Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – Is this “beast” worth being scared of?
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Applicant Tracking System
During the last couple of decades, ATS has become the worst nightmare of all jobseekers, especially those preferring to apply online. However, is this software really a reason why applicants are not being selected? Are there ways to make it work for you (rather than against you)? Is it possible to “beat” it (in order to get noticed)? You will find your answers in this article.
Since ATS appeared in the job market, many people came to the conclusion that now bots decide who is allowed in the space of recruiters’ attention – and who is filtered out for good, making an already stressful process even more nerve-racking. Applicants are pressured by the fact that their CVs are screened and automatically selected for further human review, and some feel like they are hitting a wall trying to pass it.
With many myths circulating around ATS – its purpose, functionality, etc. – let’s shed some light on both recruiters’ and jobseekers’ perspectives. Once we understand what’s going on behind the scenes, it will be easier to figure out how to deal with this “monster”. Are you ready?
Why do recruiters use this software to track and select applicants?
Before creating this article, I spoke with dozens of recruiters from different industries and countries in order to understand how to bridge the gap and conquer misunderstanding, so jobseekers will stop seeing ATS as their mortal enemy. Today, I’m gladly sharing my findings with you.
Going to fundamentals, ATS was originally introduced to help large companies handle high applicant turnaround, where HR and recruiters were physically incapable of processing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of applications per day.
For any rapidly growing business where HR staff struggled to keep up with the hiring process (posting job openings, tracking those who applied, reviewing and selecting candidates, scheduling interviews, etc.), ATS became a perfect solution. It can definitely streamline recruitment operations, save time by reducing manual tasks, and keep the records and analytics in order.
Good news! Not all organizations automate candidate selection. If we talk about SMEs or start-ups, in many cases every applicant is reviewed and considered by flesh-and-blood recruiters (rather than “bots”). To ensure your CV gets a human touch, avoid huge multinational corporations – and instead opt for smaller companies.
Applicant Tracking System
How does ATS work, and What’s in it for Jobseekers?
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Essentially, it represents a database where all CVs are stored by the user (i.e. a recruiter or HR professional), to be reviewed based on immediate hiring goals and/or retrieved for future reference. When your CV gets into a recruiter’s ATS, it ends up in their individual (or organizational) candidate pool and will be automatically considered for upcoming vacancies.
Once in the system, your CV is parsed, which means the data is being extracted to see how well it matches with a select Job Description. In case of a high match, it is picked out of many and forwarded for a human review.
Here comes the most interesting part – there are many different types of ATS used all over the world. Requirements differ not only from country to country, but also from industry to industry. Furthermore, every recruiter sets up his/her own criteria to ensure best matches are found within the shortest period of time.
Good news! Nobody casts your CV into the outer darkness. It stays in the system and, if not selected for this job opening, can be selected for the next one. Depending how well you articulated your skills and experience, your CV has a chance to pan out (if it suits better for another vacancy). That is why, oftentimes, applicants hear back from employers but not in relation to the job that they initially applied for.
Applicant Tracking System
What kind of CV Optimization will get you Noticed Faster?
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Applicant Tracking System
As I already said, it depends on geography, industry, and individual requirements of every recruiter. In some countries like USA and Canada, the hiring process is more automated, which means a higher number of companies are using ATS. A few major requirements for those areas: no photo, minimal colours and graphics, zero extras like tables or headers/ footers, 2-3 pages in length, etc. Resumes and CVs are heavily text-based, with a focus on strengths and tangible achievements.
In Europe and Asia ATS is not that widespread, and the standards allow different kinds of layouts, fonts, and other visual elements. Several recruiters told me that they personally review every CV that gets into their ATS, including those not passing the matching process. The trick is, you never know whether your CV will be parsed or not. Therefore, making it both ATS friendly (see the previous paragraph) and attractive for human eyes will help you to achieve the right balance and increase your chances to be selected.
Speaking of different industries, IT resumes fall under stricter rules compared to, for example, marketing or sales ones. While creative fields allow creative styles, the major distinction between an average CV and a CV that gets attention still comes to presenting information in a digestible, easy-to-find-and-process way (while highlighting your key skills and accomplishments).
Finally, besides some formatting tweaks, your CV should include keywords from a chosen Job Description to ensure it is parsed for your benefit. Before copy-pasting the entire thing, remember that after being loved by ATS, your CV will get human eyeballs on it (so coherency and visual appeal are as important as matching with expected qualifications).
Good news! Even though you cannot be 100% sure whether they use an ATS or not, and how this particular recruiter or HR filters out incoming applications, you can still do your best through proper CV formatting, keyword optimization, and checking how well you fit within their requirements (normally, 60% match is enough).
This is Time-Consuming – What are the Alternatives?
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As you can see, nothing is impossible when you have done your research and learned from the experience of those who have been there before you. By concentrating on quality of your applications (rather than quantity), you maximize your own chances of receiving a positive response.
However, many job applicants complain that paying close attention to each Job Description (and therefore optimizing their CV every time before applying) takes too much time and effort. As a result, they prefer to “spray and pray” by dropping a generic version here and there, hoping for a miracle of a perfect match. It’s easier to blame evil recruiters or “bots” than do your part in your own job hunt (or ask for professional help, if needed).
Good news! Applying online, via company websites or job search portals, is only one job search tactic out of many other, more effective, ones:
- Enhance your application submitted online by contacting a hiring person directly (via email or LinkedIn direct messaging) with your CV and a short cover note.
- Check recruiter’s profile or page and, after ensuring they operate in the right industry and have matching job openings, send them a short message explaining how and why you will be a good fit.
- Leverage the power of your network – spread your CV among your friends and connections, ask for referrals, check the latest job openings with current employees of your target companies, and overall, let your network know that you are open to new opportunities.
- Get a new role created for you – on a few occasions, my acquaintances were referred to meet with hiring managers, and “clicked” so well that they got jobs created to fit their skills and talents (as they managed to showcase their unique value for a prospective employer).
In this sense, it is possible to apply a variety of tactics in your job search to ensure that your CV never crosses paths with an ATS. Yet again, doing your homework before getting in touch with recruiters, growing your professional network, and formulating the right messages to reach out to the right people also take time and work.
Welcome to Your Next Job Interview!
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Let’s add up some statistics at the end. Based on my LinkedIn Poll in 2021, out of 886 respondents, 41% chose networking as the most effective job search strategy, while 38% experienced the power of referrals and recommendations to get a job (with only 13% finding online applications helpful).
Whatever you decide – to comply with the modern job market standards and equip yourself with a CV favoured by both ATS and humans, or take another path by making your network work for you – don’t get stuck with a thought that all is lost because “bots” select people to hire.
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If something doesn’t work, try to look at it from a different angle. Find a second pair of eyes to look at your CV. Seek for professional advice and review. Talk to people who recently got a job, and do the same as them. Ask your acquaintances to recommend you. You can “fail” in the short-term but you can’t give up!
So, roll up your sleeves, you are a talented professional and you can get the job that you deserve, whatever strategy you choose to follow in this article.
Author: Galyna Daniel
A Co-Founder of Dream Job Hub and a Certified Resume Writer (with a background in digital marketing and copywriting). Having 5+ years of experience in Career Coaching, CV Writing, and LinkedIn Profile Optimization, Galyna guides jobseekers on how to achieve their professional goals – through appropriate self-presentation and self-marketing in the digital space.
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