How to Navigate the Infamous Applicant Tracking System

How to Navigate an Applicant Tracking System (Get Past the Robots!)

Have you ever applied for a job and felt like it took forever for the hiring manager to reach out to you? Do you often not hear back from them at all? Well, you may be surprised to find out that your resume and cover letter might not even be reaching the hiring manager’s eyes!

The process that a job application goes through before it gets to the employer that posted it goes deeper than most job seekers are aware of. Often, employers use advanced software known as an “Applicant Tracking System” (ATS) to assist in their hiring process. Applicant Tracking Systems save employers time and money by doing most of the heavy lifting involved with sorting through the resumes, cover letters, and other attached documents in job applications before they even get to a human. So, this leads us to the question, “How do you navigate or get past an Applicant Tracking System, and guarantee that an employer will see your application?” Our following tips will help answer that question and get your resume past the robots.


Choose the Right Keywords

The number one thing that an ATS does is search for the right keywords in all documents that are sent through its system. Keywords, in this case, are the words that you put in your resume, cover letter, and additional documents that match up with the job qualifications, requirements, and duties. Missing just one important keyword can be the reason the hiring manager never sees your resume and cover letter. So what can you do to combat this? For starters, read the job description and take note of the title, skills, experience, and qualifications. Then, without lying, cater your resume and cover letter, based on your relevant experience, to mirror and utilize these crucial keywords from the job description.

Not every company or organization uses the same ATS and if they do have the same system, it is unlikely that they have the same search settings in place. If you have experience in a role that has the option to be abbreviated, include both the entire title as well as the abbreviation. For example, if you have experience as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, you should have it titled as “Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW),” or if you have experience as a Chief Financial Officer, you should have it titled as “Chief Financial Officer (CFO).” This assures that whether the system is looking for the entire title, just the abbreviation, or both, it will be picked up.

Let’s say you are applying for a Graphic Designer position. Organizations hiring graphic designers normally require an understanding of at least five design software. For you to be noticed by the ATS, you will need to first retitle your “Skills” section to “Technical Skills.” Then, fill your Technical Skills section with the design software that you have legitimate, credible experience in. Instead of being vague and saying you are skilled in “Graphic Design,” state the specific title of each program you are skilled in; it is valuable that you specify each program. For example, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Canva, Excel, etc.


Use the Right Format

Applicant Tracking Systems are coded to look through each part of your resume and cover letter. That is why it is important for you to cater the format of your resume to be read easier by the software. Make sure to stay away from columns or any fancy formatting. Bulleted lists are always recommended but having columns here and there on your resume can confuse the hiring manager’s ATS and send its end results of your documents into a scramble. The hiring manager may never see your resume because you tried a little too hard to give it the right aesthetic.

Aside from textual formatting, you will need to submit all documents as a Word (.docx) file if you can. Applicant Tracking Systems need to dissect each sentence word for word to find the right candidate. Submitting a PDF can make it difficult for the system to read your resume and cover letter and may result in some skipped words.


Be Understanding

But what if you have been doing these steps prior to reading this? You already understand these pointers and have been catering your applications to follow remarkably similar rule sets. Then there is a possibility that the reason that you are not hearing back from the organizations about a position that you have applied for is that you do not meet the requirements or qualifications that they are looking for. The ATS is registering your application as insufficient.

There is a chance that you are not at a point in your career where you are ready for the job you are applying for. Maybe it will take one more role or a few more years of experience for you to qualify for this. It of course never hurts to apply for a job that you are confident that you will thrive in, but the chances of securing an interview in a large pool of competitors can dwindle those chances.

The best way to raise the chances of beating a hiring manager’s ATS is to apply for a job that you qualify for. When applying for your next job, apply for one where you have more than or equal the skills, experience, etc. to what is being asked, but one where that also has room to grow. The time you spend in this role will be the key to beating that ATS, performing confidently during your job interview, and taking that next big step in your career!



Spencer Ford, Marketing Contributor


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