Applicant Tracking Systems
Applicant Tracking Systems are the first obstacle you generally face when applying for jobs and usually referred to as ATS. Essentially, they are an automated way of sifting through large volumes of applications to quickly filter out the unsuitable candidates.
What is an applicant tracking system?
They are systems that collect and sort CVs when you apply for a job online. You may think a recruiter or HR manager is looking at your CV, but no, in all likelihood it’s first being processed by an ATS, and whether a human being ever sees your CV could depend on how well your CV is optimised for ATS algorithms.
Why do employers use ATS?
Applying for a job online is now so easy that employers can get hundreds of applications, many from people taking the “shotgun” approach to applying, so many of these applicants are unqualified for the role and are just hoping that something will stick.
Applicant tracking systems help keep everything organised for the recruiter, and in theory they also save time by automatically highlighting the most suitable candidates. So, they save time, but they can also miss suitable candidates.
Applicant tracking systems are everywhere
If you’re applying to a large organisation, chances are you’ll face an ATS. If you’re applying through any online form, you’re applying through an ATS. Even job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn have their own built-in ATS.
How applicant tracking systems work
Applicant tracking systems collect and store CVs in a database and then automatically compare your CV to the job description. Some recruiters will look at every application that comes through, but it will often just be a quick glance of job titles and employers, so it’s vital that your skills, job roles and qualifications are easily identifiable.
The ATS will scan incoming applicant CVs, highlight the ones that it’s algorithms think are the best match, and forward those to the recruiter/employer to shortlist. If your CV gets to that stage, there is a good chance they’ll contact you.
The secondary use of ATS is as a database of potential candidates that can be searched by a recruiter. Pretty much every time you apply for a job you will end up in a searchable database and a recruiter will use that by searching for key skills and job titles.
A search can contain multiple terms and they can perform a complex search that contains a combination of titles and skills, such as:
Administrator AND data entry AND sage …
If you can predict the correct CV keywords and insert them into your CV, then you will have the greatest chance of being included in recruiter search results.
You can do this by identifying within a job advert the job title(s) and the skills and experience they are looking for, and then making sure your CV reflects this.
CV formatting matters in ATS
When you apply for a job online, the recruiter probably will not see it, and the ATS will parse the document into a digital file to make things uniform and searchable.
Some ATS parsing software is poor, and key information in your CV can be lost completely, or appear in strange places, and the CV the recruiter sees can look awful.
You need to keep section headings simple, avoid tables, do not use the header or footer and do not use columns. Simple is good.
Can you beat applicant tracking systems?
Getting past an ATS and landing a job interview requires a well-written CV that considers ATS algorithms and the people making decisions.
Here are some of the things you can do to maximise your chance of beating the ATS:
- Tailor your Profile and Key Skills to match the job advert.
- Make sure the key words and phrases used in the advert are in your CV.
- Use both the long-form and acronym version of keywords (e.g. “Master of Business Administration (MBA)” or “Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)”) for maximum visibility.
- Use a reverse chronological CV.
- No columns, tables, text boxes or header and footers.
- Use a modern typeface like Calibri or Arial.
- Use standard section heading like “Career History” rather than something clever like “Where I’ve been”.
- Save your file as a .docx if possible, and if not, use a PDF.
Do not over-optimise for applicant tracking systems
Optimising your keywords and formatting for applicant tracking systems is a necessity these days, but do not think you can trick ATS algorithms by stuffing your CV with keywords. You can do this not just in your CV, but also by using white text of the key words which is invisible to a human eye but is picked up by ATS.
This sort of thing might get you past the initial ATS screening, but it will not impress a recruiter as your CV will read like it’s written by someone with no sense of grammar. We have all seen this done on websites where key phrases are repeated so many times it becomes nonsensical.
ATS is here to stay
During the last recession (2008-2009 just in case you’ve forgotten!), employers were flooded with applications and needed features that discouraged and filtered out unqualified candidates. This led to many of the bloated application processes and indiscriminate filters found in ATS today.
An ATS-optimised CV is your first step in getting past the bots and face-to- face with an actual person for an interview.
If you need help with optimising your CV, send it to us for a free review and we will give you objective personal feedback on your existing CV.