing the hiring process for business owners, human resource directors, hiring managers and recruiters alike. For the first time, software is helping them find, track, reject and hire candidates via an automated process that cuts time and money. And, at the heart of the technological revolution is the Applicant Tracking System.

It’s important that job hunters understand what an Applicant Tracking System is and how it works, so they can make sure that their resumesdon’t slip through the system without having reaching an actual human.

What Is an Applicant Tracking System?

In short, applicant tracking systems help companies find, sort through, eliminate, track and recruit employees. They process resumes submitted by applicants and they sometimes also use social media to recruit prospective employees. Essentially, they’re a massive time- and money-saver for a lot of companies, big or small.

“Applicant tracking systems were first used by large corporations that receive thousands of applications, but smaller businesses are now using them just as frequently,” according to Jobscan. “Just as companies use software applications to keep track of relevant information on their customers, using similar software to organize information on prospective employees makes sense for employers.”

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

When applicants apply for a job online, all of their essential contact information, relevant experiences, educational backgrounds, resumes and cover letters are uploaded into the preferred system’s database and, from there, can then be transferred from one part of the system to another if the candidate does indeed move along through the hiring process.

To break it down further, here are a few things that applicant tracking systems do.

  • They sort through thousands of resumes to determine which ones are the best fits for a particular position, in the same ways that recruiters glance at resumes. While recruiters will often cut resumes because of typos or irrelevant experiences, Applicant Tracking Systems can narrow down resumes by looking for keywords.
  • Applicant tracking systems enable companies to track where candidates found their job posting, whether it be on a job board, directly from a company website or through a referral or another source. This information is vital to companies to know where they should focus their recruitment efforts to find their most desirable candidates going forward. The data can help them reduce or eliminate time-sucking and costly efforts on platforms and through sources that show little success.
  • An integrated Applicant Tracking System may allow companies to post listings to multiple sites and job boards with a single submission, rather than spending the time and money to post multiple ads.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems can break down the data in resumes in a standardized format where it can be quickly reviewed, since resume styles are mutlifaceted and sometimes difficult to follow.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems can enable hiring managers to add notes to candidates so they can keep personal tabs on them.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems can send out tests for those who make it through and rejection letters for candidates who don’t.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems can schedule interviews for applicants who make it through to the next round of the hiring process in an easy, automated way.

Ultimately, using an Applicant Tracking System can make candidates’ information more easily accessible, searchable and organized.

How Do I Get Past Applicant Tracking Systems?

While Applicant Tracking Systems can help employers, they can be intimidating for job applicants who might not know how to get around them. Nearly 40 percent of employers use an Applicant Tracking System, which means that “most companies have thousands of resumes sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at,” and 75 percent of resumes are never seen by a real person, Josh Bersin, principal at HR consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte told CIO

Moreover, 62 percent of companies using Applicant Tracking Systems admit “some qualified candidates are likely being automatically filtered out of the vetting process by mistake,” according to a joint CareerArc/Future Workplace survey.

Despite the odds, job hunters can do their best to work with Applicant Tracking Systems so that they make sure their resumes are the ones making it through to human eyes. They only need to adjust their Applicant Tracking System resume.

What Is an Applicant Tracking System Resume?

An Applicant Tracking Sytem resume is a well-written resume that’s been optimized to meet the demands of the ssoftware that collects, sorts, scans and ranks all job applications. This resume is packed with keywords, uses clear fonts and symbols, and is overall clean and easy to follow.

Why Do I Need an Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Resume?

Resumes need to be easy to read in all regards. “Some applicant tracking systems have trouble reading serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Cambria,” Oracle Resumes President Dustin Polk told CIO. For example, Serif fonts have small marks added to their letters, while the recommended Times New Roman R. Sans serif fonts don’t.

“Older applicant tracking systems gather their information with ocular character recognition (OCR),” Polk explained. “Serif fonts could mess [the software] up… Use Calibri or a similar sans serif font.”

Beyond fonts, any aesthetic touches to a resume should be easy to follow. Bullet points should be perfectly round. “Opt for the circular-shaped symbol or something similar,” she said. “Avoid using arrows or other intricate symbols for your bullet points, as many applicant tracking systems will translate those into a garbled mess.”

Likewise, when an Applicant Tracking System searches the skills and experiences sections of a resume for specific keywords, it’s looking for exact matches. That’s why’s applicants are urged to mirror the keywords in a job listing in their resume, and they’re encouraged to carefully, thoughtfully and deliberately tailor their resumes to specific job openings for which they’re applying. In fact, applicants should be rewriting their resumes every time they apply for a new job, lifting the words and phrases from each job post’s expectations and requirements.

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