How Employers Use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Managers reviewing online job applications

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Modern applicant tracking systems (ATS) can help entire hiring teams manage every aspect of hiring and recruiting. Many employers rely heavily on an ATS, also known as a talent management system, to adminstrate their hiring process. The information in the database is used to screen candidates, test applicants, schedule interviews, manage the hiring process, check references, and complete new-hire paperwork.

How Applicant Tracking Systems Work

When applicants apply for a job online, their contact information, experience, educational background, resume, and cover letter are uploaded into the database. The information can then be transferred from one component of the system to another as candidates move through the hiring process.

The system allows company recruiters to review the applications, send applicants automated messages letting them know their applications have been received, and give online tests. Hiring managers can schedule interviews and mail rejection letters through the ATS. Finally, human resources personnel can use the same information to put individuals on the payroll once they are hired. These integrated systems streamline the recruiting, application, and hiring process for employers.

Streamlining the Process

Using an ATS saves both time and money. Information from applicants is uploaded and organized in a database, making it easily accessible and searchable for human resources professionals. Because the information is collected and automatically organized digitally, companies do not have to pay for additional time to sort and file paper applications.

Some systems can also save job applicants time. Many employers use systems that allow job applicants to upload their vital information, work histories, education, and references directly from their profiles on websites such as LinkedIn or Indeed. While job applicants need to customize their application materials for different positions, being able to bypass the tedious process of retyping this information for every application is a valuable time saver.

Tracking the Process

Applicant tracking systems allow companies to track where candidates found the job posting, whether on a job board, directly from a company website, through a referral, or from another source. This can be important information that allows employers to focus their recruiting on the areas where the data shows they have the most success while reducing or eliminating efforts in areas that show little results.


However beneficial an applicant tracking system can be, there are often drawbacks employers should consider. Systems are designed to look for specific keywords and types of backgrounds for advertised positions, meaning good candidates who are switching careers might slip through the cracks of the system unnoticed.

There also can be technical issues. Some systems will eliminate candidates if they can't interpret a scanned resume properly. This can happen if a resume looks slightly different than what the system is programmed to understand, or if the resume is more complex than it can interpret.

Tips for Candidates

If you’re applying for a job through an online form, assume that your resume is entering an applicant tracking system. To increase your chances of making it through the ATS and to a recruiter’s inbox, optimize your application in the following ways:

  • Follow instructions: Perhaps the most important thing you can do to make sure your resume makes it to a human being is to follow instructions exactly as provided. That means including the right documents (resume, cover letter, work samples, etc.) and the right document type (don’t send a PDF if the instructions specifically ask for a Word doc).
  • Use keywords: Keywords are terms that relate to job requirements. To make sure that your resume is filtered correctly, use the exact keywords from the job advertisement. For example, if the job description calls for someone with experience in Microsoft Word, don’t put Microsoft Office. A human can look at that descriptor and understand that it includes Word, as well as other applications, but a bot might miss it because you didn't mention the exact keyword. 
  • Don’t get fancy: Now is not the time for your infographic resume. Even a PDF might be too slick for the system. Follow the instructions and send the exact file type specified. Choose a standard resume format and font. Align your text to the left and set 1-inch margins. Remember, you have to get through the ATS before you can impress a hiring manager. If your formatting choices confuse the ATS, the application might not get through to them in the first place.
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  1. Society for Human Resource Management. "Today’s ATS Solutions Go Well Beyond Resume Storage." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

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