Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS): Practical Tips to Beat Them

What Is an ATS?

Applicant tracking systems—also known as resume screening software, candidate management systems, or resume robots—assess a candidate's resume, CV, interview skills, and application, all before they are seen by an employer or interviewer. Using an ATS is a way for employers to weed out undesirable candidates from a large pool of applicants.

Applicant tracking systems are typically offered in two versions—enterprise and small business. But, regardless of format, they assess and measure the same things—pre-determined keywords.

For example, if you are applying for a manager's position, the ATS will scan your resume or CV for keywords like "oversaw," "managed," "years of experience," or something of that sort. However, if your resume says "subordinate," "was led by," or "second-in-command," the ATS has the potential to weed out your application because the content doesn't match the job description or what the employer is looking for.

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The drawback to this system is that even if you are qualified for a job, if your resume and CV don’t reflect that, then your chances of being hired are very slim. Additionally, you are not able to explain or expand upon your answers, or even yourself, the way you would with an employer or recruiter. With this is mind, it's crucial to have your resume, CV, interview answers or clips, and assessments right on target.

ATS in the Hiring Process

It's estimated that 70–80% of large companies utilize an ATS, while smaller businesses utilize it about 50% of the time. Typically, an ATS is implemented within the first stages (resumes, CVs, video interviews, questionnaires, and applications) of the hiring process. This way employers can weed out the unsuitable candidates and focus on those who are qualified. To make your resume interesting to the employer, you can use a resume website builder.

Post ATS is typically made up of assessment tests, in-person interviews, assessment center days, and/or background checks.

Typically, after an applicant encounters and passes through an ATS, he or she will undertake assessment tests, exams, or interviews. The assessments, which can include aptitude tests, cognitive ability tests, personality tests, and skills tests, cover a range of topics that vary in difficulty. Additionally, candidates may face multiple interviews in a variety of formats: in-person, video, or telephone. Therefore, it's highly advised that candidates prepare for each element of the hiring process.

Various applicant tracking systems are used in the hiring process: 

Oracle Taleo iCims Jobvite IBM Kenexa BrassRing ApplicantPro ApplicantStack ATS OnDemand
Avature Avesta Balancetrak BambooHR
BirdDog BreezyHR Brightmove Bullhorn
Cangrade CareerBuilder CareerPlug CATS
Cegid Cepal TalentHire Ceridian ClearCompany
Comeet Compas Conrep Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD)
Corvirtus Crelate CRI (Candidate Resources) Decision Toolbox
Deltek Dynamic ExactHire Google Hire
gr8 People Greenhouse Software Hirebridge
Hiredesk Hireology Hiretouch Homegrown
HospitalityOnline HR Locker (Hirelocker) HRWeb Humanic ATS
Hyrell iApplicants ApplicantOne ADP
Infor Interview Exchange iRecruit Software Jazz HR
JobDiva Jobscience Jobscore Advorto
Kronos Lever Luceo Lumesse
Micron Systems Monster MyRecruiter (Rullion Solutions) MyStaffingPro
NeoGov Newton Software Njoyn Onboard IQ
OneRecruit Onewire Oracle Other PageUp People
Paychex Paycom PCRecruiter PeopleAdmin
PeopleCapital Peoplefluent PeopleMatter Peoplexs
Pereless Prevue Recruitee
RecruiterBox Resumeware SAP/SuccessFactors Select International
Silkroad Simplicant SmartRecruiters SmartSearch
SmashFly Snaphire SpeediARMS/SpeedWare StaffingSoft
Symphony Talent Talent Reef AcquireTM The Applicant Manager
Tribepad Ultimate Software/UltiPro Unicorn HRO (iCON) VibeHCM
WebHR Workable Workday Zoho Recruit

 Who Uses an ATS?

Various enterprises, businesses, and companies utilize applicant tracking systems: 

Amazon Best Buy Disqus Beans & Brews Fedex
Microsoft Hershey Rite Aid Continental Airlines Pepsi
Target Macy's LinkedIn Whole Foods Market Starbucks
Coco-Cola Groupon Etsy Spotify TiVo

Additionally, some jobs that almost always use an applicant tracking system during their hiring processes are telemarketers/call centers, accountants, real estate agents, and pilots.

Furthermore, companies like Apple, Google, Netflix, and Facebook all have an "in-house," customized ATS specific for their companies.

How to Beat the ATS?

Echo Key Phrases from the Job Description

The best indication of the key phrases employers are looking for, via ATS, are typically found within the job advertisement or description.

Employers want employees who fit their requirements and job descriptions, so by including matching or similar phrases in your CV, resume, cover letter, or video interview/questionnaire answers, you will help the software comprehend and understand that you possess the relevant skills or credentials for the job.

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It is important to note that applicant tracking systems only look for the words that they've been given and assigned. For example, if you use a specific technical term that the software hasn't been told to look for, it won't register as a match. Therefore, to avoid mistakes and increase your odds of perfect matches and registered keywords, write acronyms out, but with the acronym in parentheses, e.g. Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Additionally, applicant tracking systems can tell when sections of job descriptions have been copied and pasted into a CV. Moreover, it's also important to avoid stuffing your CV or resume with key words. Mentioning each word or phrase two or three times should be sufficient. If you mention them too often, your CV can be red-flagged, which will result in it being rejected.

Use Standard Headings

If you use a non-standard heading, the applicant tracking system will have a difficult time recognizing this section.

For example, if you write "What I Have Done" instead of "Employment History," the applicant tracking system will not be able to recognize this section and the content and keywords within it will not count toward the overall analysis of your CV. This will increase the odds of the software flagging your CV, which usually results in it being rejected. 

To avoid this, stick to safe, commonly used headings. By doing so, the software will check the context for keywords that can potentially "add to your overall score" (how many matches you have/how compatible you are).

Format Your CV Conservatively

Using fonts that are unusual can easily mess up the software. The safest typefaces to use are Helvetica, Arial, Times New Roman, and Calibri. Similarly, center or right justifying your CV could throw off the system. You should also refrain from adding colors, images, tables, and graphs. These aforementioned graphics are capable of being misinterpreted by applicant tracking systems, with potentially disastrous consequences. While the result will be a CV that is less exciting to look at, it will at least stand a chance of being read by employers/recruiters.

Go Over Your CV/Resume/Answers

Going over your CV, resume, or answers is vital to beating the ATS. However, you will still need to impress employers and recruiters. Therefore, once your CV/resume/answers have been optimized to your satisfaction, go back through them and make sure they are fluent and engaging.

For more interview and assessment test preparation and tips, check out JobTestPrep's Interview PrepPack™ as well as various employer and profession-specific PrepPacks™.

Why Do Employers Use an ATS and Why Should You Care?

Employers use applicant tracking systems for a variety of reasons, but there are several main ones:

  • Saves time – By using an ATS, employers can easily eliminate under-qualified candidates and focus on ones who are actually qualified for various positions.
  • Saves money – By using an ATS, employers can eliminate the time spent on hiring (some companies waste 30–50 hours on reviewing applications alone, and this is before the assessment and interviews) and turn the "saved" time into profits by properly training new employees to match company standards/protocols/procedures.
  • Prevents lawsuits – By using an ATS, potential hires are ranked and chosen based on their skills and background, not their gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, or appearance.

As more companies begin to utilize applicant tracking systems, the more likely it is you will encounter them as well. Therefore, it's important to understand what the ATS is really looking for, how to manipulate the system in your favor, and how to beat an ATS while still presenting yourself in a professional and honest way. By doing so, you will ensure that your application is seen by human eyes—the employer or the recruiter—and that it therefore makes it onto the potential candidate or interview list.

ATS Preparation with JobTestPrep

JobTestPrep offers a plethora of resources to help you ace a wide variety of assessment tests and different types of interviews (in-person, telephone, or video). First and foremost, the resume scanning tool can help you at understanding if your resume is a good match for the job, and what you can do to improve it. Utilize the recommendations to set your resume apart from the competition in the eyes of the ATS and recruiters alike.

Additionally, JobTestPrep is in the process of creating an ATS PrepPack™ that will provide tips and preparation methods to help you overcome the obstacles of an ATS, thus ensuring a higher chance of securing your desired job. Start preparing today and apply with confidence.


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